MIT Joint Program One hundred years of atmospheric chemistry Mark Dwortzan | MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change Saturday, January 25, 2020

MIT TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Science Ronald Prinn described how the field of atmospheric chemistry has advanced from 1920 to 2020 in a core science keynote address at the 100th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society, the world’s largest yearly gathering for experts in the atmospheric sciences. Speaking at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on January 14, Prinn, who directs the Center for Global Change Science and the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change at MIT, explored key developments in the field.

“The impressive evolution of atmospheric chemistry from the early 20th century to the present day has been driven by a mix of scientific curiosity about the air we live in and breathe on Earth, the desire to understand and mitigate the detrimental impacts of air pollutants and greenhouse gases to humans and the environment, and in the last half century, a parallel quest to understand the atmospheres of other planets,” Prinn said.

Starting with a brief history of the first 50 years of the period covering 1920 to 2020, he described how scientists, through expanding atmospheric measurements, laboratory studies and simple models, developed a more precise understanding of the chemistry of air pollution, the stratospheric ozone layer and the upper atmosphere. This evolving understanding led to the earliest air pollution regulations.  

Prinn next focused on the past 50 years of atmospheric chemistry advances, a period in which he was an active participant in the field.

“This half-century has seen the careful observation of the rapidly growing size of human systems relative to natural influences on the atmosphere, and the more and more urgent need to mitigate the detrimental influences through regulation,” he said.