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Vale ozone pioneer Paul Crutzen

Dutch scientist Paul J. Crutzen, who earned the Nobel Prize for chemistry for his work understanding the hole in the ozone layer, has died.

Credited with coining the term “Anthropocene” to describe the geological era shaped by humankind and its impact on climate change, Crutzen died on January 28. He was 87.

Crutzen was the Director of Atmospheric Chemistry at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, until his retirement in 2000.

“Paul Crutzen was a pioneer in many ways,” says Max Planck Society President Martin Stratmann. “He was the first to show how human activities damage the ozone layer.”

Stratmann says Crutzen’s work helped establish the basis for the worldwide ban on ozone-depleting substances, such as hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). And it represents a rare example of scientific research leading to a global political decision within a matter of a few scant years. Scientists tell us the ozone hole over Antarctica has been shrinking steadily, thanks to a co-operative international effort. It is expected to fully restore in the 2030s.

Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann says Crutzen’s coining of the term “Anthropocene” (based on the ancient Greek word for human) was tremendously impactful.

“[The phrase] so elegantly but simply captured the sobering notion that human impacts on our planet can, in just decades, rival the geological forces that led to mass extinctions over the eons,” Mann says.

The impact of human activity on the environment has escalated over the course of 300 years to the point that the global climate has now significantly altered.  Crutzen argued, therefore, that a specific term should be used to describe the period from the late 18th century to the present. Hence, “Anthropocene”.

Together with American chemists F Sherwood Rowland and Mario J. Molina, Crutzen was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1995.

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