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Frontiers of knowledge Updated: 09 Jan 2020

The BBVA Foundation recognizes Kerry Emanuel for detecting and predicting the intensification of hurricanes

The BBVA Foundation has honored "the fundamental contributions" of American researcher Kerry Emanuel to understanding the essential physics of hurricanes with the Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Climate Change category. The twelfth edition of the awards has recognized the pioneer work of this professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), for being the first to link this phenomenon with the warming of sea surface waters driven by climate change.


"His theories predict the observed intensification of hurricanes and typhoons with global warming. His research has opened new approaches for assessing risks from weather extremes," notes the jury’s citation. For committee chairman Bjorn Stevens, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, "it is hard to imagine an area of climate science where one person's leadership is so incontestable."

Emanuel already predicted the link between hurricanes and global warming in 1987, in an article for 'Nature' magazine. However, only recently have satellite observations particularly brought scientists round to a consensus about his pioneering prediction. The weight of evidence supports the hypothesis that higher temperatures ramp up hurricane intensity. Nothing in science is bullet proof, but the models show it, the date are beginning to show it," he has said in more than one occasion.

After learning about the jury’s decision, the scientist expressed his gratitude for the recognition and took the opportunity to further explain his predictions: "three degrees of warming would mean hurricanes 15% more intense, but that would actually triple if we talk about their destructive potential; in other words, with this three percent increase their power to wreak damage would increase by around 45%."

In light of this alarming hypothesis and the considerable increase of hurricane’s destructive power due to global warming, the new laureate called for everyone to assume their share of responsibility to curb this risk and specifically urged the international community to double down on its efforts to combat climate change, after pointing out that it "is not doing nearly enough."

Emanuel has built an extensive career, both professionally and academically. Kerry Emanuel is a professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and he earned an SB degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences (1976) and a PhD in Meteorology (1978) both from the same institution. Although he has developed most of his work as researcher and professor at MIT, he also took up an appointment in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he remained for three years

Also, during his career he has taken part in different projects, such as a think tank in the MIT to foster the understanding of climate and authored a plethora of scientific articles and books, including ‘Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes’ and ‘What We Know about Climate Change’.


Professor Kerry Emanuel, Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Climate Change category - BBVA Foundation

About the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge awards

In prior editions, the Climate Change category has recognized prestigious researchers such as Anny Cazenave, John Church and Jonathan Gregory (2019), for detecting, understanding and projecting the response of global and regional sea level to anthropogenic climate change; William Nordhaus (2018), for developing the first model capable of integrating economic and environmental data to identify the most efficient policies against global warning; or Syukuru Manabe and James Hansen (2017), for their essential contributions in the development of mathematical models of the climate system.

The BBVA Foundation centers its activity on the promotion of world-class scientific research and cultural creation, and the encouragement of talent. The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards, established in 2008, recognize and reward contributions of singular impact in diverse fields of science, technology, social sciences and the humanities with demonstrated power to significantly expand the frontiers of the known world, opening up new paradigms and knowledge fields.

This Climate Change award is the first one announced in this, the 12th edition of the Frontiers of Knowledge awards. The winners in the seven remaining categories will be named in the coming weeks. In June, BBVA Foundation will host an awards ceremony to honor the recipients.