Climatologists Syukuro Manabe and James Hansen are the winners of the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of knowledge Award in the category “Climate Change.” Their research made it possible to predict global warming caused by the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere.
Working independently, these two scientists created two computer models that simulate climate behavior. Their work inspired the climate models that are used to predict climate evolution, a decisive factor in the jury’s decision. The two laureates developed their research in parallel but, as stated by Manabe: “I started working with models first but Hansen was the first to use these models to make predictions.”
Pioneers in climate change studies
In the 1970s, scientists started to realize that there was an increase in CO2 concentration albeit they were not aware that this would affect the planet’s weather. Syukuro Manabe, as a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), developed his model and reached the conclusion that if the CO2 concentration were to double the Earth’s temperature would go up by two degrees. In turn, James Hansen began researching the Earth’s weather and developed an independent model that predicted a four-degree temperature increase.
Hansen published his findings in Science magazine in 1981. His work was crucial for two reasons: it included overall data about the Earth’s temperature with the use of a method he developed himself and that processed information from available weather stations; it predicted the effects of global warming on other processes such as ocean circulation, the decrease of ice in the Arctic and droughts and floods.
“The first main conclusion from our work was to show that global weather is sensitive to human actions,” said Hansen. “Current climate models are a lot more reliable than two decades ago and there is a lot less uncertainty.” However, as explained in the minutes, Hansen’s predictions “have stood the test of time.”
The work of these two researchers has played a vital role and is now very topical in the context of an international agreement that seeks to reach commitments against climate change, albeit this is not an easy task. In the words of Manabe: “The Paris Agreement set a very important goal, a major goal. It is doubtful whether we will achieve it or not because it is a great challenge.”