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Beyond the Winners, Nobel Prize for Climate Science Is a Victory for Many

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Climate science has from its very beginnings been a wonderfully multidisciplinary endeavor, encompassing biology, chemistry, history, paleoclimatology and, yes, physics. Fluid motion, thermodynamics of air and water, radiative transfer and the movement of the Earth on its orbit around the sun are all fundamental components that give rise to the complexity of the weather and climate system. But topics beyond physics also are key for understanding how life and climate have co-developed on Earth and how they might change in the future. Because of that multidisciplinarity, I had always assumed that climate science would never attract the attention of the discipline-based Nobel Prize committees.

Sure, the 1995 Chemistry prize awarded to the atmospheric chemists Sherwood Rowland, Mario Molina and Paul Crutzen for their work on ozone depletion could be considered climate-adjacent. But the two prizes explicitly related to climate change were the 2007 Peace prize, given to the IPCC and Al Gore for their efforts to communicate climate science to the public, and the 2018 Economics prize, awarded for work placing the science in an economics context, rather than for the science itself.

I was therefore shocked that this week the Nobel Committee for Physics acknowledged […]

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