Dutch Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen spent the early years of his career at Stockholm University.

Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist best known for his work on ozone depletion, originally came to Stockholm’s Department of Meteorology as a computer programmer back in 1959 where spent the first seven or so years of his career  working on meteorological projects, helping to build some of the first numerical (barotropic) weather prediction models.

After completing a doctorate for the department in meteorology in 1973, Crutzen went onto what has been an illustrious career, making a considerable contribution to climate research.

The Nobel Prize
In 1995 Crutzen was awarded the Noble Prize in Chemistry, along with Mario Molina and Sherwood Rowland, for pioneering work explaining the chemical mechanisms that affect the thickness of the ozone layer. His work was paramount in explaining the ozone hole. This was also first time a Nobel prize went to an environmental scientist.

Speaking in conjunction with a visit to Stockholm University last November, Crutzen said: “People have realized that damage to the ozone layer can’t continue. Our discovery led to the Montreal Protocol which banned the use of CFCs.”

How did the Nobel Prize affect you?

“There was enormous interest to begin with. I spent more time traveling than at home. It’s calmed down a lot since then but it still takes energy from my research.”
Critique against the increased use of biofuels
In recent years Paul Crutzen’s research has primarily focused on the effect of biofuels on air pollution and climate issues.

In 2008 Crutzen published an article, along with colleagues, suggesting that that Nitrous Oxide (N2O) emissions in the production of biofuel means that they contribute more to global warming than fossil fuels.

“We received considerable criticism for these findings to begin with, but there’s more research that confirms it now. Still, the focus of the debate remains on the effect of carbon dioxide on the climate.”

Despite Crutzen’s findings, nitrous oxide has not featured particularly high up on the environmental and political agenda thus far; however, Crutzen believes the discussion surrounding nitrous oxide be of increasing importance over the coming years. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), for example, recently mentioned the significance of nitrous oxide in its most recent report.

Skeptical and disappointed
Paul Crutzen was skeptical ahead of last December’s Copenhagen Climate Summit, doubting that it would result in a major reduction of emissions.  He was not satisfied with the results of the meeting either.

“Copenhagen was a real a setback for the Global Change community. I am afraid that it will take appreciable time to recover. The situation might get worse due to the deterioration of the relationship between the US and China.”

What is the biggest obstacle for reducing global warming?
“We need to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. That’s the major task.”

How have you yourself contributed to reducing this?
“I haven’t owned a car for 15 years. And I haven’t suffered because of it!”

Top class climate research
Paul Crutzen still visits Stockholm every year. Many of the colleagues he had at the Department of Meteorology have now retired but he still keeps in touch with old friends and colleagues.

Without the same insight into the department that he had when he worked there, Crutzen nevertheless still regards Stockholm’s Department of Meteorology as a centre of high quality international research. Its reputation was enhanced when professor Erland Källén, from the department, was appointed head of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts in Britain.

During his time at Stockholm Paul Crutzen worked closely alongside Bert Bolin, a climate researcher and the first chairman of the IPCC.

What did Bert Bolin mean to you?
“A great deal! He gave me the freedom to do what I wanted. I understood early on that our understanding of ozone in the atmosphere lacked certain vital components. I could look at that. Bert Bolin also gave me a lot of moral support.”

What do you think makes a good research environment?
“A lot of freedom! And we had that at Stockholm University.”

Interview: Per Larsson. English text: Jon Buscall