January 26 2022
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Nobel Prize

Physics Nobel rewards work on complex systems, like climate

Story by Saphora Smith

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Published on October 6, 2021 8:28 AM
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. 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.
Japanese-born American Syukuro Manabe, German Klaus Hasselmann and Italian Giorgio Parisi on Tuesday won the Nobel Prize in physics for work that helps understand complex physical systems, such as Earth's changing climate.

Manabe and Hasselmann were awarded jointly for the physical modeling of the climate, "quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming."

Parisi was awarded the other half of the prize "for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales."

The overarching theme that linked the joint prize was to do with disorder and fluctuation, and how together they help scientists predict events, Thors Hans Hansson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, said.

"We can predict what is happening with the climate in the future if we know how to encode the chaotic weather," he said.

Manabe, a senior meteorologist at Princeton University, demonstrated how increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to higher temperatures.

His work in the 1960s led the development of physical models of the Earth's climate, and his work laid the foundation for the development of current climate models...

Syukuro Manabe

Syukuro 'Suki' Manabe is a Japanese-American meteorologist and climatologist who pioneered the use of computers to simulate global climate change and natural climate variations. He was awarded half the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics, jointly with Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi, for groundbreaking contributions to the 'physical modeling of earth's climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming.'


Born in 1931 in Ehime Prefecture, Japan, Manabe received a Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo in 1958 and went to the United States to work at the General Circulation Research Section of the U.S. Weather Bureau, now the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of NOAA, continuing until 1997. From 1997 to 2001, he worked at the Frontier Research System for Global Change in Japan serving as Director of the Global Warming Research Division. In 2002 he returned to the United States as a visiting research collaborator at the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, Princeton University. He currently serves as senior meteorologist at the university.

Scientific accomplishments

Working at NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, first in Washington, DC and later in Princeton, New Jersey, Manabe worked with director Joseph Smagorinsky to develop three-dimensional models of the atmosphere. As the first step, Manabe and Wetherald developed one-dimensional, single-column model of the atmosphere in radiative-convective equilibrium with positive feedback effect of water vapor. Using the model, they found that, in response to the change in atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, temperature increases at the Earth's surface and in the troposphere, whereas it decreases in the stratosphere. The development of the radiative-convective model was a critically important step towards the development of comprehensive general circulation model of the atmosphere . They used the model to simulate for the first time the three-dimensional response of temperature and the hydrologic cycle to increased carbon dioxide .

In 1969 Manabe and Bryan published the first simulations of the climate by a coupled ocean-atmosphere models, in which the general circulation model of the atmosphere is combined with that of ocean. Throughout the 1990s early 2000s, Manabe's research group published seminal papers using the coupled atmosphere ocean models to investigate the time-dependent response of climate to changing greenhouse gas concentrations of the atmosphere . They also applied the model to the study of past climate change, including the role of freshwater input to the North Atlantic Ocean as a potential cause of the so-called, abrupt climate change evident in the paleoclimatic record . See the Book 'Beyond Global Warming' for details.

Awards and honors

Manabe is a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences, and a foreign member of Japan Academy, Academia Europaea and the Royal Society of Canada.

In 1992, Manabe was the first recipient of the Blue Planet Prize of the Asahi Glass Foundation. In 1995, he received the Asahi Prize from Asahi News-Cultural Foundation. In 1997 Manabe was awarded the Volvo Environmental Prize from the Volvo Foundation. In 2015 he was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Medal of Franklin Institute.

Manabe has also been honored with the American Meteorological Society's Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal, the Second Half Century Award, and Meisinger Award. In addition, he is honored with the American Geophysical Union's William Bowie Medal and Revelle Medal, and in 1998 received the Milutin Milankovic Medal from the European Geophysical Society.

Manabe and Bryan's work in the development of the first global climate models has been selected as one of the Top Ten Breakthroughs to have occurred in NOAA's first 200 years. In honor of his retirement from NOAA / GFDL, a three-day scientific meeting was held in Princeton, New Jersey in March 1998. It was titled 'Understanding Climate Change: A Symposium in honor of Syukuro Manabe'. The 2005 annual meeting of American Meteorological Society included a special Suki Manabe Symposium.

Manabe is co-winner with climatologist James Hansen of the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Climate Change category in this ninth edition of the awards. The two laureates were separately responsible for constructing the first computational models with the power to simulate climate behavior. Decades ago, they correctly predicted how much Earth's temperature would rise due to increasing atmospheric CO2. The scores of models currently in use to chart climate evolution are heirs to those developed by Manabe and Hansen.

In 2018, Manabe received the Crafoord Prize in Geosciences jointly with Susan Solomon 'for fundamental contributions to understanding the role of atmospheric trace gases in Earth's climate system'.

In 2021, Manabe received the Nobel Prize in Physics 'for the physical modelling of Earth's climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming'.

