On Tuesday, October 5, three scientists received the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work that is crucial to understanding how the Earth's climate is changing, pointing to the effect of human behavior on those changes and predicting the impact of global warming.
The three winners are Syukuro Manabe (90) of Princeton University, Klaus Hasselmann (89) of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, and Giorgio Parisi (73) of the Sapienza University of Rome.
This year's winners helped gain an insight into what seemed like chaos by describing systems like the climate and predicting their long-term behavior. The award is a culmination of decades of work.
Dr Manabe's Trailblazing Work
In 1967, Dr Manabe created a computer model that confirmed the crucial connection between carbon dioxide (the primary greenhouse gas) and warming in the atmosphere, reported The New York Times.
The model was a trailblazer of sorts as it paved the way for other models of increasing sophistication. His later models, which inspected connections between conditions in the ocean and atmosphere, were important in recognising how increased melting of the Greenland ice sheet could affect ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University.
Dr Hasselmann's Work
About a decade later, Dr Hasselmann developed a model that connected short-term climate phenomena — like rain and other kinds of weather — to a longer-term climate like ocean and atmospheric currents. It laid the basis for attribution studies, a field of scientific inquiry that looks to establish the influence of climate change on specific events like droughts, intense rainstorms, and heatwaves, added Dr Mann.
Meanwhile, Dr Parisi is credited with the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems, including everything from a tiny collection of atoms to the atmosphere of an entire planet. He built "a deep physical and mathematical model" that made it possible to understand complicated the systems in fields as different as mathematics, biology, neuroscience and machine learning.
Dr Manabe and Dr Hasselmann will split half of the approximately $1.1 million prize. The other half will go to Dr Parisi.
While others have received Nobel Prizes for their work on climate change, including former US Vice President Al Gore, but the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said this is the first time the Physics prize has been awarded specifically to a climate scientist
How Significant Is Their Work?
The importance of their work gains urgency, especially in the backdrop of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report released in August showing that the nations of the world can no longer stop global warming from intensifying. The global average temperature will rise 2.7 degrees celsius by the century's end even if all countries meet their promised emissions cuts under the Paris Agreement. That temperature rise is likely to bring more extreme events like wildfires, droughts and floods, according to a United Nations report released in September.
As R Krishnan, director of Centre of Climate Change Research at Pune's Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, said that until very recently, climate science was not considered important enough even in scientific circles. He said that perhaps it was because weather forecasts were not very accurate. "Not everyone appreciated the fact that this science itself was uncertain and chaotic. Climate science never had the aura of particle physics or string theory, for example. But that perception is changing now. Weather forecasts have become far more accurate, the evidence on climate change have been compelling, thanks to the works of scientists like Manabe and Hasselmann. This Nobel Prize would probably help in further mainstreaming of climate science," he added.
The fact that climate change is here can no longer be denied. While Canada witnessed a blistering heatwave with temperatures rising to as high as 45 degrees celsius, western Europe witnessed catastrophic flooding. Last month, New York witnessed historic flooding. All these events have been attributed to climate change.
Also Read: Now, Order Fresh Fish Off Fishwaale App