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Insights into Editorial: First Nobel for climate science





The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded with one half jointly to Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and the other half to Giorgio Parisi.

The Nobel Prize Committee said the Physics Prize this year was given for “ground-breaking contributions to our understanding of complex systems”.

This is the first-time climate scientists (Manabe and Hasselmann) have been awarded the Physics Nobel. Last year, the award was given for the research into black holes.

One-half of the Nobel Prize worth $1.5 million (10 million Swedish crowns) was given in equal parts to Manabe and Hasselmann who worked on modeling Earth’s climate and predicting global warming in a reliable manner.

The other half of the Nobel Prize went to Parisi for discovering the hidden rules behind random movements and swirls in gases or liquids.


Nobel Prize- overview:

  1. Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist, engineer, industrialist, and the inventor of dynamite, in his last will and testament in 1895, gave the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology/Medicine, Literature, and Peace, to be called the “Nobel Prizes”.
  2. In 1968, the sixth award, the Prize in Economic Sciences was started.
  3. The Nobel Prize consists of a Nobel Medal and Diploma, and a document confirming the prize amount.
  4. Between 1901 and 2018, the Prizes have been awarded 590 times, the recipients during this period being 908 Laureates and 27 organisations.
  5. The following Indians (or individuals of Indian origin) have been honoured with the Nobel:
    1. Rabindranath Tagore (Literature, 1913), C V Raman (Physics, 1930), Hargobind Khorana (Medicine, 1968), Mother Teresa (Peace, 1979), Subramanian Chandrashekhar (Physics, 1983), the Dalai Lama (Peace, 1989), Amartya Sen (Economics, 1998), Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (2009), and Kailash Satyarthi (Peace, 2014).


2021 Nobel Prize in Physics:

  1. The Swedish Academy of Sciences in a statement said, “Complex systems are characterized by randomness and disorder and are difficult to understand.”
  2. The Nobel Prize in Physics 2021 recognizes new methods for describing them and predicting their long-term behaviour.
  3. Syukuro Manabe is a Japanese-American meteorologist and climatologist who led the projects that used computers to simulate natural climate variations and global climate change.
  4. He has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2021 for his work in the physical modeling of Earth’s climate, reliable prediction of global warming, and quantifying variability.
  5. Klaus Hasselmann is a German oceanographer and climate modeler. He is popular for his Hasselmann model of climate variability.
  6. Hasselmann has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2021 for his works in physical modeling of Earth’s climate, reliably predicting global warming, quantifying variability, and understanding complex systems.


Background of climate science recognition:

In 2015, Carbon Brief, a UK-based climate-focused online publication, asked the main authors of the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to identify the three most influential climate change research papers ever published.

The paper that received the most votes was one by Syukuro Manabe and Richard Wetherald way back in 1967, that, for the first time, had described the impact of carbon dioxide and water vapour on global warming.

The Manabe 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 .

These are systems with a very high degree of randomness; weather and climate phenomena are examples of complex systems.


First recognition for climate scientists:

  1. 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,
  2. 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.
  3. The recognition of Manabe and Hasselmann, therefore, is being seen as an acknowledgment of the importance that climate science holds in today’s world.
  4. That 1967 paper was seminal work. It was the first description of the processes of global warming. Manabe and Wetherland also created a climate model for the first time.
  5. The sophisticated models that we run today, which are so crucial to climate science, trace their ancestry to that model created by Manabe. He was a pioneer in so many ways, and the father of climate modelling.


Mainstreaming climate science:

  1. Several scientists said that the delayed recognition to climate science couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.
  2. Climate change is the biggest crisis facing the world, and the humanity, today.
  3. Unfortunately, there still are some people, and governments, that are not convinced of the reality, although that is changing quickly.
  4. Apart from the fact that the recognition of Manabe and Hasselmann is richly deserved and long awaited, this Nobel Prize will, hopefully, also help in more people believing in climate science.


Understanding complex systems:

The study of complex physical systems has applications ranging from neuroscience to biology and machine learning.

But in the press release accompanying the announcement, the Nobel Committee for Physics highlighted one complex system in particular: the Earth’s climate.

The discoveries being recognised 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 Laureates have all contributed to us gaining deeper insight into the properties and evolution of complex physical systems.



Until very recently, climate science was not considered important even in scientific circles.

Perhaps that was because our weather forecasts were not very accurate. Not everyone appreciated the fact that this science itself was uncertain and chaotic.

Climate science never had the aura of particle physics or string theory, for example. But that perception is changing now.

Weather forecasts have become far more accurate, the evidence on climate change have been compelling, thanks to the works of scientists like Manabe and Hasselmann. This Nobel Prize would probably help in further mainstreaming of climate science.