Susan Soloman, who led a team to study a mysterious ''hole'' in the ozone layer over Antarctica, reported her findings to a U.S. House subcommittee in 1987.
The race was on to discover what was causing the so-called “ozone hole.” Why was the ozone depletion happening so much faster than anyone had expected? And why over Antarctica? Why did the hole form so far from where CFCs were being used? To answer these questions, an expedition to Antarctica was organized in 1986, led by Susan Solomon (b. 1956) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Because the ozone hole opened up in the early Antarctic spring, Solomon and her team had to travel to McMurdo Base, Antarctica, in the late winter (August 1986) to study the hole as it formed, enduring brutally cold temperatures and nearly 24-hour-a-day darkness. The smoking gun that CFCs were the guilty party for ozone depletion would be the presence of ClO in the stratosphere at the same time and place as ozone loss was detected, which would make it hard to deny that CFCs were to blame for ozone loss. During this and a second expedition in 1987, Solomon and her team were able to gather enough data to show high levels of ClO being released by CFCs.
Today Solomon continues her work at NOAA and at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She has earned many honors for her work. In addition to having a glacier in Antarctica named in her honor in 1994, she was awarded the 1999 National Medal of Science, the highest scientific award bestowed by the U.S. government. In 2004 she received the international Blue Planet Prize, and in 2007 she shared in the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and former Vice President Al Gore, Jr. She is also the author of The Coldest March: Scott’s Fatal Antarctic Expedition (2002).
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Excerpted with permission, Chemical Heritage Foundation