2021 Physics Nobel Prize Celebrates the Science of Climate Change

Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi. Illustration: Niklas Elmehed

What’s the name of the prize?

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2021.

Who has won the prize?

Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann; and Giorgio Parisi.

Syukuro Manabe was born in 1931 in Shingu, Japan and received his PhD in 1957 from the University of Tokyo, Japan. He is currently a senior meteorologist at Princeton University, US.

Klaus Hasselmann was also born in 1931 in Hamburg, Germany. Like Manabe, he received his PhD in 1957, but from the University of Göttingen in Germany. He is now a professor at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany.

Giorgio Parisi was born in 1948 in Rome, Italy. He received his PhD in 1970 from the Sapienza University in his hometown. He is currently a professor at the very same university.

What have they won the prize for?

For groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex physical systems.

One half was awarded jointly to Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann “for the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming” and the other half to Giorgio Parisi “for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.”

The citation says that this year’s prize recognises new methods for describing them and predicting their long-term behaviour.

“One complex system of vital importance to humankind is Earth’s climate. Syukuro Manabe demonstrated how increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead 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 current climate models.

“About ten years later, Klaus Hasselmann created a model that links together weather and climate, thus answering the question of why climate models can be reliable despite weather being changeable and chaotic. He also developed methods for identifying specific signals, fingerprints, that both natural phenomena and human activities imprint in he climate. His methods have been used to prove that the increased temperature in the atmosphere is due to human emissions of carbon dioxide.

“Around 1980, Giorgio Parisi discovered hidden patterns in disordered complex materials. His discoveries are among the most important contributions to the theory of complex systems. They make it possible to understand and describe many different and apparently entirely random materials and phenomena, not only in physics but also in other, very different areas, such as mathematics, biology, neuroscience and machine learning.”

How are they splitting the prize?

Manabe and Hasselmann will receive one half of the prize and Parisi the other.

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