June 5, 2023

Paul J. Crutzen, a Dutch scientist who received a Nobel Prize for work warning the world of the threat to the planet’s ozone layer from chemicals and who continued to advocate action against global warming, died in Mainz on January 28th. He was 87 years old.

The Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz announced the death in a hospital, but did not give the cause. Susanne Benner, a spokeswoman for the institute, said Dr. Crutzen had been treated for Parkinson’s.

Martin Stratmann, President of the Max Planck Society, said in a statement that Dr. Crutzen’s work led to the banning of ozone-depleting chemicals: “A hitherto unique example of how basic research that has been awarded the Nobel Prize can lead directly to global research. Political decision. “

The phrase “continues to teach us that our collective human activities are the most powerful geological force on earth today,” said Al Gore, the climate activist and former vice president, via email, “and his life’s work continues to inspire us to take responsibility like this force affects the ecological integrity of our planet. “

Dr. In 1995 Crutzen shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina. He found in 1970 that certain chemicals could break down ozone, a molecule that absorbs dangerous ultraviolet radiation from the sun high up in the stratosphere. Four years later, Dr. Rowland and Dr. Molina show that gases known as chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs break down in the upper atmosphere and can attack the ozone layer.

After years of skepticism and industry backlash, British scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer in 1985, resulting in the landmark international treaty known as the 1987 Montreal Protocol and a ban on the manufacture of CFCs. (These chemicals were later shown to be a major contributor to global warming, and the ban kept climate change from getting any worse than it is today.)

The 1995 Nobel Prize said the three scientists “helped save us from a global environmental problem that could have catastrophic consequences.”

The New York Times wrote in 1995 that Dr. Crutzen “was known among his colleagues as a nonconformist who appears in an open shirt and sandals at conferences where everyone else is in formal attire.”

“Instead of making formal contributions to scientific meetings,” the Times article continued, “he fiddles with handwritten notes and then fascinates his audience.”

Paul Jozef Crutzen was born on December 3, 1933 in Amsterdam to Jozef and Anna (Gurk) Crutzen. His father was a waiter and his mother worked in a hospital kitchen.

In an autobiographical article on the Nobel website, Dr. Crutzen to the profound deprivation during the occupation by the Nazis and to the “Hongerwinter” or winter of famine in the years 1944-45. “Many died of starvation and disease,” he wrote, “including some of my schoolmates.”

His path to the chemistry of the atmosphere was indirect; In 1951, he first set out to graduate as a civil engineer in a three-year program at a technical school so he could save his parents the cost of college programs that could last four years or more. His father is often unemployed.

From 1954 to 1958, Dr. Crutzen not only in the military, but also in the Amsterdam bridge construction office. During this time, as he recalled, he also met “a sweet girl”, Terttu Soininen.

“A few years later I was able to convince her to marry me,” he wrote. “What a great choice I made!”

His wife survived him, as did their two daughters Sylvia and Ilona Crutzen and three grandchildren.

In 1958, Dr. Crutzen advertised in a Swedish newspaper for a job as a computer programmer in the Meteorology Department at what is now Stockholm University. “Although I had not the slightest experience in this field,” he wrote, “I applied for the job and was very fortunate to be selected from among many candidates.”

At the Meteorology Institute, he began studying, which in 1963 led to a Master of Science, which combined mathematics, statistics and meteorology. This was followed by a Ph.D. 1968 in meteorology and 1973 PhD in philosophy, the most advanced degree in the Swedish system.

In choosing a particular research topic, he said, “I have chosen stratospheric ozone as a topic with no expectation whatsoever of what lies ahead of me.”

He later served as Research Director at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado from 1977 to 1980 and at the Max Planck Institute from 1980 to 2000.

In a 2002 article in the journal Nature, Dr. Crutzen on the increasing threat from climate change. A “daunting task,” he said, “lies ahead for scientists and engineers to lead society to environmentally sound management during the Anthropocene.”

In this paper and elsewhere, he highlighted the prospect of geoengineering, an area that is looking for ways to combat climate change through measures such as the diffusion of sulfur in the atmosphere to cool the planet. The idea of ​​geoengineering remains controversial, not only because of possible unexpected side effects, but also because of suspicions that the technologies could be used to postpone measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Later, in an interview for a virtual exhibition on the Anthropocene in 2014, Dr. Crutzen: “I share that fear,” adding that using the emissions control technology “would be completely wrong” and that he doubted that it would ever be used.

In the same interview, the journalist Christian Schwägerl asked: “Have you remained an optimist?”

Dr. Crutzen replied: “Did I say I am an optimist?”

Mr. Schwägerl then asked why he was feeling optimistic, and the answer was less succinct. There were “the beautiful things around us like art and literature,” said Dr. Crutzen. “There are so many beautiful things that humanity creates that I wonder when we will make the earth more beautiful again instead of exhausting everything.”