F. Herbert Bormann, discoverer of acid rain, dead at age 90
North Branford, CT, United States (4E) – F. Herbert Bormann, the noted ecologist who discovered acid rain in North America has died. He was 90.
He died of complications of a lung infection at his home in North Branford, Connecticut, on June 7, according to his daughter.
Bormann was on the faculty at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies when he, and colleague Gene Likens, discovered acid rain in North America.
They discovered the acid rain on a portion of New Hampshire forest in 1971. They were studying chemical interactions in the ecosystem of a watershed in the White Mountains when they discovered that rain in the area was more acidic than they expected.
That discovery prompted them to test rain throughout the Eastern United States and discover a new environmental problem. The acidity of rain in that region had increased from 100 percent to 1,000 percent since the early 1950s.
Bormann and Likens traced the acidity to sulfur dioxide emissions and nitrogen oxides from smokestacks that were far away from where the rain fell. Those gases are converted to sulfuric acid and nitric acid in the air and are carried to earth by rain.
The team conducted experiments that found that acid rain damaged plants in forests as well as food crops and had bad effects that included reducing forest growth and killing fish.
Findings from their research were published in Science magazine in 1974 and used by Congress when it formulated the Clean Air Act of 1990, which regulated acid rain.
Bormann taught at Yale from1966 until his retirement in 1992. He continued there as the Oastler Professor Emeritus of Forest Ecology and a senior research scientist until his death.
In addition to his discoveries on acid rain, Bormann was noted for his work on tropical studies as well as his work that found that fertilized lawns were hazardous to the environment.
Bormann received many honors over the course of his life.
He became one of the youngest scientists ever elected to the National Academy of Sciences at age 49. Other notable achievements and awards include:
- Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1972
- President of the Ecological Society of America from 1970-71
- Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement
- International St. Francis Prize for the Environment
- National Wildlife Foundation’s National Conservation Achievement Award in Science
- Ecological Society of America’s Eminent Ecologist Award
- Asahi Glass Foundation’s Blue Planet Prize
- Aldo Leopold Award from Yale
Frederick Herbert Bormann was born on March 24, 1922, in New York City. He was preceded in death by his parents, Carl Bernhardt Bormann and Gertrude Anna Andle, immigrants from Germany and Austro-Hungary, respectively.
He is survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, Mary Christine Williamson Bormann, four children and six grandchildren.