Climate modellers and theorist of complex systems share physics Nobel

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Climate modellers and theorist of complex systems share physics Nobel

Nobel Prize Medal engraved with a portrait of Alfred Nobel

Credit: Alamy

Three researchers have won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on describing complex physical systems — including foundational research that predicted that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere would raise global temperatures.

Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann share half of the 10-million Swedish kronor (US$1.15-million) prize for modelling the physics of Earth’s climate.

Theoretical physicist Giorgio Parisi at the Sapienza University of Rome shares the other half of the prize for his contributions to the theory of complex systems. His work has affected many areas, from neuroscience to how granular materials pack, the Nobel committee said in its announcement on 5 October.

“These are two different prizes, but there is the common theme that has to do with this order, these fluctuations together that can give rise to something that we can understand and predict,” said Thors Hans Hansson, chair of the physics Nobel committee. “We can predict what is happening with the climate in the future if we know how to code the chaotic weather.”

“I was very happy and I was not really expecting it,” Parisi told reporters during the announcement. “I was really very happy. I knew there was some non-negligible possibility.”

The award comes before a pivotal climate conference — the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, due to take place in Glasgow, UK, in November. “It’s very urgent that we take a very strong decision and move at a very strong pace,” said Parisi, of the climate negotiations. “For the future generations, we have to act now in a very fast way.”

Asked if the Nobel committee was sending a message to world leaders with the award, Göran Hansson, secretary-general of the prize-awarding Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said: “What we are saying is that the modelling climate is solidly based in physical theory and solid physics.” He added: “Global warming is resting on solid science. That is the message.”

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-02703-3

This is a breaking news story and will be updated with further details.

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