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There is No Sun-Link with Global Warming

It's OK Sun, it isn't your fault, it's ours (credit: Ian O'Neill)
The connection between solar activity and global warming has been a contentious issue for a long time. The idea that cosmic rays create global cloud cover just doesn’t seem to be working out; even the highest estimates of cloud cover variation caused by cosmic ray flux predict the effect to be very small. Now UK scientists have stepped into the debate, producing scientific evidence that there is no link between global warming, cosmic rays and solar activity. Sorry global warming sceptics, we might have to cut back on the emissions after all…

The connection between solar activity and global warming is thought to go like this: The Sun experiences massive changes in energy output throughout the 11-year solar cycle. At its peak (at solar maximum), the Sun’s influence over local space is at its highest. Its massive magnetic field will envelop the Earth and spiral into interplanetary space. As it does so, the immense and large-scale solar wind will deflect high energy cosmic rays. So, counter-intuitively, when the Sun is at its most active, cosmic ray collisions with the atmosphere is at its lowest. It is has been predicted by scientists such as Henrik Svensmark at the Danish National Space Center (DNSC) that these high energy cosmic rays will impact the Earth’s atmosphere, create droplets of water, thus generating cloud cover. So, following this logically, we should have a global decrease in cloud cover during periods of high solar activity (when cosmic rays are not deflected by the solar wind), causing global warming (as there will be less clouds to reflect the solar radiation). Many of the climate problems we are having at the moment can then be attributed to the Sun and not human activity.

But there’s a problem. As previously reported by the Universe Today, research groups will often publish conflicting results about the cosmic ray effect on cloud production. In one of the most definitive results to come out of this area of study has just been announced by UK scientists, and guess what? The Sun/cosmic-ray theory has no measurable effect on the climate change we are currently experiencing.

Dr. Svensmark’s idea was central to the science behind the documentary “The Great Global Warming Swindle” where the human impact on global climate change was brought into question. This theory has been under fire since its conception by highly regarded scientists such as Mike Lockwood from the UK’s Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory. Svensmark stands by his work. So with this in mind, Dr. Terry Sloan from Lancaster University set out to prove Svensmark’s hypothesis. But the results aren’t pretty.

We tried to corroborate Svensmark’s hypothesis, but we could not [...] So we had better carry on trying to cut carbon emissions.” – Dr. Terry Sloan

In a separate study, Giles Harrison from Reading University, also studied the effect of cosmic ray flux on the amount of cloud cover, stating it is an important area of research, “…as it provides an upper limit on the cosmic ray-cloud effect in global satellite cloud data“. Although restricted to the atmosphere above the UK, Harrison’s study also returns the verdict that there is only a very weak cosmic ray effect on cloud production.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report last year pointing the finger at human activity as the root cause behind global warming. There are very strong correlations between carbon emissions and global warming since the 1970s, so the IPCC has strongly recommended that the international community make radical cuts to their carbon emissions. What’s more the IPCC point out that the contribution from greenhouse gas emissions outweighs the effect of solar variability by a factor of 13 to one.

“…as far as we can see, he has no reason to challenge the IPCC – the IPCC has got it right.” – Dr. Terry Sloan

Source: BBC

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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.

  • Yael Dragwyla April 3, 2008, 11:30 PM

    Clearly, from the evidence, global warming is real, and anthropogenitic factors have a great deal to do with it. That said, the Little Ice Age, from 1300-1850, was a time of very low temperatures, globally speaking. It was also a time of minimal sunspots. Why sunpots should have a positive correlation with global temperature is a matter of debate, but *that* there is such a correlation seems likely. Now, for the last century-and-a-half-plus the Sun has been in an increasingly active phase, and global temperatures have increased steadily and anomolously. It’s possible that there are complex interactions between solar energy input to our biosphere and the results of human activities, and that both have to do with global temperatures. I believe that in fact some scientists are working on this. Not all the votes are in yet on this issue, so let’s be a little less absolutistic, okay, Ian?

  • Walker April 3, 2008, 6:06 PM

    And what we are doing to the sky in the picture above is NORMAL.

    The sky always has looked like that?

  • Astrofiend (Sydney, Australia) April 3, 2008, 7:53 PM

    4gea Says:
    April 3rd, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Cosmic rays aside, the statement that solar activity has no connection to climate change on a planet is a very bold and, well…a strange one. A star doesn’t influence a planet’s climate? Since when?

    As for Andy C’s “…and the suggestion that the geologic record has been ignored is ludicrous. It has been looked at extensively, and causes of past warming have been ruled out….” – sorry, but if the geological record of climate change HAS really been looked at extensively and taken into consideration seriously, we wouldn’t be talking about human-induced global warming.”

