by Marshall Shepherd
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that two climate scientists would share in the Nobel Prize in Physics this year. Syukuro “Suki” Manabe (Princeton University) and Klaus Hasselmann (Max Planck Institute for Meteorology) were recognized, according to the official press release, “for the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming.” While the significance of this honor is obvious, there are three reasons why two climate scientists winning a Nobel Prize in Physics matters in 2021.
The first reason is that if this was a baseball game, the Nobel Prize in Physics would be pitching a shutout. John Knox, my colleague at the University of Georgia, posted on social media a list of names that anyone in meteorology should immediately recognize:
- Vilhelm Bjerknes – Considered by many as the father of modern meteorology and one of the leaders of Bergen School of meteorology.
- Jule Charney – Blazed a path for modern numerical solutions for motion in the atmosphere.
- Carl-Gustaf Rossby – Discovered the waves in atmospheric dynamics that literally are named after him.
- Jacob Bjerknes – Co-discovered (as a teen) cold and warm fronts and later in his career contributed foundational knowledge on El Nino.
- Edward Lorenz – Advanced the concept of modern chaos theory and important groundwork for modern numerical weather prediction.
Professor Knox, a recipient of the prestigious American Meteorological Society’s Edward N. Lorenz Teaching Excellence Award, noted that these giants (and that may be an understatement) of atmospheric sciences never received the Nobel Prize but certainly should have been in the conversation. According to the Nobel Prize organization, Jacob and Vilhelm Bjerknes were nominated for the physics award.