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ICTP Prize 2021 Announced

Two climate scientists honoured

ICTP Prize 2021 recipients Rondrotiana Barimalala (left) and Narendra Ojha
ICTP Prize 2021 recipients Rondrotiana Barimalala (left) and Narendra Ojha


Fresh on the heels of two highly visible events acknowledging its importance -- the Physics Nobel Prize 2021 announcement and a major United Nations conference -- climate science is once again in the spotlight, as ICTP announces that the recipients of its 2021 ICTP Prize are two researchers who have made notable contributions to the field.

Rondrotiana Barimalala of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and Narendra Ojha of the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, India, share this year's prize for their important work on diverse aspects of climate change in Africa and Asia. The ICTP Prize is awarded annually to young scientists from developing countries who have made outstanding and original contributions to physics. This year's recipients will be honoured at a ceremony at ICTP to be held in 2022.

Understanding the complexities of climate

Much of the work of Rondrotiana Barimalala has focussed on the role of the Indian Ocean on the climate of Madagascar and southern Africa. The ICTP Prize recognizes her pioneering contributions that have advanced the understanding of these interactions through her use of modelling tools and careful data analysis. A deeper understanding of the physical mechanisms driving climate in the region contributes to improved modelling of future climate conditions. This is crucial for Madagascar, a country that is on the brink of experiencing the world's first climate change famine, according to the United Nations World Food Programme.

Barimalala has made important contributions to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, Working Group 1, which examines the physical basis underpinning past, present and future climate change with policy relevant findings. According to the latest report, in a 2-degrees-celsius warmer world, Madagascar will face mounting challenges to its livelihood, including increases in extreme heat and agricultural and ecological droughts.

Barimalala, who is a 2007 graduate of ICTP's Postgraduate Diploma Programme in Earth System Physics, commented, "Despite the advanced knowledge we have on the global climate system today, efforts are yet to be made to understand the driving mechanisms of the climate over different parts of the African continent, which mostly depend on rain-fed agriculture. It's still a long way to go!

She added, "Being recognised by ICTP like this is like being refuelled along the way. It brings new encouragement and support to further pursue the research I have always wanted to do and to bring my small contribution for the development of the African continent. I highly appreciate ICTP for that!"

Tackling air pollution

In India, where ICTP Prize winner Narendra Ojha is based, air pollution is a major health hazard for the country and indeed for all of South Asia. Air pollution also reduces agricultural productivity and therefore adversely impacts the economy of the region. Complex modelling is essential to unravel the roles of diverse emissions in air pollution over South Asia for designing mitigation strategies.

It is within this context that Ojha has conducted studies having enormous impact on our understanding of the influence of anthropogenic and biomass-burning emissions on South-East Asian air quality. According to the ICTP Prize citation, Ojha has shown the remarkable role of atmospheric dynamics in governing the distribution of pollution over the Himalayas and Indo-Gangetic Plain, with results of great importance for the region and the world's climate. His work is based on in-situ measurements, satellite data analyses, and chemistry-climate modelling studies over South Asia, contributing substantially to the field of atmospheric chemistry and physics.

Reacting to the news of his ICTP Prize, Ojha said, "I am overjoyed and want to say thank you ICTP. It is truly a great honour to be a recipient of this prize. The recognition will surely open doors to new collaborations and would further strengthen my research. I also look forward to work more closely with ICTP towards model developments and applications."

Prize honouring the past

Each year, the ICTP Prize is given in honour of a scientist who has made outstanding contributions to the field in which the prize is given. The 2021 ICTP Prize is dedicated to the memory of Jacob Bjerknes, who discovered the connection between sea surface temperature and easterly winds anomalies in the equatorial Pacific. He helped increase our understanding of the El Niño Southern Oscillation by suggesting that an anomalously warm spot in the eastern Pacific can weaken the east-west temperature difference, disrupting trade winds that push warm water to the west. The result is increasingly warm water toward the east.

About the ICTP Prize

The ICTP Prize was created in 1982. It recognizes young scientists from developing countries who work and live in those countries and who have made outstanding and original contributions to physics. For further details, see the ICTP Prize webpage.