Magazine article Science News

Ozone Depletion Research Wins Nobel

Magazine article Science News

Ozone Depletion Research Wins Nobel

Article excerpt

For their work elucidating how Earth's protective ozone layer forms and decomposes, three scientists received this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The Nobel committee honored Paul Crutzen, a Dutch scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany; Mario J. Molina of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and F. Sherwood Rowland of the University of California, Irvine, for showing "how sensitive the ozone layer is to the influence of anthropogenic emissions of certain compounds."

In explaining the mechanisms affecting the ozone layer's thickness, said the committee, the three scientists have contributed to "our salvation from a global environmental problem that could have catastrophic consequences."

The stratospheric ozone layer consists of three-atom oxygen molecules (O3) sparsely distributed more than 15 kilometers above sea level. Though relatively few in number, ozone molecules capture much of the sun's ultraviolet rays, protecting life on Earth from their damaging effects.

In 1970, Crutzen first showed that nitrogen oxides (NOx)--produced by decaying nitrous oxide from soil-borne microbes--react catalytically with ozone, hastening its depletion. His findings, the committee said, sparked research on "global biogeochemical cycles" as well as the effects on the stratosphere of nitrogen oxide--spewing supersonic transport planes.

In 1974, Molina and Rowland postulated that human-made chlorofluorocarbons--widely used in spray cans, refrigerators, and air conditioners--could, in the stratosphere, transform into ozone-depleting agents. …

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