Nobel in physics rewards work on climate change
Studies centered on ‘complex systems’
STOCKHOLM – Three scientists won the Nobel Prize for physics on Tuesday for work that found order in seeming disorder, helping to explain and predict complex forces of nature, including expanding our understanding of climate change.
Syukuro Manabe, originally from Japan, and Klaus Hasselmann of Germany were cited for their work in “the physical modeling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming.” The second half of the prize went to Giorgio Parisi of Italy for explaining disorder in physical systems, ranging from those as small as the insides of atoms to the planet-sized.
In recognition of the climate challenges his work helped reveal, Hasselmann told The Associated Press he “would rather have no global warming and no Nobel prize.”
Across the Atlantic at the same time, Manabe told the Associated Press that figuring out the physics behind climate change was “1,000 times” easier than getting the world to do something about it.
The prize comes less than four weeks before the start of high-level climate negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland, where world leaders will be asked to ramp up their commitments to curb global warming. The scientists used their moment in the limelight to urge action.
“It’s very urgent that we take very strong decisions and move at a very strong pace” in tackling global warming, Parisi said during the announcement. He made the appeal even though his share of the prize was for work in a different area of physics.
All three scientists work on what are known as “complex systems,” of which climate is just one example. But the prize goes to two fields of study that are opposite in many ways though they share the goal of making sense of what seems random and chaotic so that can be predicted.
Parisi’s work largely centers around tiny subatomic particles and is somewhat esoteric, while the work by Manabe and Hasselmann is about largescale global forces that shape our daily lives. The judges said Manabe, 90, and Hasselmann, 89, “laid the foundation of our knowledge of the Earth’s climate and how human actions influence it.”
Starting in the 1960s, Manabe, now based at Princeton University in New Jersey, created the first climate models that forecast what would happen as carbon dioxide built up in the atmosphere. Scientists for decades had shown that carbon dioxide traps heat, but Manabe’s work offered specifics. It allowed scientists to eventually show how climate change will worsen and how fast depending on how much carbon pollution is spewed.
Manabe is such a pioneer that other climate scientists called his 1967 paper with the late Richard Wetherald “the most influential climate paper ever,” said NASA chief climate modeler Gavin Schmidt.
“Suki set the stage for today’s climate science, not just the tool but also how to use it,” said fellow Princeton climate scientist Gabriel Vecchi.