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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 43, New Delhi, October 9, 2021

Tribute to the Japanese Scientist Syukuro Manabe | Prabir K Patra

Friday 8 October 2021


by Prabir K Patra*

A short congratulatory message to Syukuro Manabe, who has won the Nobel Prize in Physics on his work on development of the first general circulation model of the Earth’s atmosphere. He has shared one half of the prize with Klaus Hasselmann, who along with Syukuro, have enabled us “physical modelling of Earth’s Climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming.” The other half of the prize is awarded to Giorgio Parisi “for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales." The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has declared on 05 October 2021

Dr. Manabe’s research, which began in the 1960s, is the origin of the climate simulation models that have become indispensable tools for generating climate change prediction information today. His research using a radiative-convective equilibrium model, which accurately evaluated the role of energy transfer processes and convection in determining the vertical structure of the Earth’s atmosphere, pioneered the development of climate models around the world. The coupled atmosphere-ocean model, which took into account the flow of the atmosphere and the oceans, became the prototype for climate models that are now being developed around the world, and has made remarkable progress. His achievements are counted for his sheer volume of fundamental research in the field Earth Sciences, with widespread societal implications. At times he has felt that his science discoveries may not have received as much public attention as deserved, as he mentioned in a feature article published by the International Pacific Research Center, Hawaii, in 2005. But award recognitions have followed generously, most notably the 1st Blue Panel Prize (1992), Crafoord Prize in Geosciences (2018).

Suki, as Professor Manabe fondly called by his friends and colleagues in the US and abroad, spend most of his research career at the NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL), located within the Princeton University, USA. He was born in Ehime Prefecture, Japan in 1931. After graduating from the University of Tokyo he moved to the US in 1958 for pursuing his curiosity-driven research, as he puts in one of his Nobel Prize winning interviews. Suki joined the grand vision project of Joseph Smagorinsky, the first Director of GFDL, to build an Earth System Model (ESM), a global numerical model that had a troposphere and stratosphere and had large-scale circulation, radiative heat transfer, convective heat transfer, and heat and water balance at the surface. His early works focused on land-surface processes and on radiative transfer, the subject he says he didn’t know anything about these things then, and had to work very hard, visiting frequently the Library of Congress to get information.

Manabe and his colleagues have explained (1) why increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) has caused temperatures to rise in the troposphere yet fall in the stratosphere, (2) why the warming of the planet’s surface differs by hemisphere, (3) why drought is becoming more frequent in arid regions despite the global increase in precipitation in the processes of cutting-edge scientific research spanning over 60 years. The molecular structure of CO2 absorbs the Earth’s outgoing infrared radiation and increase the temperature in the troposphere, while in the stratosphere CO2 is transparent to the ultra-violet and visible radiations but release heat as a blackbody. The thermohaline ocean circulation transport heat from the southern to the northern hemisphere and the greater landmass in the northern hemisphere keeps most of human population in the warmer side of the Earth. Under the effect of global warming due to increase in CO2, the capacity of soil to hold moisture decrease by greater evaporation causing more frequent droughts even though the global rainfall increases.

Dr. Manabe worked at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) from 1997 to 2001 as the Director of the Global Warming Prediction Research Programme of the Frontier Research System for Global Change, and led the climate modelling group, which was in its infancy at that time. He laid the foundation for the contribution of our climate change prediction research to the world through his contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. Dr. Manabe continue his lifetime association with JAMSTEC as a JAMSTEC Fellow ( We would like to express our gratitude from the bottom of our heart and extend heartfelt congratulations for his huge contributions to the science and society. Wish him good health and continued success in his never-ending enthusiasm for science.

* (Author: Dr. Prabir K Patra is a senior scientist – an atmospheric physicist- at Department of Environmental Geochemical Cycle Research, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, Yokohama)

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