4:59pm

Mon March 12, 2012
The Two-Way

F. Sherwood Rowland, Who Warned Of Thinning Ozone, Has Died

F. Sherwood Rowland was the man who issued an early warning to the world: In a lab, some 40 years ago, he and a post-doctoral student Mario Molina found that chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) — the byproducts of everyday things like hairsprays and deodorants — had the potential to destroy the Earth's atmosphere. Rowland found that a single chlorine atom could destroy 100,000 ozone atoms in the stratosphere.

The University of California, Irvine, where he taught, announced that Rowland had died on Saturday. He was 84.

"We have lost our finest friend and mentor," UCI physical sciences dean Kenneth C. Janda said in a statement. "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."

Rowland's crowning moment came after years of enduring criticism, when he was awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize for his work.

The AP explains:

"The prize was awarded more than two decades after Rowland and his post-doctoral student Mario Molina calculated that if human use of chlorofluorocarbon, a byproduct of aerosol sprays, deodorants and other household products was to continue at an unaltered rate, the ozone layer would be depleted after several decades. Their work at UC Irvine built upon findings by atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen.

"Their prediction caught enormous attention and was strongly challenged partly because CFC's non-toxic properties were thought to be environmentally safe. Their work gained widespread recognition more than a decade later with the discovery of the ozone hole over Earth's polar regions and leaders of nations worldwide began to act to ban or curb usage of the chemicals.

"'It was to turn out that they had even underestimated the risk,' a Nobel committee said in its award citation for Rowland, Molina and Crutzen."

Molina told the AP that Rowland always encouraged him to defend his work.

"He showed me that if we believe in the science ... we should speak out when we feel it's important for society to change," Molina said.

Rowland made that point in 1997 at the White House during a roundtable on climate change.

"Is it enough for a scientist simply to publish a paper? 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 actually do something about it, enough so that action actually takes place?" Rowland said. "If not us, who? If not now, when?"

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.