Klaus Hasselmann

Klaus Ferdinand Hasselmann is a leading German oceanographer and climate modeller. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Hamburg and former Director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology. He was awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics jointly with Syukuro Manabe and Giorgio Parisi. Hasselmann grew up in Welwyn Garden City, England and returned to Hamburg in 1949 to attend university. Throughout his career he has mainly been affiliated with the University of Hamburg and the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, which he founded. He also spent five years in the United States as a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and a year as a visiting professor at the University of Cambridge.

He is best known for developing the Hasselmann model of climate variability, where a system with a long memory integrates stochastic forcing, thereby transforming a white-noise signal into a red-noise one, thus explaining the ubiquitous red-noise signals seen in the climate.


Hasselmann was born in Hamburg, Germany . His father Erwin Hasselmann was an economist, journalist and publisher, who was politically active for the Social Democratic Party of Germany from the 1920s. Due to his father's activity in the SPD, the family emigrated to the United Kingdom in mid 1934 at the beginning of the Nazi era to escape the repressive regime and persecution of social democrats, and Klaus Hasselmann grew up in the U.K. from age two. They lived in Welwyn Garden City north of London and his father worked as a journalist in the U.K. Although the Hasselmanns themselves were not Jewish, they lived in a close-knit community of mostly Jewish German emigrants, and received assistance from the English Quakers when they arrived in the country. Klaus Hasselmann attended Elementary and Grammar School in Welwyn Garden City, and passed his A-levels in 1949. Hasselmann has said that 'I felt very happy in England' and that English is his first language. His parents returned to Hamburg in 1948, but Klaus remained in England to finish his A-levels. In August 1949, at the age of nearly eighteen, he followed his parents to Hamburg in the then divided Germany in order to attend higher education. After attending a practical course in mechanical engineering from 1949 to 1950, he enrolled at the University of Hamburg in 1950 to study physics and mathematics.

Klaus Hasselmann has been married to the mathematician Susanne Hasselmann since 1957 and they have also worked closely professionally; his wife was a senior scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology. They have three children.

Professional background and climate research

Hasselmann graduated in physics and mathematics at the University of Hamburg in 1955 with a thesis on isotropic turbulence. He earned his PhD in physics at the University of Göttingen and Max Planck Institute of Fluid Dynamics from 1955 to 1957. In 1963 he earned his Habilitation in physics.

He was an assistant professor at the University of Hamburg from 1957 to 1961 and an assistant professor and associate professor at the Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla from 1961 to 1964. He was Professor of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at the University of Hamburg from 1966. He was a visiting professor at the University of Cambridge from 1967 to 1968 and was the Doherty Professor at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts from 1970 to 1972. In 1972 he became Professor of Theoretical Geophysics at the University of Hamburg, where he also became Director of the Institute for Geophysics.

From February 1975 to November 1999, Hasselmann was Founding Director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg. Between January 1988 and November 1999 he was also Scientific Director at the German Climate Computing Centre , Hamburg. He has been vice-chairman and board member of the European Climate Forum for many years until 2018. The European Climate Forum has been founded in 2001 by Carlo Jaeger and Hasselmann.

Hasselmann has published papers on climate dynamics, stochastic processes, ocean waves, remote sensing, and integrated assessment studies. His reputation in oceanography was primarily founded on a set of papers on non-linear interactions in ocean waves. In these he adapted Feynman diagram formalism to classical random wave fields. He later discovered plasma physicists were applying similar techniques to plasma waves, and that he had rediscovered some results of Rudolf Peierls explaining the diffusion of heat in solids by non-linear phonon interactions. This led him to review the field of plasma physics, rekindling an earlier interest in quantum field theory.

Hasselmann has stated that 'it was really an eye-opener to realize how specialized we are in our fields, and that we need to know much more about what was going on in other fields. Through this experience I became interested in particle physics and quantum field theory. So I entered quantum field theory through the back door, through working with real wave fields rather than with particles.'

Hasselmann has won a number of awards over his career. He received the 2009 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Climate Change; in January 1971 the Sverdrup Medal of the American Meteorological Society; in May 1997 he was awarded the Symons Memorial Medal of the Royal Meteorological Society; in April 2002 he was awarded the Vilhelm Bjerknes Medal of the European Geophysical Society. He was awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics jointly with Syukuro Manabe and Giorgio Parisi for groundbreaking contributions to the 'physical modeling of earth's climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming' and 'understanding of complex systems'.

On climate change Hasselmann has said that 'the main obstacle is that the politicians and the public are not aware of the fact that problem is quite solvable. We have the technologies and there is a question of investing in these technologies I think it is quite possible to respond to and solve the climate problem without a major impact in our way of life.' Mojib Latif was one of his PhD students.

