“The committee picked the right one”

How did you take the announcement of the physics award winners?

I was really happy. For me, Klaus Hasselmann is the leading climate researcher in Germany. A long-time friend with whom I also published together. He played 1991 a decisive role in the creation of the PIK as chairman of the founding committee to which I had to present my concept at the time. I always had the feeling that his achievements, even as a physicist, were not being adequately appreciated. Now the Nobel Committee has picked out the golden right one, albeit very late. It will be on 25. October 90 years old. As planned for a long time, I’m going to Hamburg for the birthday party, which should now be very special.

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What are his decisive contributions for you?

Above all, he showed how stochastics – coincidence, if you will – develop in the climate system. The latter is a highly complex structure that floats back and forth in a chaotic manner, so to speak. Hasselmann has shown, among other things, how the nervous twitching, the white noise, the atmosphere a slower rumble, the red noise of the oceans. As early as the seventies and eighties he used the advances in statistical physics to understand the climate system – an absolute pioneering achievement.

But at the beginning of the nineties he was still doing something other. He was the first to use quasi-statistical methods, which has always been his strength, to peel the human climate signal out of the natural random occurrences of the earth’s atmosphere. Like a detective, he tracked down the human fingerprint in the climate system and thus convicted the ‘perpetrator’: Our unrestrained economy with fossil fuels brings the global environment out of balance. In the meantime we are heading towards a hot season.

Hasselmann shares the climate half of the price with Syukuro Manabe.

Manabe is a founding father of climate modeling, one of the greats. He was also the first to model what Svante Arrhenius 1896 calculated: the global temperature response to a doubling of the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere. This so-called climate sensitivity is a hypothetical variable, but an important indicator of how strongly the climate system reacts to civilizational disturbances. And it is an enormous achievement how precisely Manabe calculated this reaction with primitive digital possibilities. He is just a master of intuitive simplification. With such a hyper-complex system, one also has to have a feeling for which parameters are decisive. Manabe and Hasselmann can read physical systems to a certain extent, that is an outstanding ability of both.

Do you also have Syukuro, “Suki”, Manabe met personally?

I met him at conferences, he is a very kind person. I also remember an interview in which he said that he only worked eight hours a day since he retired, not twelve (laughs). And I know that he was always interested in motivating young people. The same goes for Hasselmann, who, by the way, thinks the ‘Fridays for Future’ is great. With both one has also honored personalities who are role models in the academic guild.

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There was already the Nobel Peace Prize for Al Gore and the IPCC. But has climate research so far been neglected in the scientific categories of the Nobel Prize?

It usually sits between the traditional chairs . But if Alfred Nobel were to sponsor the award today, there would certainly be the ‘Environment’ category. Because he wanted to honor the most important scientific contributions to the benefit of mankind. Over the years there have been considerations about adding a new category, but the Nobel Foundation is a very old, venerable and quite conservative institution. In this respect, it is almost a surprise that climate modeling is now being honored in the physics category. But interdisciplinary environmental research does not really fit into the conventional Nobel Prize system.

In a category “environment” you could also look for opportunities for yourself calculate a Nobel Prize for the introduction of the tilting elements in the climate system into research.

Concept and analysis of the tilting elements are basically an application of the theory of complex systems to the climate system. It is about non-linear dynamics, including the interaction of the tilting elements, which could cause the pre-industrial climate system to fall apart. Maybe I’ll be a contender for a corresponding prize on my ninetieth birthday (laughs).

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