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Solar Variability Most Likely Not the Cause of Global Warming

Solar variability effects on the climate are probably not a cause of global warming (credit: Ian ONeill)
The gradual increase in global temperatures is getting harder and harder to pin on the Sun and its energy output variability. The Sun has a variation in how much energy it outputs but this variability is only about one tenth of one percent. The pattern of atmospheric heating since the 1960s is showing an increase with the increase in human activity (industry, transportation, power generation) and neither are showing signs of slowing down…

At the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Boston, many talks are focusing on climate change and the human impact on the Earth. Experts in solar science, climate modeling, and atmospheric science are exploring the issues surrounding what the main culprit behind the rapid rate of change in global temperatures could be. The sole energy input into the Earths atmosphere comes from the Sun; so many scientists have looked toward our star for the answers. The Sun does vary its output of energy (historically, this is obvious during long periods of solar inactivity, such as the Maunder Minimum in the 1600’s where hardly any sunspots were observed on the Sun – this reduction in activity has been linked to the “Little Ice Age” experienced during this time), but generally speaking, the net energy increase or decrease is very small.

The link between solar variability and global warming has taken another blow from analysis of historical samples of sediment containing radioactive carbon-14 and a beryllium isotope. Quantities of carbon-14 and beryllium-10 reflect solar activity as they are greatly affected by solar magnetic field strength. The Sun’s magnetic field is directly related to solar activity (and therefore sunspot population). These radioactive isotopes are created by the impact of cosmic rays in the Earths atmosphere, and should the solar magnetic field be strong (i.e. during periods of high activity), cosmic rays will be blocked, reducing the quantity of isotopes in the sediment.

However, results from this analysis appear inconclusive and no strong link can be found in favour of increased solar activity during periods of atmospheric heating.

Linking any atmospheric phenomenon with solar variability is a difficult task. Attempts to connect monsoons with the 11-year solar cycle for instance have failed in 150 years of trying. It would seem that, for now at least, any connection between increased solar energy output and global warming is tenuous at best.

Casper M. Ammann, climate modeler at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, points out that global temperatures are rising at a historic rate, and there remains no link between solar variability and global warming. He states that global warming has “nothing to do with changes in solar activity. It’s greenhouse gases. It’s not the sun that is causing this [climate] trend.”

Perhaps the only answer is to drastically cut back our dependence on fossil fuels to slow the rate of carbon dioxide production. Even if the Sun should decide to become inactive, as there appears to be very little relationship between solar output and global warming, we will not be able to escape the greenhouse gases heating up our climate.

Source: Physorg.com


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Hello! My name is Ian O'Neill and I've been writing for the Universe Today since December 2007. I am a solar physics doctor, but my space interests are wide-ranging. Since becoming a science writer I have been drawn to the more extreme astrophysics concepts (like black hole dynamics), high energy physics (getting excited about the LHC!) and general space colonization efforts. I am also heavily involved with the Mars Homestead project (run by the Mars Foundation), an international organization to advance our settlement concepts on Mars. I also run my own space physics blog: Astroengine.com, be sure to check it out!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • marcellus February 22, 2008, 3:59 PM

    Change my lifestyle, UKMan? I’ve planted 1.7 million trees BY HAND since I started back in December 1986, and I’m still planting more trees every year. You couldn’t carry my hoedad, much less pack on a thousand trees and hammer them in deep, straight, and tight.

    The Hispanics can, and I have a lot of respect for the legal ones in our country. The illegal ones? Not so much.

    Keep rootin’ for Obama. He’ll give you change. In fact, it will be all you have left in your pocket.

