Three scientists on Tuesday won the Nobel Prize in Physics for work that brought order to apparent disorder, helping to explain and predict the complex forces of nature, including expanding our understanding of climate change.
Syukuro Manabe from Japan and Klaus Hasselmann from Germany have been cited for their work in “physical modeling of the Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming.” The second half of the prize was awarded to Giorgio Parisi from Italy for “the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic scale to planetary scale”.
Faced with the challenges of climate change, Hasselmann told The Associated Press that he “would rather not have global warming and no Nobel Prize”.
Across the Atlantic at the same time, Manabe noted in an interview that it is easier to understand the physics behind climate change than to get the world to do something.
The three scientists work on what are called “complex systems”, of which climate is just one example. But the price comes with two separate fields of study that are opposed in many ways but share the goal of making sense of what seems random and chaotic in a way that can be predicted.
Mr. Parisi’s work focuses on subatomic particles and is somewhat esoteric and academic, while the work of Mr. Manabe and Mr. Hasselmann focuses on the large-scale global forces that shape our daily lives.
The judges said that Mr. Manabe, 90, and Mr. Hasselmann, 89, “laid the foundation for our knowledge of Earth’s climate and how human actions influence it.”
Beginning in the 1960s, Mr. Manabe, now based at Princeton University in New Jersey, created the first climate models that predicted what would happen to the globe when carbon dioxide built up in the atmosphere. Scientists have shown for decades that carbon dioxide traps heat, but Dr. Manabe’s work has put details and predictions into this general knowledge. This allowed scientists to ultimately show how climate change will get worse and how quickly depending on the amount of carbon pollution being spat out.
About a decade later, Mr Hasselmann, of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, helped explain why climate models can be reliable despite the seemingly chaotic nature of the weather. He also developed ways to look for specific signs of human influence on the climate.
Mr Hasselmann said the problem with climate change is that it exists on such a large time scale that people find it difficult to understand it.
“People tend to deny the problem until it’s too late,” Hasselman said.
During this time, M. Parisi of the Sapienza University in Rome, “built a deep physical and mathematical model” which has enabled us to understand complex systems in fields as different as mathematics, biology, neuroscience and science. machine learning.
His work originally focused on what is known as spin glass, a type of metal alloy in which atoms are arranged in such a way as to change the magnetic properties of the material in seemingly random ways, which baffled scholars. scientists. Mr Parisi, 73, was able to uncover hidden patterns behind this behavior, theories that could be applied to other areas of research as well.
In their work, physicists used complex mathematics to explain and predict what appeared to be chaotic forces of nature in computer simulations, called modeling. This modeling has given scientists such a solid understanding of these forces that they can accurately predict the weather one week per week and warn of the climate decades in advance.
“Physics is about modeling, finding mathematical stories, their equations that accurately reflect the workings of nature and allow humanity to use science, as its instinct for survival,” said Jim Gates, physicist at Brown University.
Some non-scientists have ridiculed modeling, but it has been key to how the world tackles one of its biggest problems – climate change.
“Physically-based climate models have been able to predict the magnitude and rate of global warming, including some of the consequences such as rising seas, increasing extreme precipitation and stronger hurricanes, decades before it happened. ‘they cannot be observed. Klaus Hasselmann and Suki Manabe were pioneers in this field and personal role models for me, ”said German climatologist and modeler Stefan Rahmstorf.
“We [are] now seeing how their first predictions come true one after the other, ”said Rahmstorf.
When climatologists and former US Vice President Al Gore won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, some non-scientists who deny global warming rejected it as a political prize. Perhaps anticipating the controversy, members of the Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the Nobel Prize, pointed out that it was a science prize.
“It’s a physics prize. What we’re saying is that climate modeling is firmly based on physical theory and well-known physics, ”Swedish physicist Thors Hans Hansson said at the announcement.
It is common for several scientists working in related fields to share the prize.
While Mr Parisi’s work did not focus on the climate, he spoke of the pressing issues facing Earth after the announcement.
“It is very urgent that we take very strong decisions and that we move at a very sustained pace” in the fight against global warming, he said.
When asked if he expected to get the prize, Mr Parisi said: “I knew there was a sizable possibility.”
Mr. Hasselmann, for his part, expressed his perplexity.
“I don’t really understand it, but it’s fantastic,” he told Swedish news agency TT. “I heard it just five minutes ago. I’m still trying to figure it out.
“I don’t think I’ve done too much research in my life, but I had a lot of fun doing it with my colleagues,” he continued. “It is enough for me that my research shows that humans have really affected the climate. “
In Mr. Manabe’s hometown, the mayor announced his victory.
“I represent all the residents of the city to warmly congratulate Dr Shukuro Manabe,” said Minoru Shinohara, Mayor of Shikokuchuo City. Mr. Manabe grew up in the city’s Shingu Village.
The prestigious award is accompanied by a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor (over $ 1.14 million). The prize money comes from a bequest left by the creator of the prize, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.
On Monday, the Nobel Committee awarded the Physiology or Medicine Prize to Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their findings on how the human body perceives temperature and touch it.
Over the next few days, prizes will also be awarded for outstanding work in the fields of chemistry, literature, peace and economics.
This story was reported by The Associated Press. Seth Borenstein reported from Kensington, Maryland. PA journalists Frank Jordans and Kerstin Sopke in Berlin, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.