Climate change and its profound impacts are undeniable. While many milestones have improved understanding of the planet’s complexities, climate remains an outstanding example of a highly complex system, and the urgent imperative of predicting its behavior remains challenging.

Last year, the Nobel Foundation recognized advances in this direction, awarding the Nobel Prize in Physics to three scientists: Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann, and Giorgio Parisi. In a perspective article, Gupta et al. examined how their ground-breaking work brings much-needed insight into climate and climate change and outlines recent directions in this urgent field of study.

“Their contributions are the pillars on which models for weather prediction stand today,” said authors Shraddha Gupta and Nikolaos Mastrantonas.

“This is extremely important as climate science requires a better understanding of climate interactions for such predictions,” said author Jürgen Kurths.

Syukuro Manabe’s innovative modelling revealed the magnitude of the increase of Earth’s global temperature due to increase in carbon concentrations as early as 1967.

Klaus Hasselmann introduced a stochastic description into climate modelling and demonstrated how long-term climate variability can be driven by weather fluctuations at shorter time scales. Later, he devised an innovative method to help distinguish the imprints of natural variability from anthropomorphic causes.

And Giorgio Parisi discovered the interplay between disorder and fluctuations in physical systems. Inspired by Hasselmann’s work, Parisi also suggested a combination of internal climate system noise with external astronomical forcing can explain periodic transitions between glacial and interglacial ages at intervals of 100,000 years, as observed from paleoclimatic data.

“It is crucial to emphasize that climate change requires global actions,” said author Cristina Masoller. “Only scientific advances and world-wide cooperation will build a more sustainable planet.”

Source: “Perspectives on the importance of complex systems in understanding our climate and climate change - The Nobel Prize in Physics 2021,” by Shraddha Gupta, Nikolaos Mastrantonas, Cristina Masoller, and Jürgen Kurths, Chaos (2022). The article can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0090222.