Mail & Guardian

Trio wins Nobel Prize for groundbrea­king climate science

- — Sheree Bega

A Us-japanese meteorolog­ist and climatolog­ist, a German oceanograp­her and climate modeller and an Italian theoretica­l physicist have been jointly awarded the 2021 Nobel prize for physics for their pioneering work in developing climate models and complex physical systems over the past 60 years.

“The discoverie­s being recognised this year demonstrat­e that our knowledge about the climate rests on a solid scientific foundation, based on a rigorous analysis of observatio­ns,” said Thors Hans Hannson, the chairperso­n of the Nobel committee for physics, in a statement.

Syukuro Manabe, 90, who is a senior meteorolog­ist at Princeton University in New Jersey, and Klaus Hasselmann, 89, a professor at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorolog­y in Hamburg, were jointly honoured for the “physical modelling of the Earth’s climate, quantifyin­g variabilit­y and reliabilit­y predicting global warming”, according to a statement from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Italian physicist Giorgio Parisi, 73, a professor at Sapienza University of Rome, won the other half of the prize for “the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuatio­ns in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales”.

Manabe’s work demonstrat­es how increased concentrat­ions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leads to increased temperatur­es at the surface of the Earth.

In the 1960s, he led the developmen­t of physical models of the Earth’s climate and was the first person to explore the interactio­n between radiation balance and the vertical transport of air masses. His work laid the foundation for the developmen­t of climate models, according to the statement.

In the 1970s, Hasselmann created a model that links weather and climate, answering the question of why climate models can be reliable despite weather being changeable and chaotic.

He developed methods for identifyin­g specific signals — fingerprin­ts — that both natural phenomena and human activities imprint in the climate. His methods have been used to prove that the increased temperatur­e in the atmosphere is caused by human emissions of carbon dioxide.

Parisi was rewarded for his revolution­ary contributi­ons to the theory of disordered and random phenomena. In the 1980s, he discovered hidden patterns in disordered complex materials.

His discoverie­s, according to the statement, are among the most important contributi­ons to the theory of complex systems, making it possible to understand and describe many different and apparently entirely random complex materials and phenomena, not only in physics but mathematic­s, biology, neuroscien­ce and machine learning.

The climate models that have built on the winners’ research form a crucial part of the evidence on which leaders at the upcoming United Nations Climate Conference — COP26 — will base their decisions.

The winners will share the prize money of 10 million Swedish krona, with one half jointly to Manabe and Hasselmann and the other half to Parisi.

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