Tuesday, 8 March 2011

A Post for International Women's Day

So today is the hundreth international women's day. I was alerted to this by many different forums asking for suggestions of influential women in science, which got me thinking...I realised that I couldn't even name an influential female in the field of atmospheric science never mind tell you what their contribution was. I knew people whose work I had come across, whose research or attitude had impressed or inspired me but I wanted someone that would be widely accepted as an exceptional scientist...and if there was such a person shouldn't I have heard of them? So I asked around the people in my office to see if they could name any. Thankfully they seemed better educated than me and gave me two names to research, Susan Solomon and Julia Slingo.

Allegedly, Susan Solomon's interest in science began when watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau however it wasnt biology she went on to study but atmospheric chemistry. She completed her PhD in 1981 at the University of California at Berkeley and then joined the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The work that she is most famous for was her contribution to studies of the Antarctic ozone hole. She theorised that polar stratospheric clouds would provide solid surfaces on which the reactions of CFCs which destroy ozone could take place. The presence of a surface on which atoms can be immobilised greatly increases the rate at which these ozone destroying reactions can take place.

Polar stratospheric clouds

In August 1986 Solomon led an expedition to McMurdo Base, Antarctica to study the formation of the ozone hole. Not satisfied with just one trip she led another expedition in 1987 and from the two gathered enough measurements to show that chlorine dioxide was present at much greater concentrations than predicted, the first physical evidence pointing to chlorine chemistry as the cause of the ozone hole. Since then she has continued research at NOAA and was a co-chair of the Science Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). She has gained many awards for her work including the international Blue Planet Prize in 2004 and a share in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, she has even had an Antarctic glacier named after her.
The icebreaker USCGC Glacier approaching Winter Quarters Bay at McMurdo station, Antarctica 

Professor Julia Slingo is also an important figure in atmospheric science. She is now the Met Office Chief Scientist and before that she was the Director of Climate Research in NERC's National Centre for Atmospheric Science. Her background is in climate modelling and her research focuses on tropical climate variability and its influence and response to climate change. In 2006 she founded the Walker Institute for Climate System Research at the University of Reading. She was involved with the IPCC fourth assessment on climate change and in 2008 became the first woman President of the Royal Meteorological Society. Also in 2008 she received an OBE for her outstanding contribution to climate science.