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

The prizes, announced by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Tuesday, October 5th, awarded three individual scientists for their respective work, recognizing that collectively they had, “provided groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex systems”.

Thors Hans Hanson, Chair of the Nobel Committe for Physics, said about the awards: “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 year’s prize underscores the fact that, despite the warnings from scientist decades ago, carbon emissions have continued to rise, as have global temperatures. That this much-deserved recognition comes in advance of November’s highly anticipated UN COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, where global leaders will convene with the stated goal of urgently reducing global carbon emissions in order to meet established warming targets, emphasizes the urgency with which climate action must be taken.

Berkeley Earth has compiled some additional resources below 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 proved to be nearly spot on thirty years later.

Princeton University’s senior meterologist Dr. Syukuro Manabe’s is credited with founding the field of climate modeling. His early work was among the first to clearly demonstrate that rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide would lead to temperature increases.

And to further prove his value to the field, warming predictions made using Manabe’s early modeling, first created in 1970, proved to be nearly consistent with warming trends observed decades later.

For more about Manabe’s model and other early climate models and their relative performance over time, read Hausfather’s 2019 paper “Evaluating the Performance of Past Climate Model Projections”.

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 to this day. The full methodology behind Berkeley Earth’s temperature record computation 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 discernible patterns found in otherwise seemingly random complex phenomena, crucial for understanding the interaction of the myriad complex variables that combine to create climate change.

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