Almost a year after his passing, a new report shows something F. Sherwood Rowland would be proud of: The hole in the ozone layer is shrinking.
In the early 1970s, the University of California, Irvine chemistry professor made a breakthrough discovery that revealed chemicals in aerosol cans and refrigerators, known as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, were depleting the ozone layer, which protects us from harmful solar rays.
A decade-long battle to gain acceptance for his theory in the scientific community resulted in the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which phased out the use of CFCs. To date, 197 countries have adopted the protocol.
And now there is reason to celebrate as an encouraging report confirms the policy has real effects. Satellite observations reveal 2012 saw the hole in the ozone layer at a smaller size than it has been in the last 10 years. Furthermore, ESA reports suggest the hole over Antarctica should completely close in the next few decades and ozone concentrations should rebound to 1906s levels by mid-century.
2012 is the same year Sherry — as the UCI chemist and Nobel laureate was fondly referred to — passed away, so it’s a bittersweet moment for those who are familiar with his contributions, and know he might as well have saved all of humanity.
To learn more about Rowland and his work, visit UC Irvine’s obituary page.