Giorgio Parisi

Giorgio Parisi is an Italian theoretical physicist, whose research has focused on quantum field theory, statistical mechanics and complex systems. His best known contributions are the QCD evolution equations for parton densities, obtained with Guido Altarelli, known as the Altarelli–Parisi or DGLAP equations, the exact solution of the Sherrington–Kirkpatrick model of spin glasses, the Kardar–Parisi–Zhang equation describing dynamic scaling of growing interfaces, and the study of whirling flocks of birds. He was awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics jointly with Klaus Hasselmann and Syukuro Manabe for groundbreaking contributions to theory of complex systems, in particular 'for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.'

Career highlights

Giorgio Parisi received his degree from the University of Rome La Sapienza in 1970 under the supervision of Nicola Cabibbo. He was a researcher at the Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati and a visiting scientist at the Columbia University , Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques , and École Normale Supérieure . From 1981 until 1992 he was a full professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Rome Tor Vergata and he is now professor of Quantum Theories at the Sapienza University of Rome. He is a member of the Simons Collaboration 'Cracking the Glass Problem'. In 2018, he was elected president of the Accademia dei Lincei.

Honors and awards

Giorgio Parisi is a member of the Accademia dei Lincei and a foreign member of the French Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the United States National Academy of Sciences.

Feltrinelli Prize, 1986.
Boltzmann Medal, 1992.
'The Boltzmann Medal for 1992 is awarded to Giorgio Parisi for his fundamental contributions to statistical physics, and particularly for his solution of the mean field theory of spin glasses.' Dirac Medal of the ICTP, 1999.
'Giorgio Parisi is distinguished for his original and deep contributions to many areas of physics ranging from the study of scaling violations in deep inelastic processes , the proposal of the superconductor's flux confinement model as a mechanism for quark confinement, the use of supersymmetry in statistical classical systems, the introduction of multifractals in turbulence, the stochastic differential equation for growth models for random aggregation and his groundbreaking analysis of the replica method that has permitted an important breakthrough in our understanding of glassy systems and has proved to be instrumental in the whole subject of Disordered Systems.'

Enrico Fermi Prize, 2002.
'For his contributions to field theory and statistical mechanics, and in particular for his fundamental results concerning the statistical properties of disordered systems.' Dannie Heineman Prize for

Mathematical Physics, 2005.
'For fundamental theoretical discoveries in broad areas of elementary particle physics, quantum field theory, and statistical mechanics; especially for work on spin glasses and disordered systems.'

Nonino Prize "An Italian Master of our Time", 2005.
'World-famous theoretic physicist, Giorgio Parisi is an investigator of the unpredictable, this means of all that happens in the real world and of its probable laws. A pioneer of complexity, his research of rules and balances inside chaotic systems hypothesizing mathematical instruments, may take to great discoveries in all the fields of human knowledge, from immunology to cosmology. His is a research of the next "Ariadne's thread" of the labyrinth of our existence.'

Microsoft Award, 2007.
'He has made outstanding contributions to elementary particle physics, quantum field theory and statistical mechanics, in particular to the theory of phase transitions and replica symmetry breaking for spin glasses. His approach of using computers to corroborate the conclusions of analytical proofs and to actively motivate further research has been of fundamental importance in his field.' Lagrange Prize, 2009. Awarded to scientists who have contributed most to the development of the science of complexity in various areas of knowledge.

Max Planck Medal, 2011.
"For his significant contributions in theoretical elementary particle physics and quantum field theory and statistical physics, especially of systems with frozen disorder, especially spin glasses.'

Nature Awards for Mentoring in Science – Italy, 2013 Lifetime achievement award. The Prize is awarded annually to a different country by the scientific journal 'Nature'.

High Energy and Particle Physics Prize - EPS HEPP Prize, 2015.
"For developing a probabilistic field theory framework for the dynamics of quarks and gluons, enabling a quantitative understanding of high-energy collisions involving hadrons".

Lars Onsager Prize, 2016.
"For groundbreaking work applying spin glass ideas to ensembles of computational problems, yielding both new classes of efficient algorithms and new perspectives on phase transitions in their structure and complexity".

Pomeranchuk Prize, 2018.
"For outstanding results in quantum field theory, statistical mechanics and particle theory".

Wolf Prize, 2021.
"For ground-breaking discoveries in disordered systems, particle physics and statistical physics. The Wolf Prize in Physics is awarded to Giorgio Parisi for being one of the most creative and influential theoretical physicists in recent decades. His work has a large impact on diverse branches of physical sciences, spanning the areas of particle physics, critical phenomena, disordered systems as well as optimization theory and mathematical physics.". Inserted in Clarivate Citation Laureates, 2021. 'For ground-breaking discoveries in quantum-chromodynamics and in the study of complex disordered systems.'.

Nobel Prize in Physics, 2021.
"For the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.". Activism Since 2016, Giorgio Parisi has been leading the movement 'Salviamo la Ricerca Italiana' to put pressure on the Italian and European governments to start funding basic research above the subsistence level.