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Environment, Physics

Could Cosmic Rays Influence Global Warming?

20 Mar , 2008 by

The idea goes like this: Cosmic rays, originating from outside the Solar System, hit the Earth’s atmosphere. In doing so these highly energetic particles create microscopic aerosols. Aerosols collect in the atmosphere and act as nuclei for water droplet formation. Large-scale cloud cover can result from this microscopic interaction. Cloud cover reflects light from the Sun, therefore cooling the Earth. This “global dimming” effect could hold some answers to the global warming debate as it influences the amount of radiation entering the atmosphere. Therefore the flux of cosmic rays is highly dependent on the Sun’s magnetic field that varies over the 11-year solar cycle.

If this theory is so, some questions come to mind: Is the Sun’s changing magnetic field responsible for the amount of global cloud cover? To what degree does this influence global temperatures? Where does that leave man-made global warming? Two research groups have published their work and, perhaps unsurprisingly, have two different opinions…


I always brace myself when I mention “global warming”. I have never come across such an emotive and controversial subject. I get comments from people that support the idea that the human race and our insatiable desire for energy is the root cause of the global increases in temperature. I get anger (big, scary anger!) from people who wholeheartedly believe that we are being conned into thinking the “global warming swindle” is a money-making scheme. You just have to look at the discussions that ensued in the following climate-related stories:

But what ever our opinion, huge quantities of research spending is going into understanding all the factors involved in this worrying upward trend in average temperature.

Cue cosmic rays.

Researchers from the National Polytechnic University in the Ukraine take the view that mankind has little or no effect on global warming and that it is purely down to the flux of cosmic radiation (creating clouds). Basically, Vitaliy Rusov and colleagues run the analysis of the situation and deduce that the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere has very little effect on global warming. Their observations suggest that global temperature increases are periodic when looking into the history of global and solar magnetic field fluctuations and the main culprit could be cosmic ray interactions with the atmosphere. Looking back over 750,000 years of palaeotemperature data (historic records of climatic temperature stored in ice cores sampled in the Northern Atlantic ice sheets), Rusov’s theory and data analysis draw the same conclusion, that global warming is periodic and intrinsically linked with the solar cycle and Earth’s magnetic field.

But how does the Sun affect the cosmic ray flux? As the Sun approaches “solar maximum” its magnetic field is at its most stressed and active state. Flares and coronal mass ejections become commonplace, as do sunspots. Sunspots are a magnetic manifestation, showing areas on the solar surface where the powerful magnetic field is up welling and interacting. It is during this period of the 11-year solar cycle that the reach of the solar magnetic field is most powerful. So powerful that galactic cosmic rays (high energy particles from supernovae etc.) will be swept from their paths by the magnetic field lines en-route to the Earth in the solar wind.

It is on this premise that the Ukrainian research is based. Cosmic ray flux incident on the Earth’s atmosphere is anti-correlated with sunspot number – less sunspots equals an increase in cosmic ray flux. And what happens when there is an increase in cosmic ray flux? There is an increase in global cloud cover. This is the Earth’s global natural heat shield. At solar minimum (when sunspots are rare) we can expect the albedo (reflectivity) of the Earth to increase, thus reducing the effect of global warming.

This is a nice bit of research, with a very elegant mechanism that could physically control the amount of solar radiation heating the atmosphere. However, there is a lot of evidence out there that suggests carbon dioxide emissions are to blame for the current upward trend of average temperature.

Prof. Terry Sloan and Prof. Sir Arnold Wolfendale from the University of Lancaster and University of Durham, UK step into the debate with the publication “Testing the proposed causal link between cosmic rays and cloud cover“. Using data from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP), the UK-based researchers set out to investigate the idea that the solar cycle has any effect on the amount of global cloud cover. They find that cloud cover varies depending on latitude, demonstrating that in some locations cloud cover/cosmic ray flux correlates in others it does not. The big conclusion from this comprehensive study states that if cosmic rays in some way influence cloud cover, at maximum the mechanism can only account for 23 percent of cloud cover change. There is no evidence to suggest that changes in the cosmic ray flux have any effect on global temperature changes.

The cosmic-ray, cloud-forming mechanism itself is even in doubt. So far, there has been little observational evidence of this phenomenon. Even looking at historical data, there has never been an accelerated increase in global temperature rise than the one we are currently observing.

So could we be clutching at straws here? Are we trying to find answers to the global warming problem when the answer is already right in front of us? Even if global warming can be amplified by natural global processes, mankind sure ain’t helping. There is a known link between carbon dioxide emission and global temperature rise whether we like it or not.

Perhaps taking action on carbon emissions is a step in the right direction while further research is carried out on some of the natural processes that can influence climate change, as for now, cosmic rays do not seem to have a significant part to play.

