An American atmospheric chemist who led efforts to identify the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole and a French geochemist who extracted the longest-yet climate record from polar ice cores have won the prestigious 2012 Vetlesen Prize. Susan Solomon and Jean Jouzel will share the $250,000 award, considered to be the earth sciences' equivalent of a Nobel.
"Earth Science is a collective enterprise, and transformational advances are the product of many authors," says the Vetlesen Prize committee's citation. "Both nominees have made leading and fundamental contributions to climate science." The prize is funded by the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation in New York and administered by Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
Solomon's work in identifying the cause of Antarctica's springtime ozone losses helped bring about a global ban on manmade ozone-depleting chemicals. Working most of her career at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colo., Solomon proposed in a 1986 study that refrigerants and other industrial chemicals were responsible for the Antarctic ozone hole discovered a year earlier. She led two expeditions to Antarctica, in 1986 and 1987, bringing back key measurements that proved her hypothesis. Recognizing that ozone protects the planet from harmful ultraviolet rays that can cause skin cancer, policymakers around the world responded with rare speed: in 1987, they agreed on a Montreal Protocol to phase out the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and related chemicals.
Solomon and her colleagues also explained why ozone destruction was greatest during southern spring. Throughout the dark and extremely cold winter, CFC byproducts react with icy stratospheric clouds to produce ozone-depleting chlorine compounds. When sunlight returns to the South Pole, it reacts with the compounds to break ozone apart. In a 2002 study, Solomon and a colleague also linked Antarctica's ozone hole to a stren
|Contact: Kim Martineau|
The Earth Institute at Columbia University