    4gea, nobody has suggested that the Sun has nothing to do with global climate. Instead, the mechanisms proposed (by human caused global warming skeptics) that are supposed to be causing the warming effect are a) not borne out by evidence, and b) seem to have almost zero correlation with global climatic effects. Stating that the Sun has no effect on climate is a completely different assertion, and frankly, stating that that is what scientists believe is a straw man argument.

    Likewise, Andy C clearly states that the geologic record has been thoroughly examined and that the causes of previous warming events are not operating and do not apply this time around. That is a solid position backed by much scientific evidence which can be found in any journal dealing with the subject if you want to read up on it. All you seemingly have to back your position is your assertion that ‘if they had really looked at the geologic record of climate record, then they would see it my way…’ Show me the research to back it. Link me to an article in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Show me ANY proof at all that the current warming trend can be interpreted within the framework of the G.R of climate as another similar warming event triggered by the same causes as previous events.

    You may think I’m some GW nut that will argue for GW no matter what, but I’m not. I actually feel that there probably is a large component of other-than-human induced warming. But there is just no evidence as yet to back the position, so that’s all it is – a feeling. Not science.

  • EOTU April 4, 2008, 2:56 AM

    Unfortunately, Mobocracy has taken hold in the GW debate. Politicians blow hot air, tax us for ‘OUR OWN GOOD’, the press – lacking a Cold War have a new horror story ‘end of the world’ and its our fault ,and scientists get funding, pay and pensions plus bright new equipment. What a wonderful tripod of support for GW doom and gloom. Do we little apes think we are that significant GW wise on the scale of things? if we are ,then a balanced debate without GW advocates shouting down those they brand as ‘UNCLEAN’ sceptics! would be helpful.

    As for me, I don’t give a damn, humans will do what they do, regardless of the outcome and no one can stop 6 billion humans doing what they want to do!

  • 4gea April 4, 2008, 2:59 AM

    Astrofiend (Sydney, Australia) Says:

    “4gea, nobody has suggested that the Sun has nothing to do with global climate. …”

    Maybe not in those words exactly, but that’s what the article’s title and content do suggest. I’m all for reporting on scientific going-ons, but lots of care should be put into how you word that what you’re saying, othervise it might be interpreted in a completely different way.

    Astrofiend (Sydney, Australia) Says:

    “…All you seemingly have to back your position is your assertion that ‘if they had really looked at the geologic record of climate record, then they would see it my way…’ …”

    It’s not a matter of my way-your/their way – I’m not a cranky child wanting to have “my way”. Show me a good, solid evidence for human-induced GW and I’ll be looking “your way”. But all I see is people concentrating on the last century, spouting nonsense like “this was one nasty hurrican, it has to be GW-induced because my grandma doesn’t remember a strong one like it”, while they should be taking into account 4.6 billion years of paleoclimatological and geological record. That is something that many GW-proponents are not doing, and I’m not talking just about the public. They mention Little Ice Age, and think that’s all there’s to it. What about Earth’s orbital parameters (going all the way up to galactic scale, not just Solar System)? Climate cyclicity through the entire 4.6 billion years, not just the last 100? THAT’s what I’m talking about. I’m talking about that we-humans, have to stop being so arrogant, thinking we’re the cause of everyhting that’s happening around us. I’m talking about natural cycles that we cannot influence on a global scale, and, without a technology from science fiction, we can’t possibly control or “bring back into shape”. I’m talking about nonsense like CO2 restrictions, while a single volcanic eruption or one week of warfare spouts into the atmosphere more greenhouse gasses than one country does CO2 in a year. Yes, our civilisation does produce waste. Yes, our settlements do have microclimates caused by buildings, traffic and industry. Yes, our city air and the waters are/has been polluted. So what? That’s what we get for having the civilisation. We learn from it, develop new technologies and move on. And yes, our civilisation and all that it entails is a new factor in that geological record we’ve been talking about. But I’m talking about underestimating our planet, about undersetimating nature and natural processes. Of course we have influence on our environment! All I’m saying is that we give too much credit to ourselves (political and business agendas connected to GW aside).

    “…Show me the research to back it. Link me to an article in a peer-reviewed scientific journal….”

    Gladly, if I had such links at hand, but like I’ve said before, I’m not talking about one article, but about taking/not taking into account all the factors involved. I myself am not directly involved into a purely paleoclimatological project, although I am connected to the researches of glacials and impact-induced climate changes. But if you wish I can take a look at the resources avaliable to me on the subject.

    No, I don’t think you’re a “GW nut”, just like I don’t think I’m a “sceptic nut” (or whatever they’re called). I have a good laugh when people accuse me of not “beliving in climate change”, when that is exactly what I’m talking about (I’ve noticed many people think “climate change” equals “GW”, which is definitely not the case). What I have a problem with, is human-induced GW hypothesis, not even GW itself (which is just one of natural processes). Unlike you, I see a lot of evidence to back up the position of “human-induced GW” having (at least in large part) natural causes. ..But that’s what makes these duscussions so interesting :)

  • Tech Roach April 4, 2008, 3:25 AM

    Some say this has direct connection with Planet X. Is it true ?

