Climate scientists win 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics for linking global warming to human activity

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This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics recognizes three scientists for their work on weather and climate modeling and human effects on global warming.

Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi received the prestigious award on Tuesday at the annual event in Stockholm. Dr Manabe and Dr Hasselmann were honored for demonstrating how increasing levels of carbon dioxide have warmed the earth’s surface and created climate models that link time and climate. Dr. Parisi won the award for his discoveries that have advanced the understanding of complex systems.

“The findings recognized this year demonstrate that our knowledge of climate has a solid scientific basis, based on rigorous analysis of observations,” said Thors Hans Hansson, chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics.

Each year, Nobel Prizes for Peace, Medicine, Literature and more are awarded to those who make outstanding contributions to the benefit of humanity. With the much-anticipated COP26 climate conference approaching in November, young activists taking to the streets and UN summits, and a disheartening report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in August , the climate crisis is at the forefront of global conversations.

And that means the work of the physics award winners continues to resonate today.

The winners and their work

Senior AOS Scientists Kirk Bryan and Suki Manabe – First Collaborators in the Development of the Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Model – Speak with GFDL Founder and Former Director Joseph Smagorinksy | Image: The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL)

Manabe is a senior meteorologist at Princeton University who has worked in climate science for over 60 years. Manabe was born in Japan in 1931 and immigrated to the United States in 1958 to work for the US Weather Bureau. In the 1960s, he worked with Princeton University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). His work in the 1960s led to the first climate models that showed the effects of human activity on global warming.

“Without the science of climate modeling which [Dr. Manabe] insider, we might still know that the Earth’s greenhouse effect was increasing due to human activity and the Earth was warming, ”said Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University and founder of the Climate Action Network. “But linking these two facts would be more difficult and projecting the future at a useful level of detail would be impossible.”

In a phone interview with Adam Smith, Scientific Director of Nobel Prize Outreach, Manabe explained the importance of understanding climate systems and temperature changes and how they influence global patterns such as severe floods and droughts.

“The prediction of climate change without [an] the understanding that comes with it is no better than [the] prediction of [a] fortune teller, ”Manabe said.

Manabe shares the Nobel Prize with Hasselmann, German physicist, oceanographer and professor at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg. While Manabe’s work in the 1960s laid the foundation for current climate models, Hasselmann’s work 10 years later confirmed that climate models are reliable in predicting the weather, although the weather can be unpredictable by nature.

“Hasselmann demonstrated how chaotically changing weather phenomena can be described as rapidly changing noise, thus placing long-term climate predictions on a solid scientific basis,” wrote Joanna Rose for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, l organization responsible for awarding Nobel Prizes.

Since his groundbreaking work in weather and climate, the 89-year-old has been a strong advocate for climate action, saying in 1988: “We have to realize that we are entering a situation where there is no is no turning back. ”

Hasselmann’s methods have also been used to prove that human increased production of carbon dioxide has raised the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere.

“What is most urgent is action on climate change,” Hasselmann said in a telephone interview with Nobel Prize Outreach. “I mean, there are a lot of things we can do to prevent climate change, and it’s all a question of whether people will realize that something that will happen in 20 or 30 years is something which you have to answer now, and that is the main problem with climate change.

Parisi, an Italian theoretical physicist, accepted the shared prize for his findings “on how seemingly random phenomena are governed by hidden rules”. His methods of solving complex systems have taken years to be proven mathematically correct. He also applied his studies to questions such as why the earth has recurring ice ages.

Asked about the role his work plays in understanding climate change, Parisi hopes governments will begin to recognize the importance of basic and applied science in decision-making.

“It is clear that for the next generation we need to act now very quickly,” Parisi said of the current climate crisis at a press conference.

The price of 10 million crowns (1.14 million USD) is split between the three scientists, with Manabe and Hasselmann sharing half and Parisi taking the other. Last year’s physics prize went to three astrophysicists and their work on black holes.

Why is this Nobel Prize important?

Manabe’s work has been instrumental in modern climate models, including the latest IPCC report, which underscored the need for countries to take immediate action to reduce carbon emissions to slow the effects of climate change. .

The COP26 conference in November will bring together world leaders at a pivotal time for a concerted effort to mitigate the effects of climate change. Informed by science and predictive models, the choices made right now will have an impact on the future of our planet.

“Today’s climatologists stand on the shoulders of these giants, who laid the foundation for our understanding of the climate system,” said Ko Barrett, senior climate advisor at NOAA and vice-chairman of the IPCC.



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