Nobel Prize in Physics Awarded for Study of Humanity’s Role in Changing Climate

The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded on Tuesday to three scientists whose work “laid the foundation of our knowledge of the Earth’s climate and how humanity influences it.”

The winners were Syukuro Manabe of Princeton University, Klaus Hasselmann of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, and Giorgio Parisi of the Sapienza University of Rome.

The work of all three is essential to understanding how the Earth’s climate is changing and how human behavior is influencing those changes.

“The discoveries being recognized this year demonstrate that our knowledge about the climate rests on a solid scientific foundation, based on a rigorous analysis of observations,” said Thors Hans Hansson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics.

Complex systems, such as the climate, are often defined by their disorder. This year’s winners helped bring understanding to the seeming chaos, by describing those systems and predicting their long-term behavior.

Dr. Manabe demonstrated how increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to increased temperatures on the surface of the Earth.

Syukuro Manabe in 1997.Credit…Jim Sugar/Contributor/Getty Images

“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,” the committee said. “His work laid the foundation for the development of current climate models.”

Dr. Hasselmann, a decade later, created a model that links weather and climate, “answering the question of why climate models can be reliable despite weather being changeable and chaotic,” the Nobel committee said in its statement.

Klaus Hasselmann, in Hamburg, Germany, in 1990.Credit…Frank Hempel/United Archives via Getty Images

Dr. Parisi’s discoveries were described as “among the most important contributions to the theory of complex systems.”

He is credited with the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.

“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,” the committee said.

Who won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics?

The physics prize went to Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for their discoveries that have improved the understanding of the universe, including work on black holes.

Who else won a Nobel Prize in the sciences in 2021?

  • On Monday, the prize in Physiology or Medicine was jointly awarded to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for work that has led to the development of nonopioid painkillers.

Who else won Nobel Prizes in science in 2020?

  • Dr. Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice received the prize for their discovery of the hepatitis C virus.

  • The chemistry prize was jointly awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for their work on the development of Crispr-Cas9, a method for genome editing.

When will the other Nobel Prizes be announced?

  • On Wednesday, the Chemistry prize will be announced in Stockholm.

  • The prize in Literature will be announced in Stockholm on Thursday. Read about last year’s winner, Louise Glück.

  • The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday in Oslo. Read about last year’s winner, the World Food Program.

  • On Monday, the prize in Economic Sciences will be announced in Stockholm. Last year’s prize was shared by Paul Milgrom and Robert Wilson.

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