Original source: arXiv blog

By  
[Follow me on Twitter (@astroengine)] [Check out my space blog: Astroengine.com] [Check out my radio show: Astroengine Live!] 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!


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marcellus
Guest
marcellus
March 21, 2008 12:10 AM

I don’t believe in global warming. We should all do as much as we can to prevent the pollution of Mother Earth. But expecting humans to go to zero carbon imprint is a fantasy.

The GW doomsayers can site any study they wish, but hurricanes aren’t becoming more numerous or intense, the sea level is not rising, and the latest indications are that the planet is cooling, not warming.

Polaris93
Member
March 21, 2008 12:53 AM

Marcellus — could you provide data and links to document those three assertions? Just to cite one counterexample, hurricanes and killer tornadoes are in fact becoming more numerous and powerful — just count ’em per year for the last 20 years. “Belief” has little to do with it. Good date sets and adequate testing of theories and models has everything to do with it. I don’t see any of that in your post. So where did you get the data set to back up your assertions, what was it, and how was it collected?

MoonManMike
Member
MoonManMike
March 21, 2008 1:40 AM

Who remembers the snow and the long cold winters of the 60’s? Who remembers the long hot summer of 76? Who remembers the freak low temperatures during the winter of 82? Who remembers the big storm of 87? Freak weather before freak weather existed? C’mon, there’s always been freak weather. Mother earth is always capable of springing surprises. There are too many comlpex variables at play here and it isn’t all caused by man!
NIce to see another interesting theory to so called global warming!

Mr. LAME
Guest
Mr. LAME
March 20, 2008 7:47 PM

Could Bush and others animals Influence Global Warming?
the answer is YES
Could Benedict anus influence global warming ?
yep
could Emo Earth influence global warming ?
THE ANSWER IS YES
cause she tired of abuses, she just only a rock goddammit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Johnny Blues
Guest
Johnny Blues
March 21, 2008 5:09 AM

Well, your descriptions of human reaction to the subject were accurate.

Frank Lansner
Guest
Frank Lansner
March 21, 2008 2:07 AM
The article says: “There is a known link between carbon dioxide emission and global temperature rise whether we like it or not. ” This is not true. On the contrary: The evidence for sun related warming is so much better prooven than the CO2 effect (!!) even though its not perfect yet. “Proof” of CO2-warming theory: around year 1900 its was prooven that adding extra CO2 was NOT able to make any contribution to warming. Absorbtion from water and CO2 already blocked radiation in the frequencies in question. Then 50 years later, it was prooven that CO2 could however change absorbance at lower pressure, that is, in high altitude. So IN THEORY there was a chance that CO2… Read more »
marcellus
Guest
marcellus
March 21, 2008 12:05 PM

There is no Global Warming. We just got eight inches of new snow. Al Gore can come and shovel my sidewalk.

von Dawsons Express
Member
von Dawsons Express
March 21, 2008 5:15 AM

I would love ‘Global Warming’ to be influanced from outer space and not man’s doing. I agree we should be taking a more care ie pollution, litter, recycling…

One question I would like to pose if a chunk of ice melts in a glass of water the level does not go up much, so when a iceberg melts whats the fuss about sea level rising?

liberum
Guest
liberum
March 21, 2008 5:25 AM
Yael Dragwyla, I agree that “belief” has nothing to do with this, because science is not religion. But then, “global warming” is a lot of things, least of all science. But counting hurricanes and tornadoes over the last 20 years and saying there’s a lot more of them is also not science. Human life span (especially only 20 years!) is too short to be of any relevance when we talk about Earth as a planet which is over 4.5 billion years old. For example, tornadoes and the like (“freak weather”) in the US are NOT well studied, since it’s been only 500 years that we have any kind of usable data (and even then, not for all of… Read more »
UkMan
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UkMan
March 21, 2008 5:28 AM

GW deniers will latch onto ANY idea which removes human responsibility for Global Warming.

The train of thought of the denier typically goes something like this:

1. Deny GW is happening. Continue to burn fossil fuels.

2. Admit GW is happening – but put it down to something other than human influence. Continue to burn fossil fuels.

3. Admit GW is caused by humans – but say its too late to do anything. Continue to burn fossil fuels.

The motivation of GW deniers usually fits into one or more of the following catagories.

Refusal to change their own lifestyle
Refusal to accept responsibility
Fear of the consequences of GW
Cynicism – automatically disbelieving
Political prejudice

Our children will pay the price for out selfish attitude.

