Quirks & Quarks

We know humans are behind climate change, thanks to this Nobel Physics laureate's work

Klaus Hasselmann is one of the 3 recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics. His work helped us better understand the complex physics of climate change.

Klaus Hasselmann is one of the 3 recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics.

German Klaus Hasselmann raises his glass of champagne, after winning the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics at the Max Planck Institute in Hamburg, Germany, October 5, 2021. (Favian Bimmer / Reuters)

This year's Nobel Prize in Physics went to three scientists whose work has helped us better understand complex physical systems, in particular the physics that allows us to model our changing climate.

One of the scientists recognized is Klaus Hasselmann, the founding director of the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany whose research was instrumental in distinguishing between natural and human causes of atmospheric heating.

Hasselmann developed the first model that linked weather, no matter how variable it may be, with climate, so as to predict the long-term evolution of the climate.

Once armed with that model, he could then tease out the relative effects of greenhouse gas contributions from natural sources, like volcanic eruptions, and human fossil fuel emissions.

The Imperial Strathcona Refinery near Edmonton, Alberta produces petrochemicals that contribute to the fossil fuel emissions behind the rapid warming of our climate. (Todd Korol / Reuters)

Hasselmann told Quirks & Quarks host, Bob McDonald that climate scientists today essentially use the same type of model he created to predict future climate impacts, because the underlying physics doesn't change. But thanks to advances in computer processing power, we can now do so with a much higher resolution, allowing for more accurate predictions.

When asked whether he thinks the climate crisis he helped understand is solveable, he said he remains optimistic that the transition to a decarbonized economy is possible thanks to the ready availability of renewable energy technologies.


Produced Sonya Buyting and Jim Lebans, and written by Sonya Buyting. Click on the link at the top of the page to hear the interview with Klaus Hasselmann.

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