March 12, 2012

Man Who Discovered Hole In Ozone Dies At 84

The man who first suspected that the Earth's protective ozone layer was being depleted has died at the age of 84-years-old.

Sherwood Rowland, a U.S. chemistry professor, published a paper on the dangers of chloroflourocarbons (CFCs) in 1974.

He received a Nobel Prize for his work 20 years later because at the time of his paper being published his ideas were ridiculed.

Rowland was a University of California researcher who, along with colleagues, led to some restrictions being placed on CFCs.

"He saved the world from a major catastrophe; never wavering in his commitment to science, truth and humanity, and did so with integrity and grace," UCI physical sciences dean Kenneth Janda said in a statement.

In 1985, a discovery that CFCs were initiating a severe depletion, or "hole", in the ozone layer over Antarctica led to a treaty to ban the chemicals, which was called the Montreal Protocol.

"Mario and I realized this was not just a scientific question, but a potentially grave environmental problem involving substantial depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer," Rowland once said about his work. "Entire biological systems, including humans, would be at danger from ultraviolet rays."

The Antarctic ozone hole is now relatively stable from year to year.  It appears in the austral spring because of the unique meteorology over the pole.

The corresponding hole over the Arctic reached its deepest extent in 2011, but it is expected to recover long-term now that CFC use has been restricted.

"Isn't it a responsibility of scientists, if you believe that you have found something that can affect the environment, isn't it your responsibility to do something about it, enough so that action actually takes place?" Rowland said at a White House climate change roundtable in 1997.

He died Saturday in his home after dealing with complications from Parkinson's disease.  He is survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, a son and a daughter.


Image Caption: F. Sherwood Rowland at the inaugural World Science Summit in New York City, MAa 2008. (Credit: Markus Pössel)


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