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It was announced in Stockholm today that the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi, three scientists who laid the foundations for many of the computational approaches used to understand complex climate systems.
Manabe and Hasselmann share half the prize in recognition of their development of seminal physical models. In research conducted in the 1960s, Manabe established the first models linking planetary radiation balance with atmospheric transport processes. In the following decade, Hasselmann spearheaded efforts to reconcile the apparent unpredictability of weather events with underlying climatic trends, his models providing the basis for present-day attribution of weather events to climate processes. The work of both was fundamental in demonstrating the role of anthropogenic emissions in driving contemporary climate change.
Meanwhile, the other half of the prize goes to Giorgio Parisi for his work describing patterns in disordered complex materials, which has found applications not only in climate systems but also in many other scientific fields, at spatial scales ranging from the macro to the micro.
With the COP26 summit drawing near, this year’s award- the first to celebrate contributions to climate science- provides timely recognition for the endeavours of three scientists who laid much of the groundwork for our ability to understand and respond to one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today.