Indian American climate scientist honored with 2021 Blue Planet Prize


A world-renowned Indian American climate scientist based at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, as being honored with the prestigious 2021 Blue Planet Prize.

Dr. Veerabhadran “Ram” Ramanathan, 76, pioneered work on the first climate “super pollutants,” which play an outsized role in warming the planet.

The international environmental award, sponsored by Japan’s Asahi Glass Foundation, is given to those whose accomplishments have contributed to the improvement of the global environment.

Ramanathan, the second Scripps scientist to receive the Blue Planet Prize, was instrumental in the discovery that climate warming was not caused simply by carbon dioxide, but also by shorter-lived “super pollutants,” such as chlorofluorocarbons and soot.

For nearly 100 years, scientists believed carbon dioxide was the only human-produced greenhouse gas. Then in 1975, while working for NASA, Ramanathan established that chlorofluorocarbons, gases previously only associated with the depletion of the ozone layer, also contributed to climate change.

Ramanathan said he’s honored to receive the award, which has been bestowed on some of the world’s top climate scientists. That honor includes former Scripps researcher Charles David Keeling, who won the prize in 1993.

His contributions include the discovery of the super greenhouse effect of halocarbons and clarifying the climate effects of black carbon through an international field project he led on Atmospheric Brown Clouds (ABCs).

He showed that reductions in SLCPs can rapidly reduce warming and significantly improve air pollution. He later took the initiative in global actions to reduce SLCPs.

Ramanathan went on to do groundbreaking work on the impact of atmospheric Brown Clouds, a mixture of soot, methane, ozone and industrial gases. His calculations predicted that such pollution would disrupt monsoon seasons now impacting millions of subsistence farmers in his native country of India.

Most recently, he’s worked with Pope Francis to raise awareness about the dire implications of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Ramanathan, who serves as the Edward A. Frieman Endowed Presidential Chair in Climate Sustainability at Scripps, said it’s hard to celebrate when global temperatures continue to break records.