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Trio win physics Nobel for work that helps understand changing climate

STOCKHOLM: Japanese-born American Syukuro Manabe, German Klaus Hasselmann and Italian Giorgio Parisi won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday (Oct 5) for work that helps understand complex physical systems such as Earth's changing climate.

In a decision hailed by the UN weather agency as a sign of a consensus forming around man-made global warming, one half of the 10-million Swedish crown (US$1.15-million) prize goes in equal parts to Manabe, 90, and Hasselmann, 89, for modelling earth’s climate and reliably predicting global warming.

The other half goes to Parisi for discovering in the early 1980s "hidden rules" behind seemingly random movements and swirls in gases or liquids, which can also be applied to aspects of neuroscience, machine learning and starling flight formations.

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

Hasselmann, who is at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, told Reuters from his home that he did not want to wake up from what he described as a beautiful dream.

"I am retired, you know, and have been a bit lazy lately. I am happy about the honour. The research continues," he said.

The Academy said Manabe, who works at Princeton University in the United States, had laid the foundation in the 1960s for today's understanding of Earth's climate after moving to the United States from Japan to continue his research.

"In the context of the competition of the Cold War era, America in the 1960s was putting a tremendous amount of effort into scientific research," he said in an interview with Japanese broadcaster NHK after learning of his award.

"Being invited to America was my good fortune, rapid development in electronic calculators was also my good fortune, and so with an accumulation of good fortune I am here today."

Hasselmann, the Academy said, had developed models about 10 years later that became instrumental in proving that mankind's carbon dioxide emissions cause rising temperatures in the atmosphere.

Parisi, who dialled into the media briefing announcing the winners, was asked for his message to world leaders due to meet for UN climate change talks in Glasgow, Scotland, from Oct 31.

"I think it is very urgent that we take real and very strong decisions and we move at a very strong pace," said the 73-year-old laureate who works at Sapienza University of Rome.

Scientists have spent decades urging climate change action on an often reluctant society, Hasselmann said in a recording published on the Nobel Prize's website.

"It is just that people are not willing to accept the fact that they have to react now for something that will happen in a few years," he said.

GLOBAL WARMING

Work on climate changes has been recognised by Nobel prizes before.

Former US Vice President Al Gore and the UN climate panel received the Peace Prize in 2007 for galvanising international action against global warming, and William Nordhaus won one half of the 2018 Economics prize for integrating climate change into the Western economic growth model.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is also seen as a strong contender for this year's Peace Prize, due to be announced from Oslo on Friday.

"Sceptics or deniers of scientific facts ... are not so visible anymore and this climate science message has been heard," World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said of this year's award.

Physics is the second Nobel to be awarded this week after Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian won the prize for medicine on Monday for the discovery of receptors in the skin that sense temperature and touch.

The Nobel prizes were created in the will of Swedish dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel and have been awarded since 1901 with only a handful of interruptions, primarily due to the two world wars.

As last year, there will be no banquet in Stockholm because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The laureates will receive their medals and diplomas in their home countries.

The physics prize announcement will be followed in the coming days by the awards for chemistry, literature, peace and economics. 

Source: Reuters/gs/ec

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