The solution to a minor problem

Unlike many German scientists of his generation, Klaus Hasselmann never had problems with one thing: the scientific language English. 1931 born in Hamburg, he emigrated 1934 to England with his family. “My father was a social democrat and didn’t want to stay in Germany,” the climate researcher once explained this step in an interview.

That father – the economist, publicist and later cooperative association functionary Erwin Hasselmann – had studied with Max Weber, among others, and then made his way in England as a freelance journalist.

1948 the family returned to the Hanseatic city, where the son began studying mathematics and physics.

Between Hamburg and America

Oceanography became his specialty, and his second mother tongue helped him in his career, which brought him to oceanographic institutes from an early age USA led. But the return to Hamburg also became a leitmotif of his life. After his first stays abroad, he worked again at the university there. And 1975 he became the founding director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology there.

That he might made the most important contribution of all to research into man-made climate change – the proof of the high probability that it is actually man-made – is actually the result of scientific failure, according to Hasselmann.

An unsolvable task – and a solvable one

The turbulence problem he was working on – that is, a mathematical-physical description of the behavior that is as precise as possible and enables predictions turbulent currents – had proven to be very unruly. “The turbulence problem is determined by strong non-linear interactions, the climate problem, on the other hand, can be described with weaker interactions, so it is easier,” said Hasselmann once in an interview with the newspaper “Welt am Sonntag”.

Physically he may only have solved the second largest conceivable problem for him. How important this would become socially, indeed for all of humanity, he recognized earlier than most others and put it that way. Already 1988 he said in an interview with the “Stuttgarter Nachrichten”, in 30 to 90 years will “depending on how much fossil fuel we consume, we are facing a very significant climate change. “

Predictions before almost 40 years, reality today

Climatic zones would shift, precipitation would be distributed differently. “One should be aware,” said Hasselmann at the time, “that we are entering a situation where there is no turning back.” In the meantime, “overshoot” scenarios are in which global warming exceeds values, but is then lowered again , Subject of climate research, as well as adaptation to inevitable climate change.

Die Waldbrände haben sich in Russland durch mehr als drei Millionen Hektar gefressen. Zum Teil werden sie als Folge der Klimaveränderungen gesehen.

The forest fires have eaten their way through more than three million hectares in Russia. In part, they are as a result of … Photo: Ivan Nikiforov / AP / dpa

Hasselmann refused To put long, individual weather events, their characteristics and possible accumulation causally in the climate context. For this, the exact data and possibilities to record them were missing. The so-called assignment research, however, is now so far advanced, with almost the reliability that Hasselmann’s calculations once provided, to calculate the proportions of such events caused by people. We 2021 have witnessed some of them. And in December, the man who was also a pioneer in this area 90 will be years old and one more award.

Laureates of his age are no longer necessarily expected to present their Nobel Prize speeches themselves at the lectern. But if Hasselmann does it, then it will certainly be in perfect English.

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