SINGAPORE – For the first time in 120 years of history the most prestigious prize in the scientific world, the Nobel Prize in physics has been awarded to climatologists.
When the award was announced on October 5, three scientists were praised for their efforts to shed light on humanity’s role in the global crisis and to develop tools that can help countries cope with the impacts of change. climate.
The award comes in the run-up to the United Nations climate change conference later this month – underscoring the urgency for nations to take stronger climate action to limit impacts.
The conference, called COP26, aims to finalize details that will help countries implement the 2015 Paris Agreement, under which countries commit to limiting global warming to well below 2 Â° C, preferably at 1.5 Â° C, compared to pre-industrial levels.
One of the winners, the 90-year-old Japanese-American scientist Syukuro Manabe, was among the first to show that pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would raise the Earth’s surface temperature.
He projected in the 1960s that doubling the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would cause the global temperature to rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius.
The senior meteorologist at Princeton University also built the first computer model of the climate in the 1960s. Today, scientists continue to refine these models, which can help countries take action to reduce the impacts. of climate change.
Climate models show how the Earth system responds to factors such as the amount of emissions that warm the planet. The models will then project how things like temperature, precipitation, and sea level will be affected.
Professor Manabe shared half the price of 10million Swedish Kronor (S $ 1.56million) with German Klaus Hasselmann, 89, who was also recognized for his work in laying the groundwork for future models climate change and projections of global warming.
In the 1970s, Professor Hasselmann of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany developed a model that showed how weather and climate are related.
This link is crucial in helping scientists detect the fingerprints of climate change – which refers to long-term changes in Earth’s systems – during weather events, such as heat waves and droughts, the New York reported. Times.
Professor Hasselmann’s work also proved that the increase in temperature in the atmosphere was due to human emissions of carbon dioxide.
Decades later, in August of this year, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared humanity’s role in climate change to be “irrefutable”. Global warming carbon dioxide is emitted every time humans burn fossil fuels or clear forests.
The other half of the Nobel Prize in Physics went to 73-year-old Italian Giorgio Parisi, who deciphered and made sense of disordered physical systems, from atomic scale to planetary scale. Earth’s climate is an example of a complex physical system – and its work has helped provide some structure for scientists studying disordered systems.
The physicist at the Sapienza University in Rome has also looked into questions such as why the Earth experiences recurring ice ages.
Ice ages were caused by changes in the way the planet moved around the sun, affecting the amount of sunlight it receives.
But while the climate has already changed due to natural causes, humans are warming the planet at an unprecedented rate.
The winners’ work has spilled over generations – and inspired climate scientists in Singapore.
Dhrubajyoti Samanta, senior researcher at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), part of the university’s Asian School of the Environment, was particularly excited about Professor Hasselmann’s Nobel Prize.
Dr Samanta had previously applied the winner’s climate model while studying how the surface temperature of the western tropical Pacific Ocean changes every 100 years. Professor Hasselmann’s model explained how rapidly changing weather conditions, such as changes in wind speed, can result in slowly changing ocean characteristics, such as temperature.
Singapore University of Management Associate Professor Winston Chow, who is also an author of the IPCC, recalls reading Professor Manabe’s 1967 article while pursuing his doctorate in geography at State University from Arizona.
“It was definitely ahead of its time,” Professor Chow said of the article describing the meteorologist’s climate model.
“(His work) laid a solid foundation for how (climate science) developed over the next 50 years and improved our understanding of the causes of climate change.”
Meteorologist and climatologist Koh Tieh Yong of the University of Social Sciences of Singapore said the Nobel Prize “signals the growing importance of climate science” and could help developed countries inject more funds for research in this area. domain.
âThis means a less bumpy career path for the next generation of climate scientists,â he added.
At a press conference, the secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Goran K. Hansson, said the award underscored the fact that statements about the climate crisis were based on science.
The academy selects the laureates in the fields of physics, medicine, chemistry, peace, literature and economics.
This year’s chemistry prize, awarded to two scientists who developed a new tool to build molecules for various uses such as making drugs, also had environmental ties. The tool decreases the impact of chemistry on the environment by reducing waste, for example.
As for the Nobel Prize in Medicine, the main contenders were Hungarian-born Katalin Kariko and American Drew Weissman – the brains behind the mRNA technology used in Covid-19 vaccines such as those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Instead, the award went to two scientists for their discovery of receptors in the body capable of sensing temperature and touch.
The scientific journal Nature noted that applications should be sent by February 1 – shortly after the deployment of mRNA vaccines. Their impact on the pandemic was not yet clear at the time. But scientists are confident the mRNA will be recognized later, Nature reported.
Dr Hansson said: âThe development of mRNA vaccines is a wonderful achievement that has had huge positive consequences for mankind … We want to thank the right people. And for the good discovery … So stay tuned. listening. “