Nuno
Guest
Nuno
March 21, 2008 5:54 AM

(…)
4. Admit GW is happening but has no relevance to other climate changes…
(…)

Heber Rizzo
Guest
March 21, 2008 6:08 AM
Well… the author doesn’t mention it, but there are other investigatios (see, for example, http://spacecenter.dk/research/sun-climate/other/global-warming). And UkMan first phrase goes exactly for the contrary. Most manmade GW proponents are leftish who can’t suffer the loss of paradigmas, and with it they got something to blame on capitalism… in fact, you can interchange their phraseology with any anti-occident speech of the 60’s. But, for the sake of scientific discussion… manmade GW proponents cry that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is the higher in 600 000 years. Well, then, two questions: 1) The world rise in temperature in that epoch came before or after the increase in CO2? 2) Anyway, who is to blame for that increase en… Read more »
Nuno
Guest
Nuno
March 21, 2008 6:13 AM
Climate is influenced by several variables. And it’s changes may not end life on Earth, but will certaly cause Mankind lots of suffering. Until industrialization Man cut out some areas of forest over a period of thousands of years for agriculture purposes. Other than that, We didn’t do much to disturb natural equilibrium. After industrialization (two centuries at most), Man started injecting all sorts of materials that were at rest in nature. We destroyed habitats and species. We are responsable for rapid erosion in some areas. We alterered the composition of the atmosfere. …And, for some reason (human nature?) there are a number of us that still think that we have no responsability with accelerating climate changes, present… Read more »
UkMan
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UkMan
March 21, 2008 6:30 AM
Heber No matter how much we don’t want to change our lifestyle – we are causing global warming. Thats a fact. You’re clearly an intelligent guy – I think political prejudice is affecting your judgement. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the melting of the polar caps is not a natural event. Some of this ice is a million years old long enough for polar bears to adapt to live there. The probability that the polar cap melts 150 years after the industrial revolution is statistically highly unlikely. By how much would the Polar cap have to melt before you admitted GW was real? 50%? 80% 100%?? Re. Your comment about CO2 levels 600,000 years ago: Nobody… Read more »
Nuno
Guest
Nuno
March 21, 2008 6:31 AM
We must struggle now to achieve an equilibrium with nature, not because we are left or right or for any other political reason. Oil will not last forever as won’t other materials we take for granted now, and certainly, after we run out of them, we’ll have lesser influence on nature. Most probably it won’t matter if you’re left or right winged then… We must do everything to understand what are the vectors that influence our living environment. It’s not wise to dismiss Cosmic Rays as an important influence, but, let’s face it, we can do little about them. It’s not wise to disimss our own contribute as an “environment changing vector” either… And maybe we can do… Read more »
Bob Clarke
Member
Bob Clarke
March 21, 2008 7:37 AM

To UkMan: (“…we are causing global warming. That’s fact”) With respect, that is not fact. That is opinion. In planetary history, global temperature has risen at certain intervals. Carbon dioxide levels have FOLLOWED this temperature increase, not preceeded it in every case. I affirm that we must be better stewards of our planet, but we must also have our science right to do it.

By the way, polar ice has disappeared numerous times before man’s existance. Gore is wrong. The IPCC is a joke and has its own motives and agenda. Those are facts.

R. Clarke

Eric
Guest
Eric
March 21, 2008 8:40 AM
It’s obvious that O’Neill is a die hard lefty who is 100% certain that humans are completely responsible for the supposed “global warming”. From this article it makes sense to extrapolate that O’Neill was at the forefront during the 70’s declaring that humans were 100% responsible for the global “ice age” that was to engulf the planet within 25 years. Since both of those don’t work at the same time now it’s “climate change”. Maybe instead of giving Gore a Nobel Peace Prize for his nonsense book, the lefties should quit being hypocrites and actually practice what they preach and start reducing THEIR carbon footprint! Or is that someone else’s responsibility – reference Gore’s energy gobbling house. Eric
Heber Rizzo
Guest
March 21, 2008 9:23 AM

UkMan:
Thanks for considering me an intelligent guy. I think that most of us here are, at least, a little above average intelligence, which is sad, of course.
I’d like that you and the others would take a look at this publication:
http://heartland.temp.siteexecutive.com/pdf/22835.pdf
By the way, I agree that we humans are hurting our planet. Much damage is being done, and we should modify that. And maybe we are making some changes on climate, and surely on enviroment.

cosmos
Member
March 21, 2008 11:55 AM

For really good coverage of all aspects of climate change check this website : http://www.icecap.us/

Trippy
Member
Trippy
March 21, 2008 2:05 PM

I wonder if the Ukranian work managed to overcome one of the biggest flaws in Svensmark’s original work on the links between GCR’s and Global Warming – namely that he was never able to produce a mechanism to get from the aerosols formed to cloud droplets.

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