  • Tareece February 22, 2008, 11:57 AM

    Its amazing that we think we know what is exactly happening to this world , his solar system and this universe when we are, within the realm of galatic time scale, merely new borns.
    First thing we need to acknowledge is the limitations of our knowledge. We didn’t know crap 50 yrs ago about just about everything related to moon travel, we didn’t know jack 30 yrs ago about the effects of long term (a matter of weeks) space exposure until Skylab, and we don’t know jack about what really happened to this earth over its history. Its educated guesses at best.
    Honest people recognize their limitations and to think we can categorically blame this entirely on humans is alarmist and ill-conceived. If memory serves the “Consensus” of scientists believed we were heading for an ice agein the 60’s and 70’s. Could the rapid turnaround of consensus actually be the result of eco-policies put in place in the 70’s and 80’s?
    And if you discount that then how do justify the assumption now of “historic” warming..WTH? what does “historic” mean anyway? Yeah, last yr several “historic” highs were based in the 1930’s….Oh and why did the NASA climatic models get re-worked last yr to show that the hottest yrs were in the ’30’s? Science is as good as its data.
    If the data is faulty, the assumptions and consensus should be discarded as any other mistake. Oh, but this ‘consensus’is now a multi-billion (trillion) industry….yeah, ain’t nothing like “pure” science… The rebel is now the establishment…Sweet irony

  • Ken B. February 22, 2008, 1:08 PM

    I was going to leave a comment but I can’t do any better than dbreit’s comment. I agree completely with his sentiments.

    I will add that GW or climate change or whatever it’s called now is more about a belief system than science. I have a kid in school in grade 4 and they are being indoctrinated in global warming belief system. Kids this age don’t have the science education and background to understand what they are being told.

    Al Gore tells us the science is settled because he doesn’t want people looking for themselves. The Canadian prophet of GW, David Suzuki, is advocating imprisoning politilical leaders who challenge man made global warming.

    Such nonsense.

  • Cosmos February 23, 2008, 9:33 AM

    Everybody who is commneting on the global warming issue from either side should read the article at this link. http://wmbriggs.com:80/blog/category/climatology/

  • Frank Lansner February 24, 2008, 1:28 PM

    Please everybody, read this article:

    Its, intelligent, relevant and very carefully made. I have read many scientific articles in my life, but this one is outstanding.

    K.R. Frank

  • Tony Trenton` February 25, 2008, 7:19 AM

    The butterfly effect & chaos are real but indefinable. So looking for “The Reason” is not reasonable.

    What is interesting, is the nature of the comments.
    Our intellect is only capable of conceiving thing in 2d. Either, or. This or that.
    When multiple factors greater than 2 are interwoven & chaos ensues. It is not yet possible to make predictions & may never be.
    But it is fun to speculate.

  • Fenring February 25, 2008, 7:36 AM

    I don’t understand what is this multi-gazillion dollar consensus that will rob us of our well earned money by spreadig false alarm about GW?

    How much money do you pay to combat the alleged GW? I know I pay zero.

    This part just doesn’t make any sense to me at all. What is this GW conspiracy that everyone speaks of and who stands to profit from it? By what means? How does it compare to the profit of the oil companies and industry?

  • Dark Gnat February 26, 2008, 3:00 PM

    Let’s see…

    Climate change believers would gain: Cleaner air, less economic dependence from hostile nations, keeping our food supplies available, keeping air-producing rain forests available.

    Climate change detractors would gain: Continued economic dependence on hostile nations for oil (leading to more wars), automobile manufactures, and more profits to add to the billions already made by fossil fuel companies.

    Who is in the position to gain the most from the two sides? Big Businesses, and the governments they buy.

    I just don’t see what the climate change advocates have to gain. I see no real reason for a “conspiracyâ€? to convince everyone to change their lifestyles.

    Are we going to also pretend that deforestation isn’t happening, that smog doesn’t exist, or that the ozone layer isn’t deteriorating?

    Sure, natural events may be contributing to climate change, but man-made pollution must have an affect as well. It may be simply escalating the changes, but it is an indisputable fact that we have changed the world.

    If these changes are as rapid as so many reputable scientific associations say, then we need to do something. If we could just slow the climate changes back down to their natural levels, then fine.

    If we err, would it not be far better to err on the side of caution?

  • Paul F. Dietz March 8, 2008, 1:05 PM

    Wow, the faith-based delusions from the GW denialists sure is thick in this set of comments. Contrary to the nonsense you’ve filled your heads with, GW from anthropogenic gases is solidly based on physics and observational evidence. The contrary position is increasingly resembling other paranoid fringe pseudoscientific cults, like UFOs, ESP, creationism, and CFC/ozone hole denialism..

  • Dan Tillmanns April 22, 2009, 1:50 AM

    Just wait until the Yellowstone volcano lets go.