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Mario Molina, Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and Ozone Depletion
In 1973 Mario Molina … was a postdoctoral researcher working in the laboratory of F. Sherwood Rowland at the University of California at Irvine ... when he made an unsettling discovery. He had been investigating a class of compounds called chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. CFCs were used as refrigerants, aerosol sprays, and in making plastic foams. Molina wondered what happened to them once they were released into the atmosphere. …
[Molina’s] results suggested that CFCs could, in theory, destroy an oxygen compound called ozone under the conditions that exist in the upper atmosphere. … [He] was nervous about showing Rowland his theory of how CFCs might destroy ozone. But if CFCs really could reduce ozone at a predicted rate of 7 percent after 60 years, the world would be in trouble. …
Rowland took his protégé seriously. Over the next two decades he and Molina became voices alerting the world to the danger of CFCs and ozone depletion. They were not always heeded. Bans on CFCs in aerosol sprays went into effect first in the United States in 1978, and later in Canada, Norway, and Sweden. …
Over the years evidence mounted in support of Molina’s theories, leading to increased international regulation of CFCs. But this did not happen easily, nor did it happen overnight. Before most of the world would listen, it took an alarming observation in 1983 by British scientist Joseph Farman and colleagues that the ozone levels above Antarctica had been dropping dramatically, by as much as 35 percent, during the Antarctic spring (September through December) compared with 1960s levels. …
Molina and Rowland were vindicated. In 1987 the Montreal Protocol for reducing named substances that deplete the ozone layer was opened for signature. By 2009 all nations in the United Nations had ratified the original protocol. In 1995 Molina and Rowland were awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry, along with Swedish scientist Paul Crutzen, for the work they had done in helping unravel the mysteries and dangers of CFCs.
Additional information about Mario Molina, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and ozone depletion is available in electronic documents and on the Web.
Laboratory Investigation of Organic Aerosol Formation from Aromatic Hydrocarbons, DOE Technical Report, August 2006Characterization of Fine Particulate Matter (PM) and Secondary PM Precursor Gases in the Mexico City Metropolitan Area, DOE Technical Report, October 2008
Additional Web Pages:
The Science and Policies of the Ozone Layer -- A Historical Perspective, IDEaS - Nobel Laureate Mario J. Molina (video)
Interview with Mario J. Molina, nobelprize.org (video)
Mario Molina, UCSD Faculty
Scripps Chemistry Professor Named as Member of IPCC Review Committee, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego
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