Mr Rowland died on Saturday at his home of complications from Parkinson’s disease, the dean of the University of California, Irvine’s physical sciences department said Sunday.
“We have lost our finest friend and mentor,” Kenneth C Janda said in a statement. “He saved the world from a major catastrophe: never wavering in his commitment to science, truth and humanity and did so with integrity and grace.”
Mr Rowland was among three scientists awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize for chemistry for explaining how the ozone layer is formed and decomposed through chemical processes in the atmosphere.
The prize was awarded more than two decades after Rowland and postdoctoral student Mario Molina calculated that if human use of chlorofluorocarbons, a by-product of aerosol sprays, deodorants and other household products, were to continue at an unchanged rate, the ozone layer would be depleted after several decades. Their work built upon findings by atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen.
Their prediction caught enormous attention and was strongly challenged partly because the non-toxic properties of CFCs were thought to be environmentally safe. Their work gained widespread recognition more than a decade later with the discovery of the ozone hole over the Earth’s polar regions.
“It was to turn out that they had even underestimated the risk,” a Nobel committee said in its award citation for Mr Rowland, Mr Molina and Mr Crutzen.
Mr Molina said his former mentor never shied from defending his work or advocating a ban on CFCs.
“He showed me that if we believe in the science … we should speak out when we feel it’s important for society to change,” Molina told The Associated Press.
His work on ozone depletion made Mr Rowland a prominent voice for scientists concerned about global warming.
“Isn’t it a responsibility of scientists, if you believe that you have found something that can affect the environment, isn’t it your responsibility to do something about it, enough so that action actually takes place?” Mr Rowland said at a White House climate change round-table in 1997.
“If not us, who? If not now, when?” he asked.
Mr Rowland was survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, Joan, a son and a daughter.