Kerry Emanuel, awarded for his hurricane prediction theories - La Provincia


The BBVA Frontiers Foundation Award of Knowledge in the category of Climate change has been granted in its twelfth edition to American Kerry Emanuel, "for his fundamental contributions to the understanding of hurricane physics, and how it is affected by climate change, "notes the jury record. Current evidence on these extreme weather events confirms Emanuel's prediction, made in the late 1980s, that there are now more intense hurricanes due to the increase of global temperature.

"Thanks to the understanding of the basic physics of atmospheric convection, Emanuel has revealed the behavior of tropical cyclones - hurricanes and typhoons - as the weather changes, "the act continues." His theories predict the intensification of hurricanes and typhoons with global warming, something that has already been observed. His research has opened new avenues to estimate the risk associated with extreme weather events. "

For eJury President Bjorn Stevens, director of the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology, "it is difficult to imagine an area of ​​climate science in which a person's leadership is so clear." Kerry Emanuel is a professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Hurricanes are, together with earthquakes, the natural phenomena that cause more deaths and economic losses. But when Emanuel began studying them, his physics was barely known. It was his work in the eighties and nineties that revealed that they are heat engines, "gigantic machines that transform the heat they extract from the surface of the ocean into wind", explained Emanuel, whose "extraordinary effectiveness" when it comes to "communicate the science of climate change to the public and to policy makers "is also highlighted in the jury minutes.

But in addition to clarify how hurricanes work, Emanuel has been the first to relate them to the warming of the ocean's surface due to climate change. Their models currently predict a 5% increase in hurricane intensity - that is, wind speed - for each degree of ocean temperature rise.

"A warming of three degrees would mean hurricanes 15% more intense, but the increase in its destructive capacity is measured by calculating the wind speed cube, so our estimate is that with this same increase of three degrees its potential to cause damage would increase between 40 and 50%, "Emanuel said yesterday by phone, after receiving the news of the ruling.

"The most intense hurricanes today can have a surface wind speed of 85 meters per second, but by the end of this century, if we do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we could see an increase of up to 90-92 meters per second. The destructive power of a hurricane is determined by wind speed, so in fact it would greatly increase its ability to cause damage to populations. "

Pioneer Prediction

Emanuel addressed the relationship between hurricanes and global warming as early as 1987. In a much cited work in the journal Nature, he stated that "short-term alterations in the climate induced by human action can affect the frequency and intensity" of these phenomena, and already in that work predicted a considerable increase in the destructive capacity hurricanes if global warming was not stopped.

For decades it has been impossible to confirm his predictions, largely because, as he acknowledges, quality data on hurricanes on a global scale is scarce. However, in recent years, mainly thanks to satellite observations, it has been possible reach a scientific consensus about it.

"The evidence clearly supports the hypothesis that the increase in temperature increases the intensity of hurricanes. Nothing in science is 100% safe, but the models clearly show it, the data is also beginning to reflect it, and we hope to verify it in the coming years as we get more observations, "says the winner.

Hurricanes in the Mediterranean

Another Emanuel prediction that they begin to back up the data is that hurricanes will expand to more areas of the planet. In the Mediterranean the so-called medicanes would be produced, which Emanuel studied during a sabbatical year in the University of the Balearic Islands (Mallorca) in 2005 together with the researcher Romualdo Romero.

"To some extent we are already observing a geographic expansion of hurricanes," says Emanuel. "We specifically investigate the impact of climate change on medicanes. Our observations indicate that, in effect, as the Mediterranean warms up, we can expect a higher incidence of these hurricanes. They occur under conditions somewhat different from tropical cyclones, but basically it is the same phenomenon. "

Also with climate change hurricanes will evolve faster, that is, they will become more intense, faster. This will make it even more difficult, warns Emanuel, the hurricane forecast, an area now very complex.

For the award-winning researcher, in view of these predictions and the increasing risk facing humanity, it is clear that at this time the international community "is not doing enough" to combat climate change. "Hurricanes are devastating. It is our responsibility to do everything in our power to reduce this risk. We must stop paying attention to the denial voices and listen to our children, who are demanding that we act, and I am ashamed that we are not doing it, "he concludes.

Biography of the winner

Kerry Emanuel (Cincinnati, Ohio, United States, 1955) He graduated in Earth and Planet Science in 1976 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and he obtained a doctorate in Meteorology at this same university in 1978.

At the end of the doctorate he joined the University of California Department of Atmospheric Sciences in Los Angeles, of which he was part of for three years, except for a brief break that he devoted to filming tornadoes in Oklahoma and Texas.

In 1981 he returned to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has developed his research and teaching career over the past four decades. Since 1987 He holds the Cecil & Ida Green Chair of Atmospheric Science in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). Between 1989 and 1997 he directed the Center for Meteorology and Physical Oceanography of the EAPS and between 2009 and 2012 the Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate of that same department. In 2010, together with Daniel H. Rothman, he created the Lorenz Center, an MIT think tank that promotes creative approaches to understand how the climate works and of which Emanuel himself is co-director.

Thatauthor of more than 200 scientific articles and several books, including Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes and What We Know about Climate Change.

Jury and Technical Committee on Climate Change
The jury of this category has been chaired by Bjorn Stevens, director of the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology (Hamburg, Germany), and has counted as secretary with Carlos Duarte, holder of the Tarek Chair Ahmed Juffali in Ecology of the Red Sea at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Thuwal, Saudi Arabia), as secretary. The vowels have been Sandrine Bony, Director of Research at the National Center for Scientific Research-Sorbonne University (Paris, France); Miquel Canals, Director of the Department of Earth and Ocean Dynamics of the University of Barcelona; Martin Heimann, emeritus director of the Department of Biogeochemical Systems of the Institute of Biogeochemistry Max Planck (Jena, Germany); Edward Rubin, Alumni Chair Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, United States); Y Julie Winkler, Professor of Geography in the Department of Geography, Environment and Space Sciences at Michigan State University (United States).

As for the Technical Support Committee of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), has been coordinated by M.ª Victoria Moreno, deputy vice president of Scientific-Technical Areas of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), and integrated by Santiago Beguería Portuguese, senior scientist at the Aula Dei Experimental School (EEAD); Francisca Martínez Ruiz, scientific researcher at the Andalusian Institute of Earth Sciences (IACT); Ángel Ruiz Mantecón, deputy coordinator of the Global Life Area and research professor at the Mountain Livestock Institute (IGM); Rafael Simó Martorell, research professor at the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM); and Blas Valero Garcés, deputy coordinator of the Global Life Area and research professor at the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology (IPE).

The awards

The BBVA Foundation's focus is the promotion of scientific research and cultural creation of excellence, as well as The recognition of talent.

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards, created in 2008, recognize and encourage contributions of singular impact in various fields of science, technology, social sciences and humanities, contributions that have demonstrated a special ability to significantly expand the scope of the known, emerge new paradigms and fields of knowledge. Its eight categories are an expression of 20th century knowledge mapI, covering basic research in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, Biology and Biomedicine, Information and Communication Technologies, Humanities and Social Sciences, Economics, Finance and Business Management, Ecology and Biology of Conservation, Climate Change and a particularly innovative area of ​​the arts such as music.

In the evaluation of the nominations received, from numerous institutions and countries, the BBVA Foundation has the collaboration of the main Spanish public research entity, the CSIC. The BBVA Foundation, jointly with the Higher Council for Scientific Research, designates Technical Support Committees that carry out a first appraisal of the candidates, submitting a reasoned proposal of finalists to the jury. The CSIC also designates the presidency of each of the jurors, all of them made up of specialists of recognized prestige in the corresponding field.

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