Nobel Prize in physics awarded to scientists whose work warned the world of climate change

The Nobel Prize in physics has been awarded to scientists Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi, whose groundbreaking work over the past 60 years predicted climate change and decoded complex physical systems.

Manabe, 90, and Hasselmann, 89, were jointly honored for “the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming,” according to the press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Both men carried out pioneering work in the 1960s and 1970s that sounded an early alarm on human-made climate change.

Italian physicist Parisi, 73, claimed the other half of the award, for “the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.”

The trio were announced as winners at a news conference Tuesday in Stockholm, Sweden.

Manabe’s work in the 1960s demonstrated how increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused the Earth’s temperature to rise. In doing so, he “laid the foundation for the development of current climate models,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement.

A decade later, Hasselmann “created a model that links together weather and climate.”

Thors-Hans Hansson, the chair of the Nobel committee, said: “It’s a physics prize. And what we are saying is that the modelling of climate is solidly based in physical theory.”

Parisi’s discoveries, meanwhile, “make it possible to understand and describe many different and apparently entirely random complex materials and phenomena.” This is not only true for physics but also for other areas, such as mathematics, biology, neuroscience and machine learning, the academy added.

The committee’s decision to recognize pioneering work on climate change comes weeks before the world’s leaders meet at COP26, a crucial summit in the United Kingdom.

Parisi acknowledged the timeliness of the award while speaking with reporters after the announcement. He said it is “urgent that we take a very strong position, and we move at a very strong pace,” adding: “It’s clear that for the future generations, we have to act now, in a very fast way.”

Michael Moloney, CEO of the American Institute of Physics, told CNN: “I can’t say whether the Nobel Prize Committee had a political message, but what it does clearly show is that [the] Earth system science models on which we understand the trajectory and the predictions for our planet’s climate [are] sound, solid science.”

“Together [the new laureates] have laid the foundation of our knowledge of the Earth’s climate and how humanity influences it, as well as revolutionized the theory of disordered materials and random processes,” added David Pendlebury, a senior citation analyst at the research company Clarivate’s Institute for Scientific Information.

On Monday, the Nobel Prize in medicine was given to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.

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