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An artistic tribute to a climate science legacy
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/ Categories: Climate, 2015

An artistic tribute to a climate science legacy

by Anupa Asokan (NOAA Research Communications)

Over the past week, Paris has become a hub of all things climate as host of the 2015 Climate Conference (COP21) currently underway. Even so, Dr. V. Ramaswamy, director of NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL), had quite a surprise when he discovered a bit of climate science in the most unexpected place.

“While passing through the Gare du Nord RER station in Paris, I found myself staring at the following written in big letters, ‘Syukuro Manabe.’ I blinked a few times to make sure I was not dreaming. I was not,” recalls Ramaswamy.

What caught Ramaswamy’s eye was one of 42 panels in total throughout Paris’s Gare du Nord station honoring Manabe and his contributions to climate science. Designed by British artist Liam Gillick, the installation is called “The Logical Basis” and will remain until November 27, 2016.

The name “Syukuro Manabe” might not mean much to the average person, but to scientists, especially climate scientists the world over and particularly the team at GFDL, Syukuro Manabe, better known as “Suki,” is a beloved pioneer of climate modeling and climate science.

Dr. Ron Stouffer spent the first two decades of his 40 year career at GFDL working alongside and learning from Manabe. “He basically taught me everything I know about climate, how to create models, how to design experiments,” says Stouffer, “We credit this lab and the collective wisdom of our field to Suki.”

As Dr. Ramaswamy’s train started to pull away from the station, he noted, “The next few boards on the wall contained equations -  yes, mathematical equations used in the first global climate models.”

“It’s amazing that somebody would put a bunch of equations on a wall,” adds Stouffer. “As a scientist I would’ve thought to use figures and graphs as a visual, but here the artist turns it around and uses the equations!” 

“It is an overwhelming joy to know that my work is recognized so beautifully on this very special occasion!”  -Syukuro Manabe

With well over 100 published papers, Manabe’s art-inspiring publication was released 48 years ago. According to Stouffer, Manabe’s entire series of papers, most of which were written over the span of his 40 years at GFDL, are all highly regarded and heavily cited by other scientists. The equations chosen by Gillick come from the single-most cited paper of Manabe’s and easily his most influential. “It is an overwhelming joy to know that my work is recognized so beautifully on this very special occasion!” says Manabe.

At 84 years old, Manabe still holds his long-term position as a senior meteorologist at Princeton University’s Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences program, just across the street from GFDL. “He’s a terrific guy and a tremendous scientist,” says Stouffer. “We trace our genealogy at GFDL through Suki and we’re still passing his legacy on to new scientists.”
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