It finally happened: the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for climate modeling

It finally happened: the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for climate modeling


The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics has already become legendary. It’s the first time when climate studies were mentioned in the Physics section of the Prize, which makes us all witnesses of a unique event, that we’ve been waiting for years.

In, we keep a close eye on every Nobel Prize Ceremony, so we decided it is time for us to explain what the Nobel Prize actually is and to mention the most noticeable inventions and ideas in Physics that were acknowledged since 1901 when the award was given for the first time.

What is the Nobel Prize in Physics?

The Nobel Prize in Physics is one of six nominations or parts of the Nobel Prize, a significant prize that is awarded to people “who during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind” in different fields.

The founder of the Prize was a man named Alfred Nobel, a Swedish scientist, who is famous for inventing dynamite. On November 27, 1895, he signed his testament thus giving most of his fortune made during the life to prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace, initiating the annual tradition of acknowledging the ideas and inventions most valuable to humanity. Later on, in 1968, a prize in Economic sciences was also added to the list.

Once again, there are six nominations (parts) and Physics is one of the most important among them.

The annual award ceremony takes place in Stockholm, Sweden, however, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway.

View on central Stockholm, Sweden. Photo: Wahid Sadiq / Unsplash

Each laureate receives a gold medal, a diploma, and a monetary award that is usually around $1.1 million. The Prize is handed over to the laureates by the King of Sweden.

However, to become a laureate, a person has a very long way to go to achieve such a goal. First, they should be qualified. Second, they have to be a members of one of the mentioned institutes. Third, they must... Ok, the list of parameters is very long.

Here you can also see the whole annual selection process, which lasts the whole year:

The nomination process for Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Illustration: Niklas Elmehed /

The most significant stage of the Prize occurs at the beginning of October, as the Nobel Committee chooses the Nobel Prize laureates, including the Nobel Prize in Physics, through a majority vote. Their decision is final and can not be appealed. After the vote, the names of laureates are announced.

Later, already on December 10, they receive their prizes during the Nobel Prize award ceremony.

A few interesting numbers to give you a sense of the size of the prize:

  • Since December 10, 1901, the prizes have already been awarded 603 times.
  • 962 people, among them 57 women, and 28 organizations have received the award at the moment.
  • Some have been awarded more than once. These were J. Bardeen, M. Curie, L. Pauling, F. Sanger, and one organization — the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). There’s also an organization that has been awarded three Nobel Prizes, is the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

What is climate modeling?

In short, climate modeling is predicting average weather over the long term: decades, centuries or more. Now this concept is closely related to climate change. Climate may change faster than expected, various media around the world reports.

Independently of each other, all climate models have started predicting a “horrible future”, a much warmer future.

Earlier, all models predicted that with the two-time increase of the CO2 level the global temperature will increase by 3 degrees. Last year, most of them calculated that the global temperature would increase by 3.85 degrees. Some of them, the most advanced ones, even predicted the 5-degrees increase. As the two-time CO2 level increase is expected in 2100, that means that the Earth will face this 4-5-degrees temperature rise in 100 years.

It is not clear why estimates have changed (probably, due to the upgraded cloud formation algorithm of the models but that may not be the only explanation). So, further research is necessary.

If the new models are right, humanity has less time to try to affect the global warming. Experts hope they are mistaken, however, they acknowledge that the world is experiencing its warmest period on record.

The January 2020, for example, was called the hottest month in 140 years (and it was not not an El Nino month, which are usually warmer). Antarctic had a record of its own that month too — it was 20 degrees Celsius there. Wildfires in Australia were also unprecedented and unexpected (scientists say that such catastrophe was not going to happen according to previous calculations).

Who are the winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2021 and why?

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann “for the physical modeling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming” and to Giorgio Parisi “for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales”.

The 2021 Noble Prize in Physics winners. They will split the prize: one half goes to Giorgio Parisi (1/2 of the prize) and another half to Syukuro Manabe (1/4) and Klaus Hasselmann (1/4)

How did they actually become laureates?

