BBVA Climate Change Award: Together researchers unlock the secrets of polar ice

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Climate Change category has gone to five European scientists whose pioneering research on polar ice samples established a “fundamental coupling” between greenhouse gas concentrations and rising air temperatures across the planet over the past 800,000 years. The laureates were announced by Bjorn Stevens, committee chair and director at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, on 10 January 2024.

The contributions of Denmark’s Dorthe Dahl-Jensen (University of Copenhagen), French scientists Jean Jouzel and Valérie Masson-Delmotte (Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, Université Paris Saclay), and Swiss researchers Jakob Schwander and Thomas Stocker (University of Bern) have demonstrated that records extracted from Earth’s oldest and thickest ice deposits in Antarctica and Greenland “show that changes in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, are accompanied by systematic changes in ambient air temperature across the globe.”
Their research on the natural variability of the Earth’s climate “contextualizes current greenhouse gas concentrations and the associated global warming” within the frame of planetary history, in the words of the award citation. For the committee, the convergent contributions of the five awardees have revealed that “over the past 800,000 years, greenhouse gas concentrations due to natural variability have never reached the atmospheric levels seen today,” the cause of our current human-induced global warming.

"Their work," it concludes, “required scientific, technical and logical breakthroughs in many areas to measure greenhouse gas concentrations,” and “has built upon sustained international collaborative efforts by generations of researchers.”

“The main message from the ice sheets is that CO2 and temperature are tightly coupled; that the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today is without precedent in the last 800,000 years. And this has profound implications for how our planet will evolve over the coming decades and centuries,” says Bjorn Stevens. “If we want to abate or mitigate warming, it’s quite clear that we have to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

About the BBVA Foundation and the Frontiers of Knowledge Awards
The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards were established in 2008 to recognize outstanding contributions in a range of scientific, technological and artistic areas, and knowledge-based responses to the central challenges of the 21st century. The main objectives of the BBVA Foundation are the promotion of scientific knowledge and the transfer of it to society.

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Prof. Dr. Bjorn Stevens
Max Planck Institute for Meteorology
bjorn.stevens@we dont want