F. Sherwood Rowland, the world's untiring defender of a trace upper-atmosphere gas he made a household word, died Saturday at his home in Corona del Mar, California, of complications from Parkinson's disease.
"He saved the world from a major catastrophe: never wavering in his commitment to science, truth and humanity, and did so with integrity and grace," said dean Kenneth Janda in an e-mail to faculty of the University of California, Irvine, where Rowland was on the faculty since 1964.
Almost 40 years ago, Rowland, universally known as Sherry, and post-doctoral student Mario Molina discovered that each chlorine atom in the chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) propellants spritzed from billions of aerosol cans could go on to destroy catalytically up to 100,000 ozone atoms in the stratosphere. With that ozone the only thing between the sun's savage ultraviolet and life on Earth, the pair took on the job of convincing not only colleagues but governments and the CFC industry that CFCs must be banned. "If not us, who?" Rowland said in 1997. "If not now, when?" In 13 years, CFCs were outlawed by the most successful environmental treaty in history. In 1995, he, Molina, and Paul Crutzen were awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work on ozone.
Rowland led a full life outside of ozone. He graduated from high school at 15; at 6'5'', he played semi-pro baseball; and he leaves his wife, Joan, of nearly 60 years, two children, and two grandchildren. His was an authoritative voice on everything from the dangers of greenhouse gases—especially methane—to cook stove pollution over cities and most recently fumes from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The spill was the subject of the last of his 425 published papers.