Nobel Prize for Physics awarded to climate scientists

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Climate scientists Prof. Syukuro Manabe, Prof. Klaus Hasselmann and Prof. Giorgio Parisi have been awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The research of these three scientists has been key to advancing the current understanding of complex physical systems such as Earth’s changing climate. When awarding this prize, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences recognized Manabe and Hasselmann “for the physical modeling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming”. They share the prize with Parisi for his work on fluctuations in physical systems.

Manabe was born in Japan in 1931 and studied at the University of Tokyo, where he received his PhD in 1958. He then moved to the USA to work on climate prediction using numerical simulations at the General Circulation Research Section of the National Weather Bureau. He has continued to work on global warming research at the Frontier Research System for Global Change in Japan and at Princeton University, where he has contributed to climate change prediction. The numerical simulation techniques developed by Manabe, which take into account the interaction between the atmosphere and the oceans, are the basis of the Earth system modeling and predictions used today for long-term climate prediction and are indispensable not only for global warming prediction but also for daily to seasonal forecasting.

Hasselmann was born in Germany in 1931 and earned his PhD at the the University of Göttingen and Max Planck Institute of Fluid Dynamics in 1957. He conducted research in the 1970s on the relationship between weather and climate. He also analyzed the relationship between global warming and human activities. According to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the methods he developed made it possible to prove the relationship between the two.

Born in August 1948, Parisi became a meteorological theorist at the Sapienza University of Rome, Italy. It was here that he earned his PhD through his focus on quantum field theory, statistical mechanics and condensed matter physics. The professor was awarded the Nobel prize for his discovery of “the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.”

Both Manabe and Hasselmann contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change’s (IPCC) First Assessment report in 1990, and Third Assessment Report in 2001, while Hasselmann also contributed to the Second Assessment Report in 1995. The IPCC as an institution shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former US Vice President Al Gore. The IPCC released the first part of its Sixth Assessment Report in August this year, with the remaining three parts due in 2022.

Welcoming the announcement, the chair of IPCC, Dr Hoesung Lee said, “We at IPCC congratulate the laureates of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics. As public awareness of climate change grows, it is encouraging to see the Nobel Physics Prize recognizing the work of scientists who have contributed so much to our understanding of climate change, including two IPCC authors –  Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann.”

WMO secretary-general Prof. Petteri Taalas said, “The award is great news. This demonstrates that climate science is highly valued and the climate science message has been heard. However, we urgently need to translate this scientific knowledge into policy-making. The concrete action hasn’t been ambitious enough so far. There’s clearly a need to raise the ambition level. We cannot wait for decades to start acting.”

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