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Paul Crutzen, an outstanding environmental scientist, and a Volvo Environment Prize laureate, passed away on January 28, 87 years old. He was one of the first laureates of the Volvo Environment Prize, receiving the award in 1991. Four years later, in 1995, he was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his findings on the ozone layer’s depletion. Paul Crutzen is also the scientist who widely popularized the term Anthropocene, the proposed current geological epoch in which humans are the primary cause of permanent planetary change.
Born in the Netherlands, he was Director of the Atmospheric Chemistry Department at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, from 1980 to 2000. “Paul Crutzen was a pioneer in many ways, ” says Martin Stratman, president of the Max Planck Society. “He was the first to show how human activities damage the ozone layer.”
Crutzen found in 1970 that certain chemicals could break down ozone, a molecule that, high up in the stratosphere, absorbs dangerous ultraviolet radiation from the sun. A few years later, scientists Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina were able to show that gases such as chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs could break down and attack the ozone layer. British scientists later found a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica. That led to the landmark international treaty known as the Montreal protocol and a ban on CFC production.
The 1995 Nobel citation said laureates Crutzen, Rowland, and Molina had “contributed to our salvation from a global environmental problem that could have catastrophic consequences.”
Crutzen’s scientific work focused on humans’ impact on the atmosphere, climate, and Earth System. He coined the term Anthropocene, which he used to describe the current era in which human activity shapes our planet through the profound influence on global atmospheric, biological, and geological processes. He became increasingly concerned about the extent and severity of climate change. Crutzen was a dedicated mediator between science, politics, and society. He published over 360 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles, another 135 scientific publications, 15 books, and was one of the most highly cited scientists globally.