  • Around 1980, Giorgio Parisi, an Italian theoretical physicist, born in 1948 in Rome, Italy, discovered hidden patterns in disordered materials. His achievement made it possible to describe many different materials and phenomena from diverse areas such as physics, mathematics, biology, neuroscience, and machine learning.
  • In the 1960s, Syukuro Manabe, a Japanese-educated American meteorologist, and climatologist, born in 1931 in Shingu, Ehime Prefecture of Japan, made researches that demonstrated how the amount of carbon dioxide increases and how it could increase global temperatures. With his work, he laid the foundations for current climate models. He was also the first person who explored the interaction between radiation balance and the vertical transport of air masses.
  • About 10 years later, Klaus Hasselmann, a leading German oceanographer and climate modeler, born in 1931 in Hamburg, Germany, developed a model that linked weather and climate, thus explaining why climate models can be reliable in spite of the fact that weather could be sometimes chaotic. To add to this, he worked on methods for identifying specific signals that natural events and human activities imprint in the climate.

Revealing nature’s secrets, the last two mentioned scientists made a huge impact on modern climate science and meteorology as they bring new data to earth climate modeling and global warming prediction. That means that we can more easily predict extreme weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms, and so on. To add to this, accurate global warming prediction will help human society prepare for possible changes.

There is no doubt that the climate is changing. Scientists from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) share this opinion. They released their report on climate changes on August 9 with pretty dark predictions.

Busy streets of central Stockholm, Sweden. Photo: Mike Kienle / Unsplash

Who is the most interesting Nobel Prize in Physics winners in history?

Three laureates also shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics. They were awarded for their discoveries about the black hole.

Roger Penrose showed that “the general theory of relativity leads to the formation of black holes”.

Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez found out that “an invisible and extremely heavy object governs the orbits of stars at the center of our galaxy”. They found a way to see through the huge clouds of interstellar gas and dust, which helped them to take a look at the center of the Milky Way. As a result, their discovery became vital evidence of the fact that there is a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

Now let's go far back in time:

  • The first laureate of the Nobel Prize in Physics was Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen for discovering X-rays.
  • The first woman to win the Prize was Marie Curie in 1903 for her research on radiation. Later, she also got the Prize in Chemistry in 1911, which makes her one of the few people, who were awarded the Prize twice.
  • In 1921 the Prize went to the famous scientist, who had a huge impact on all modern science, Albert Einstein. He discovered the law of the photoelectric effect, a “phenomenon in which electrically charged particles are released from or within a material when it absorbs electromagnetic radiation.”
  • The youngest recipient of the Physics Prize was Lawrence Bragg. He won the Prize at the age of 25 with his father William Henry Bragg in 1915 for “their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays’, an important step in the development of X-ray crystallography”.
  • The oldest person to win the Physics Prize was Arthur Ashkin. In 2018 he was awarded for “groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics”, in particular “for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems”, when he was 96.
  • The only person who has won the Physics Prize twice was John Bardeen. In 1956 he and other two scientists, Walter Houser Brattain and William Bradford Shockley, were awarded for “their researches on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect”. Later in 1972 he, Leon Neil Cooper, and John Robert Schrieffer also won the Prize for developing BCS-theory, the first microscopic theory of superconductivity.

Where to find information about climate in the

You can find data about the climate — a set of weather characteristics or weather patterns over a long period of time (from one month to millions of years, 30 years on average) — in a special section of the application called Weather History (Weather Archive), including the Deatailed Weather History for those who need more data.

The feature is available for any outdoor spot in the app, as well as for any point on the Weather Map for the past 9 years (2020–2012).

Weather History for Stockholm in the for iOS

The weather history data currently includes such a basic and important weather parameters as:

Detailed Weather History for Stockholm in the for iOS

Separately, you can find the Wind History feature on the Weather Map in a very visual way and averaged by month over the same time frame.

Wind History for Europe and Scandinavia in the for iOS

Learn more about what the weather history is and how to use it for better weather forecasting in the dedicated article in the blog.


Text: Ilia Ponomarev, a linguist and translator from Dzerzhinsk, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, Russia. His favorite sports are cycling and hiking. Ivan Kuznetsov contributed to this article

Cover photo: Stokholm subway station by Linus Mimietz / Unsplash

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