Trio win Nobel Prize in physics for climate discoveries

Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi share prize for climate models and understanding of physical systems.

The winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in physics were announced at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm [Pontus Lundahl/TT News Agency via Reuters]

US-Japanese scientist Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann of Germany and Giorgio Parisi of Italy have won the Nobel Prize in physics for climate models and the understanding of physical systems.

The jury’s announcement came on Tuesday, a month before the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, where global warming will top the agenda.

Manabe, 90, and Hasselmann, 89, share one half of the 10-million-kronor ($1.1m) prize for their research on climate models, while Parisi, 73, won the other half for his work on the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems.

“Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann laid the foundation of our knowledge of the Earth’s climate and how humanity influences it,” the Nobel Committee for Physics said in a statement.

“Giorgio Parisi is rewarded for his revolutionary contributions to the theory of disordered materials and random processes,” it added.

Manabe showed how levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere corresponded to increased Earth surface temperatures [File: Johan Nilsson/TT News Agency/AFP]

Manabe is affiliated with Princeton University in the US, while Hasselmann is a professor at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg.

Parisi is a professor at Sapienza University of Rome.

Thors Hans Hansson, chair of the Nobel Committee, said “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”.

Climate models

Working in the 1960s, Manabe showed how levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere corresponded to increased Earth-surface temperatures.

He was influential in developing the physical models of Earth’s climate and worked on how exactly the heat energy received by Earth from the sun radiates back into the atmosphere.

Hasselmann was credited for working out how climate models can remain reliable despite sometimes chaotic variations in weather trends.

Klaus Hasselmann in his home in Hamburg, Germany after winning the 2021 Nobel Prize in physics [Fabian Bimmer/Reuters]

The Committee praised his identification of climate “fingerprints” caused by natural and human activities and how much climate change can be attributed solely to man-made emissions.

Parisi, who was awarded separately, was spotlighted for his work in the 1980s that the Committee said was “among the most important contributions” to the theory of complex systems.

His work made it possible for physicists to understand apparently entirely random materials, with wide-ranging applications including mathematics, biology and machine learning.

For the past two years, the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences has honoured findings in the field of astronomy, leading watchers to speculate it was due for a change of field.

In 2019, Canadian-US researcher James Peebles won the award for discoveries explaining the universe’s evolution after the Big Bang, together with Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of Switzerland for the first discovery of an exoplanet.

This was followed in 2020 for work on black holes, with Britain’s Roger Penrose, Germany’s Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez of the US honoured.

Cancelled ceremony

The prestigious honour is the second Nobel of the season after the medicine prize on Monday went to a US duo David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for discoveries on receptors for temperature and touch.

The Nobel season continues on Wednesday with the award for chemistry, followed by the much-anticipated prizes for literature on Thursday and peace on Friday before the economics prize winds things up on Monday, October 11.

While the names of the Nobel laureates are kept secret until the last minute, the Nobel Foundation has already announced that the glittering prize ceremony and banquet normally held in Stockholm in December for the science and literature laureates will not happen this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Like last year, laureates will receive their awards in their home countries.

A decision has yet to be made about the lavish Peace Prize ceremony held in Oslo on the same day.

Source: News Agencies