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Climate, complex systems discoveries win 3 scientists Nobel Prize in Physics

Three scientists jointly won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics for “groundbreaking” discoveries concerning Earth’s climate, the Nobel Assembly at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced in Stockholm on Tuesday.

Japanese scientist Syukuro Manabe and German scientist Klaus Hasselmann were jointly awarded the first half of the prize for “for the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming.”

Scientist Giorgio Parisi from Italy won the other half of the prize “for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.”

A statement by the assembly said the laureates made groundbreaking contributions to humanity’s understanding of complex systems in both climate, as well as other complex phenomena.

“Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann laid the foundation of our knowledge of the Earth’s climate and how humanity influences it,” the statement said. “Giorgio Parisi is rewarded for his revolutionary contributions to the theory of disordered materials and random processes.”

Manabe had laid the foundation for the development of current climate models by leading the development of physical models of the Earth’s climate in the 1960s, thus becoming the first person to explore the interaction between radiation balance and the vertical transport of air masses.

His study demonstrating how increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to increased temperatures at the planet’s surface brought him the Nobel Prize for shedding light on a complex system of vital importance to humankind.

Nearly a decade later, Hasselmann solved the mystery as to why climate models can be reliable despite weather being changeable and chaotic by creating a model that links together weather and climate.

He further contributed to the field by developing methods for identifying specific signals that act as fingerprints that both natural phenomena and human activities imprint in the climate. His methods have been used to prove that the increased temperature in the atmosphere is due to human CO2 emissions.

Around 1980, Parisi made discoveries about the hidden patterns in disordered complex materials.

“His discoveries are among the most important contributions to the theory of complex systems,” said the assembly’s statement. “They make it possible to understand and describe many different and apparently entirely random materials and phenomena, not only in physics but also in other, very different areas, such as mathematics, biology, neuroscience and machine learning.”

“This year’s Laureates have all contributed to us gaining deeper insight into the properties and evolution of complex physical systems,” the statement quoted Thors Hans Hansson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, as saying.

The Nobel Prizes in the fields of chemistry, literature, peace, and economics are expected to be presented to the winners by Oct. 11.

Last year, half of the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to British scientist Roger Penrose “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity,” and the other half jointly to American scientists Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez “for the discovery of a supermassive compact object” at the center of our galaxy.

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