Syukuro Manabe, a climatologist and elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize for Physics along with fellow climate researcher Klaus Hasselmann and theoretical physicist Giorgio Parisi. The trio were recognized for their “groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex physical systems.”
Parisi was awarded half the prize for his work uncovering “hidden patterns in disordered complex materials,” work that the prize committee noted amounted to “among the most important contributions to the theory of complex systems.”
Hasselmann and Manabe, meanwhile, each were awarded with a quarter of the prize for their research into climate change. The duo are responsible for much of what we know about the gradual warming of the earth over the past few decades.
Goran K. Hansson, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which administers the prize, explained why climate science falls into the purview of the award. “It's a physics prize and what we are saying is that the modelling of climate is solidly based in physical theory and well-known physics," he said.
“Manabe showed us how and why increasing CO2 leads to global warming. Hasselmann showed that it is happening,” climate scientist Bjorn Stevens told Nature of how their achievements complemented each other.
Hasselmann, who is based at the Max Plank Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, developed what is called the Hasselmann model of climate variability. His research has allowed us to better understand how we can rely on climate models despite the chaotic nature of the weather.
Manabe, who is a senior meteorologist at Princeton University, pioneered the development of physical models of the climate that formed the foundation of much of today’s climate science. Thanks to Manabe’s work, we were able to discover the link between increasing levels of carbon dioxide and the warming of the planet.
“Manabe and his colleagues knit together this web of processes, including key aspects of the atmosphere’s thermodynamics and dynamics and made the first…reliable prediction that if you doubled the carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere, the surface temperature would increase by two degrees Celsius,” John Wetlaufer, a Princeton physicist who serves on the Nobel Committee for Physics, said.
Manabe conducted that early climate modeling on a massive computer that filled an entire room in the late 1960’s. It took hundreds of hours of testing for him to produce his results. “He was the first scientist to do a thorough calculation that was reliable,” Gunnar Ingelman, the secretary of the Nobel Physics Committee, noted.
Adam Smith, the chief scientific officer for Nobel Prize Outreach, interviewed Manabe shortly after the decision was made to give him this year’s prize.
“I really appreciate that the Swedish Academy of Science [chose] this field – climate topics, climate change, which I enjoyed very much to do throughout my lengthy career…and so I am so surprised, but at the same time I dearly appreciate that Swedish Academy of Science choose my research for this honour of this year,” Manabe told Smith.