Last week, Klaus Hasselmann (89), Syukuro Manabe (90), and Giorgio Parisi (73) were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for expanding our understanding of climate change.
Other Nobel Prizes have been awarded for climate change work, but this is the first time a climate scientist has received recognition, reinforcing the fact that what we know about climate change rests on a solid base of scientific studies and information.
The two previous prizes that were given, specifically related to climate change, were the 2007 Peace Prize, awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore, and the 2018 Economics Prize, awarded for putting climate science in an economics context.
The work of Hasselmann, Manabe, and Parisi has brought order and predictability to complex systems like the climate, taking seemingly random and chaotic events and turning them into valuable predictions.
Manabe and Hasselmann were awarded for “reliably predicting global warming” through their development of climate forecast models. Manabe explored the connection between the ocean and atmosphere and Hasselmann connected short-term weather, like rain, to ocean and atmospheric currents.
Manabe is cited for developing the first climate models, starting in the 1960s, forecasting what would occur as CO2 built up in the atmosphere. His 1967 paper that was published in the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences has been called “the most influential climate paper ever” and he has even been called “the Michael Jordan of climate” by other scientists and colleagues.
Hasselmann was able to demonstrate why climate models are reliable despite the seemingly unpredictable nature of the weather and he created a way to find signs regarding how our climate is being influenced by human activity.
Parisi’s share of the prize was given for building a model to understand complex systems in mathematics, biology, neuroscience, and machine learning. From atomic to planetary scales, Parisi’s studies of spin glasses led to breakthroughs in understanding disorder.
Although at first glance Parisi’s work seems unrelated to Manabe’s and Hasselmann’s climate change efforts, his studies of spin glasses have been recognized as a representation of something much bigger. (Hint: the behavior of the Earth’s climate.)
Parisi’s studies have even been used to model the 100,000-year cycles of glaciation that create the Earth’s ice ages.
No matter how their work is connected to each other’s work or to the Earth’s cycles and systems, all three scientists agree when it comes to making changes to fight climate change.
When asked about how he feels about receiving the Nobel Prize, Hasselmann said that he “would rather have no global warming and no Nobel Prize.”
Representing a similar sentiment, Manabe said in an interview that figuring out the physics behind climate change was 1,000 times easier than encouraging the world to act and make a difference to slow climate change.
Parisi’s effect on climate science is small compared to his work across other fields, but he’s still very much a part of the climate conversation and stands strong in his opinion of moving fast to combat global warming. “It’s very urgent that we take very strong decisions and move at a very strong pace” he said.
The Prize comes at an interesting time as world leaders prepare for COP26, a UN climate conference, in Glasgow in November. Approximately 200 countries will be represented, and leaders will be asked about their plans to cut carbon emissions by 2030.
While the recognition of climate science by the Nobel Committee is relevant, valuable, and hopefully far-reaching, the future lies in our actions. How will you help your community reduce carbon emissions?
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Together we can be a part of making the world a cleaner and greener place to live and work.
- Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/nobel-prizes-science-reinhard-genzel-roger-penrose-europe-2259a97932e3c368fdbd870841f16264
- The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/05/science/nobel-prize-physics-manabe-klaus-parisi.html#:~:text=Prize%20in%20Medicine-,Nobel%20Prize%20in%20Physics%20Awarded%20for%20Study%20of%20Humanity’s%20Role,foundation%2C%E2%80%9D%20the%20committee%20said.
- Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/beyond-the-winners-nobel-prize-for-climate-science-is-a-victory-for-many1/
- BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58790160