Joe Farman: Scientist who first uncovered the hole in the ozone layer

 

Joe Farman was a British physicist who came to prominence when he alerted the world to the man-made hole in the ozone layer. It became widely accepted as one of the biggest environmental and scientific discoveries of the 20th century.

Farman and his fellow researchers, Brian Gardiner and Jon Shanklin, caused a sensation when they published their findings in Nature in May 1985, and caused major embarrassment at Nasa, who had been monitoring the earth's atmosphere extensively with their satellites but had found nothing. In fact Farman's study nearly didn't saw the light of day. The head of his division had tried to suppress the paper, writing to the Meteorological Office to say: "It shouldn't be published because it'd be very embarrassing if their inferences were wrong."

The study by Farman and his colleagues revealed that levels of ozone above the Antarctic had fallen by about 40 per cent between 1975 and 1984. They demonstrated that the hole was not a natural occurrence but the result of reactions triggered by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the stratosphere. The discovery of the ozone hole over the South Pole led to the 1989 Montreal Protocol, the international agreement intended to control and phase out the global production of CFCs and other ozone-damaging chemicals, which were commonly used as refrigerants, spray-can propellants and solvents.

The hypothesis of ozone depletion had been put forward in the 1970s but had been dismissed by Nasa scientists after satellites had failed to substantiate the theory with any evidence. Farman had been collecting atmospheric data from the British station at Halley Bay, Antarctica since 1957, with teams sent annually to measure ozone levels and concentrations of trace gases like CFCs. Poorly funded, they relied on old-fashioned devices such as weather balloons and the Dobson meter, a rudimentary ozone-measuring machine which worked well only when wrapped in a duvet.

In 1982 Farman's ozone reading showed a dramatic dip. At first he was sceptical and thought there must be an instrument malfunction, given the severe cold and the fact that his Dobson meter was old and ground-based with only one data point, the part of the atmosphere directly above it. Furthermore, he reasoned, Nasa, with satellites collecting atmospheric data from around the world, had reported no anomalies. Farman ordered a new instrument for the next year's measurement.

The following year the dip was even bigger. "It just went haywire," Farman recalled. "The levels really fell away." Almost half the ozone layer seemed to have vanished and so he checked data as far back as 1977, but then believed the discrepancy to be above Halley Bay only, leaving other areas unaffected. The following year he and his team took measurements 1,000 miles north-west of Halley Bay. There, too, there was a large decline. Farman decided it was time to publish his data.

Much to Nasa's chagrin, satellite data had been gathered supporting Farman's findings but had been overlooked. Rechecking their data they discovered a gigantic hole the size of the US and growing.

Born near Norwich in 1930, Joseph Charles Farman was the younger of two children. His father was a self-employed builder, his mother a nurse. He showed an aptitude for mathematics and worked privately with the headmaster, while also enjoying improvising with radio equipment on Scout trips and reading the popular science of the era. He also enjoyed tending the family greenhouse, a pursuit that endured into adulthood.

Educated at Norwich School, Farman, a self-confessed "naughty" boy, excelled in science and won a scholarship to read Mathematics and Natural Sciences at Corpus Christi, Cambridge, going up in 1951 after 18 months' National Service in the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers. He later recalled being inspired by a lecture given by the headmaster's brother, who had been on the British Greenland Expeditions of 1935-36 and 1937.

Following graduation in 1953 and having then spent three years working on guided missiles for de Havilland at Hatfield, Farman was appointed as a scientific officer at the Falkland Islands Dependency Survey, the predecessor of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), based in Cambridge. He spent two winters in the Argentine Islands, Antarctica and served as Base Commander from 1958-59.

He became head of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey Physics Unit at the University of Edinburgh in 1969, and returned to BAS as Head of the Physics Section in 1976 in order to focus on Antarctic ozone monitoring as part of BAS's response to growing concern about potential environmental damage. His final research trip to Antarctica was in 1990, shortly before he retired. Thereafter, he cycled daily to work in Cambridge University's Department of Chemistry, and was also a fellow of Corpus Christi. He later carried out research as a consultant to the European Ozone Research Coordinating Unit.

After his ozone discovery, the generally mild-mannered, pipe-smoking Farman became an energetic advocate for environmental concerns, lambasting governments for their naive approach to scientific research. "Too much money is going into expensive climate modelling computers, and not enough into basic observational science," he said. "There are so many variables that computers can't possibly forecast what will happen exactly with the Earth's climate." More recent figures suggest that the ozone layer is slowly repairing itself, but will not return to its early 1980s state until about 2070, due to the long lifetimes of the CFCs already in the atmosphere.

Farman received a number of awards including the Society of Chemical Industry's Environment Medal, the Charles Chree Medal and Prize, and membership of the UN Environment Programme's Global 500 Roll of Honour.

Joseph Farman, physicist: born Norwich 7 August 1930; OBE 1988, CBE 2000; married 1971 Paula Bowyer; died Cambridge 11 May 2013.

Life and Style
life
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Joan Rivers has reportedly been hospitalised after she stopped breathing during surgery
people81-year-old 'stopped breathing' during vocal chord surgery
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
Environment
Fungi pose the biggest threat globally and in the UK, where they threaten the country’s wheat and potato harvests
environmentCrop pests are 'grave threat to global food security'
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballAnd Liverpool are happy despite drawing European champions
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Secondary English Teacher - requ...

Science Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Calling all science teachers! Ra...

Technology Teacher - Food & Textiles

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Food Tech/Textiles Teacher We ...

Head of Marketing (Online & Offline, Media, Digital, Strategy)

£85000 - £100000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing - Slough, Berkshi...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone