Nobel Underlines Rock Solid Physics of Climate Models

October 5, 2021

National Geographic:

Climate modelers are having a moment.

Last month, Time Magazine listed two of them—Friederike Otto and Geert Jan van Oldenborg of the World Weather Attribution Project—among the 100 Most Influential People of 2021. Two weeks ago, Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University was a guest on the popular CBS talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live! And on Tuesday, pioneering climate modelers Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselman shared the Nobel Prize for Physics with theoretical physicist Giorgio Parisi—a recognition, said Thors Hans Hansson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, that “our knowledge about the climate rests on a solid scientific foundation, based on a rigorous analysis of observations.”

Climate modelers are experts from earth or planetary science, often with experience in applied physics, mathematics, or computational science, who take physics and chemistry to create equations, feed them into supercomputers, and apply them to simulate the climate of Earth or other planets. Models have long been seen by climate change deniers as the soft underbelly of climate science. Being necessarily predictive, they have been tarred as essentially unverifiable and the result of flawed input producing unreliable results.

A 1990 National Geographic article put it this way: “Critics say that modeling is in its infancy and cannot even replicate details of our current climate. Modelers agree, and note that predictions necessarily fluctuate with each model refinement.”

However, more recent analyses, dating back decades, have found that many of even the earliest models were remarkably accurate in their predictions of global temperature increases. Now, as computing power increases and more and more refinements are added to modeling inputs, modelers are more confident in defending their work. As a result, says Dana Nuccitelli, author of Climatology versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics“there’s definitely been a shift away from outright climate science denial; because the predictions have turned out to be so accurate, it’s getting harder and harder to deny the science at this point.”

That 1990 article quoted Manabe—generally considered the father of modern climate modeling—as saying that, in some early models, “all sorts of crazy things happened … sea ice covered the tropical oceans, for example.” But in a seminal 1970 paper, the first to make a specific projection of future warming, Manabe argued that global temperatures would increase by 0.57 degrees Celsius (1.03 degrees Fahrenheit) between 1970 and 2000. The actual recorded warming was a remarkably close 0.54°C (0.97°F).

A 2019 paper by Zeke Hausfather of the University of California, Berkeley, Henri Drake, and Tristan Abbott of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies analyzed 17 models dating back to the 1970s and found that 14 accurately predicted the relationship between global temperatures as greenhouse gases increased. (The estimates of two were too high, and one was too low.) That’s because the fundamental physics have always been sound, says Dana Nuccitelli, research coordinator at Citizens’ Climate Lobby and author of Climatology versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics.

Below, more archival video illustrates how bang-on climate science has been for 40 years.

5 Responses to “Nobel Underlines Rock Solid Physics of Climate Models”

  1. redskylite Says:

    Deniers who used to scorn climate modelling on supercomputers, but overlooked the fact the same principles and hardware were/are successfully used in other scientific and technical fields, used to both annoy and amuse me.

    Computers have certainly and undoubtably played their part in our knowledge on the way Earth responds to our industrial endeavours.


    “Guest post: The role ‘emulator’ models play in climate change projections”

    “With the ongoing development of cleverly designed emulators, we can use the benefits of this cutting-edge science to create projections from models that are cheap and easy to run. This combination of the simple with the complex is a real strength in the IPCC’s AR6.”

  2. redskylite Says:

    The Conversation The most influential climate science paper of all time

  3. J4Zonian Says:

    Well this should certainly shut the mouths and stop the typing of those who use the supposed unreliability of climate models to argue that rising red and silver tubes all over the world were a hallucination. Some of those people are still at it, and some used the opposition of a few old nutcase Nobel-winners out of their fields to “prove” they were right.

    Yeah, I’m sure it will.

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