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Menopausal Mother Nature

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Meet Syukuro ‘Suki’ Manabe, the man who predicted global warming in 1960s – CNBCTV18

While it was known that the Earth’s atmosphere retained heat from sunlight, it was American meteorologist and climatologist Syukuro ‘Suki’ Manabe’s simulation that quantified the relationship between carbon dioxide and the temperature of the atmosphere in 1966.

Researchers had known by then that water vapour was the primary driver in warming the planet’s surface. However, whether other gases contributed to this greenhouse effect was undetected.

Manabe was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics on December 6 this year, at the age of 90 “for the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming.”

Early life

Born in the Ehime prefecture, Japan, in 1931, Manabe was the son of a physician. On his third birthday, one of the deadliest storms in Japan’s history till then, the Muroto typhoon, made landfall on the island where he lived. Since then, cyclones captivated him, reported The New Yorker.

Manabe intended to be a doctor like his father, brother and grandfather, but proceeded to study geophysics in the University of Tokyo. He moved to the US in 1958 and worked at the US Weather Bureau, now known as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). There, he used physics to model weather systems. He became a naturalised citizen of the US in 1975.

Princeton days

Manabe moved to Princeton in 1963 where, through his research, he tried to elucidate the mechanism of climate change. He is among the founding scientists of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, which is a joint venture of Princeton and NOAA. Since 1968, Manabe has been a faculty at Princeton. He continues to live there.

Manabe’s work

In 1966, using an IBM computer, Manabe tried to numerically prove that the temperature of the Earth’s surface rises when carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere. He studied global climate change using computer simulations.

After testing for hundreds of hours, the climate circulation model showed that higher temperatures at the Earth’s surface are a result of increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Manabe’s research “laid the foundation for the development of current climate models,” The Daily Princetonian wrote quoting the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Following Manabe’s footsteps, many scientific groups ran their own simulations and reached similar conclusions. A consensus had formed by 1979 among climatologists that the Earth was going to heat up.

“Everyone agrees that we have to act, but I think the difficult question is in defining just how we should act, just what we should do about climate change,” The New Yorker quoted Manabe as saying.

Focus on consequences

Later in his career, Manabe focussed on the second-order effects of global warming such as violent cyclones and longer periods of drought. “In India and Bangladesh, these storms are very serious business,” Manabe told The New Yorker, adding that he worried most about drought. “And in Africa, particularly the Sahel, people keep waiting for the next rainfall. Maybe you can no longer do agriculture there,” he said.

(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)


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