2021 Nobel Prize Recognizes Foundational Work in Climate Science Ahead of COP26 Climate Conference

The awards, announced by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Tuesday, October 5th, recognized the three scientists for their individual work, the combined effect of which, “provided groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex systems,” leading to greater understanding of the complex interactions of physical phenomena involved in global warming and climate change.

According to Thors Hans Hanson, Chair of the Nobel Committe for Physics, “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.

This recognition comes in advance of November’s highly anticipated UN COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, with the stated goal of urgently reducing global carbon emissions in order to meet established warming targets. This prize underscores the fact that, despite the warnings from scientist decades ago, carbon emissions continue to rise, as do global temperatures.

Below we have compiled some resources to better understand the significant contributions of these three researchers to the field of climate science

  1. Syukuro Manabe’s 1970 models predicting future warming were nearly spot on thirty years later.

Princeton University’s senior meterologist Dr. Syukuro Manabe’s is credited with originating the field of climate modeling. His work clearly demonstrated that rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide lead to temperature increases.

Predictions made using Manabe’s early modeling, created in 1970, proved to be spot-on.

You can read more about this and other early climate models and their relative performance over time in Hausfather’s 2019 paper.

2. Klaus Hasselmann’s work identified the impact of man-made carbon dioxide emissions on increasing temperatures.

Whereas Menabe’s work demonstrated the relationship between elevated carbon dioxide and global warming, the Max Planck Institute’s Hasselman was one of the first to demonstrate that emissions as a result of human activity were increasing the earth’s temperature.

Hasselman’s work paved the way for the complex field of weather attribution studies, which examines the extent to which climate change is responsible for extreme weather events around the world.

In the decades since Hasselmann’s work, questions remained regarding what some characterized as inconsistencies in the global temperature data records used in these and other similar analyses; resolving these questions formed the basis for Berkeley Earth’s foundational in-depth study of the global temperature record, including but not limited to the effects of urban heat islands, station quality, and decadal variations.

The results of this work formed the genesis for the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) data set, which we continue to update on a monthly basis. The full methodology behind Berkeley Earth’s temperature record can be found here.

3. Giorgio Parisi’s study of disorder in complex systems enabled the description of the myriad interactions that combine to create climate change.

While Parisi’s work never directly touched on climate or weather systems, his work allowed for the interpretation of patterns in seemingly random complex phenomena, crucial for understanding the interaction of variables that combine to create climate change.

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