His parents, evangelical Christians, sent Wallace to Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts school in Illinois, where he met Grace Carder, whom he married in 1952. She died in 2007.
They had six children, five of who survive him: Sandra Broecker, Cynthia Kennedy, Kathleen Wilson, Scott Broecker and Cheryl Keyes. In 2009, Dr. Broecker married Elizabeth Clark, who had worked with him in his laboratory; She also survives him, as did his sisters Judith Redekop and Bonnie Chapin, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
At Wheaton, he planned to become an actuary, but a friend helped him land an internship at what became the Lamont- Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia. It was there that he fell in love with scientific instruments and carbon dating, a technique that helps researchers determine the age of materials that are tenens of thousands of years old. He decided to transfer to Columbia from Wheaton.
Throughout his career, Dr. Broecker worked through problems with a pencil and paper, avoiding computers. He was dyslexic, and had staffers retype his manuscripts and emails, said Ms. Clark, who helped to edit his papers. "He said he needed the pencil and paper because that's how he thought," she said in an interview.
The author of more than 500 research papers and some 17 books, Dr. Broecker received many science awards, including the National Medal of Science from President Bill Clinton in 1996.
Prize money was often attached to honor, his daughter, Ms. Kennedy said, but he plowed most of it back into his research. "Money was never important to my father," she said.