Veerabhadran Ramanathan

“I’m not saying to solve the problem [of global warming] is impossible, but getting the people together to solve it is the issue.”

Quick Facts

Born: 1944 in southern India.

Occupation: Current director of the Centre for Atmospheric Sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Areas of Interest: Climate research; greenhouse effect; global warming.

Known For: Discovering the greenhouse effect of CFCs.

Childhood and Education

Veerabhadran Ramanathan was born in 1944 in southern India [1]. As a child Ramanathan and his family spent large amounts of time travelling, due to his father’s occupation as a travelling salesman [2]. This had an impact on Ramanathan’s early education, as he attended several different schools during this time. When Ramanathan was aged 11, his family moved further north to Bangalore [3]. Here the schools taught in English rather than Tamil, which first proved problematic for Ramanathan as he could not understand what the teachers were saying [3]. But he did not let this language barrier affect him, and instead it encouraged him to become a highly self-sufficient learner. After finishing high school, Ramanathan went on to study for a bachelor’s in engineering at Annamalai University in Bangalore, graduating in 1965 [3].


Having subsequently worked in the engineering sector for over a year [3], Ramanathan decided that it wasn’t for him. He then joined the Indian Institute of Science where he did research into energy transfer (a combination of engineering and physics) and designed India’s first Mach-Zehnder interferometer [2]. It was then that Ramanathan decided he wanted to be involved in scientific research. His meteorological career began when he moved to Stony Brook University New York in 1970, where he completed a doctoral thesis on planetary atmospheres [2]. In 1973 Ramanathan joined NASA Langley and started looking into the impact of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) on the greenhouse effect [3]. It was in 1975 that he made his most significant discovery: the greenhouse effect of CFC’s [4]. It was a finding that would alter scientist’s perceptions of climate change. In 1976 he joined the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado [2], where he continued his climate research and in 1980 wrote a paper predicting that global warming would be sensed by 2000 [5]. While an academic at the University of Chicago in 1989, he also fronted a NASA study and authored a paper which showed that clouds had a large global cooling effect [4]. Ramanathan joined the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1993, and is now the director of the Centre for Atmospheric Sciences at Scripps [6]. During this time he has led an international experiment into the health impacts of Atmospheric Brown Clouds over South India [4]. He is now the leader of Project Surya, which aims to reduce climate warming emissions from biomass cooking in Kenya and South Asia [4].

Awards and Achievements

  • Awarded the Buys Ballot Medal in 1995 by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences for his work in atmospheric sciences [1].
  • Awarded the Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal in 2002 for his research into gases, clouds and aerosols in the climate system [1].
  • Named as ‘Champion of the Earth’ by the UN in 2013 [4].

Received the BBVA Foundation Frontier of Knowledge Award in 2015 for his discovery of the role CFC’s play in the greenhouse effect [1].


  • Ramanathan said that he had “lost the habit of listening to my teachers and had to figure out things on my own” after he moved to an English speaking school in India at the age of 11 [2].
  • Originally Ramanathan wanted to go to the U.S. to “enjoy the good life” and “drive big, fast cars” [2].

Video Links

Ramanathan talks about his work on global warming and climate change (14mins):

Receives the UNEP Champion of the Earth Award in 2013 (2mins):

Scientific Papers and Publications

Ramanathan, V., Greenhouse Effect Due to Chlorofluorocarbons: Climatic Implications, Science, 1975. (Referred to in the biography – finding that one molecule of CFCs has the equivalent greenhouse effect of 10,000 CO2 molecules):

Ramanathan, V., Barkstrom, B. R., and Harrison, E. F., Climate and the Earth’s Radiation Budget, International Agrophysics, 1989: