First Nobel for Climate Science

  • IASbaba
  • October 6, 2021
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First Nobel for Climate Science

Context: Syukuro Manabe and Richard Wetherald way back in 1967, for the first time, in their published papers had described the impact of carbon dioxide and water vapour on global warming.

  • Manabe, now 90, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. He shared one half of the prize with Klaus Hasselmann, another climate scientist, while the other half went to Georgio Parisi for his contributions in advancing the understanding of complex systems . 

First recognition

  • This is the first time climate scientists have been awarded the Physics Nobel. 
  • The IPCC had won the Peace Nobel in 2007, an acknowledgement of its efforts in creating awareness for the fight against climate change, while a Chemistry Nobel to Paul Crutzen in 1995, for his work on the ozone layer, is considered the only other time someone from atmospheric sciences has won this honour.
  • The recognition of Manabe and Hasselmann, therefore, is being seen as an acknowledgment of the importance that climate science holds in today’s world.

Manabe’s Work

  • The sophisticated climate models that we run today, which are so crucial to climate science, trace their ancestry to that model created by Manabe.
  • Manabe was also instrumental in developing the first coupled model, in which ocean and atmospheric interactions are modelled together, in the 1970s. 

Hasselmann’s Work

  • Hasselmann, a German, who is now 90, is an oceanographer who ventured into climate science. He is best known for his work on identifying specific signatures in the climate phenomena that enabled scientists to ascertain whether these were caused by natural processes or human activities.
  • In the 1990s, and even in the early 2000s, there was a lot of debate over the cause of global warming – whether these were being driven by human activities, or were part of natural variability. 
  • Hasselmann’s work on identifying these fingerprints has all but closed that debate now. IPCC’s sixth assessment report which came out in 2021 is unequivocal in saying that climate change is occurring because of human activities.
  • Manabe and Hasselmann too have been authors of previous IPCC reports. Both of them contributed to the first and third assessment reports, while Hasselmann was an author in the second assessment report as well.

Significance of this Nobel Prize 

  • Several scientists said that the delayed recognition to climate science couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.
  • This Nobel Prize will, hopefully, also help in more people believing in climate science
  • Until very recently, climate science was not considered important even in scientific circles. Perhaps that was because the weather forecasts were not very accurate. Not everyone appreciated the fact that this science itself was uncertain and chaotic. 
  • But that perception is changing now. Weather forecasts have become far more accurate, the evidence on climate change have been compelling, due to the works of various scientists like Manabe and Hasselmann.
  • This Nobel Prize would probably help in further mainstreaming of climate science.

Connecting the dots:

  • Sixth IPCC Report
  • Nobel Prize for Medicine

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