    And, talking about Planet X, does anyone have any latest news about this ?

  • Eduardo Mariño April 4, 2008, 4:29 AM

    Rusty… you talk about debate the cuestion… I wonder if ANY person want debate the war (you know what war I name) Debate is a democratic issue that our country has forget many years ago.
    uhm… 4gea… you’re not an skeptic about “human induced GW”…? but all species we bring to stinction, all the island we shut into the water… say another thing… it’s not a geological and not a “human not guilty” event. Sorry, Its happening, perhaps it’s shaki’n your capitalist mind.

  • Maugrim April 4, 2008, 4:53 AM

    While I’m happy to accept that global warming is a reality and largely caused by humans, I prefer to sidestep the whole political minefield by pointing out that even if it weren’t, transitioning to sustainable energy sources as soon as possible is unambiguously a GOOD THING.

    The oil WILL start to run out. If it does so soon, while we’re still heavily reliant on it, a worldwide economic crisis will probably result (google “peak oil”). The more we reduce our reliance on it now, the longer it will last, the longer we have access to useful materials like plastics (yes, those come from oil – we’re reliant on it for more than just gasoline), and the smoother the transition will be when it does finally get depleted. I for one prefer the non-bumpy ride.

  • Tom April 4, 2008, 12:19 PM

    Aside from the science that I found interesting, I found the part of the discussion regarding the impact on global warming distressing. Why must people debate what is so simple and obvious and yet so irrelevant? The Natural environment, including the sun, are capable of causing devastating changes in the earths climate over spans of time ranging from only hours in the case of tornados and hurricanes to epochs in the case of Ice ages. Do people not realize we are at nature’s mercy while we argue over whether man or nature is responsible? I accept that our pollution of the environment is deplorable and that we must learn how to exist in a state of “equilibrium” with nature. By my way of thinking, that means being “carbon neutral” on principle, regardless of whether we are causing the “global warming” happening now or not. But aside from that, I also believe we need to study the systems that affect the Earth’s climate. I believe nothing less than our survival as a civilization if not as a species is at stake. Sooner or later the next Ice age will arrive. When it does life as those in our civilization knows it will end. Mass starvation and the total collapse of nations and civil society will result. The clock is already ticking off the days to that day, and we are already several centuries over due. I see many indicators, based on past climate records that the process has already begun. I “hope”, we will not see the calamity with our own eyes, but, I fear our children, or our grandchildren, or their children will. Their only hope is to understand what causes the climate to shift and then to see that shift early enough to react in an effective manner. But honestly, I fear humanity is far too ignorant to be able to do that. That is what I see in the global warming debate…”ignorance” on both sides. It really upsets me too. Those who believe man is responsible want to po-po any science that point to nature, while those who believe nature is responsible want to po-po any science that points to man. I believe the science on both sides is correct. BOTH NATURE AND MAN are responsible. But the important question is not who or what to point the finger of blame at, but rather who will step out of the meaningless “blame game” and step forward to “lead” humanity in the pursuit of “action” (I like Al Gore). Fact is, no matter how you slice it, the sun has much more to do with the total question, in fact it may all be the sun! I read a very good article yesterday; “Climate Change and Solar Variability: What’s New under the Sun?” By Edouard Bard and Martin Frank. I found it on line via google. It clearly supports the theory that there is variability in solar output, and that it is linked to sun spot activity. It also discussed indirectly variability in the earths magnetic field. I have yet to find what I consider a conclusive link (parallel curves) between historic palioentinsity fluctuations and climate shift. However I have seen some very interesting data that show spikes and dips in the magnetic field intensity that do come at times that may indicate a relationship does exist. For instance, the palioentisity increased dramatically (from 0.8 to 2.0, up from an average of 1.0 with a deviation of 0.3) at precisely the same time as we emerged from the last Ice age. Further more un-like in previous increases (in the last 200K years) once it got to 2.0, it remained there until only a few hundred years ago. That is interesting, because the climate record indicates the present interglacial period is unique, in that it “platoed” (just like the magnetic field has) as apposed to “spiked” as both had done in the past. However the problem I see is that the peeks and valleys in palioentisity over the last 200 K years do not line up as precisely with the peeks and valleys in the climate data. However, the mal-alignment is one of timing and intensity, and not number. In other words, the peeks in one might correlate with “offset” peaks in the other. In addition to the “offsets”, the magnitudes do not look right either. But in looking at the magnetic field data, we must understand that each core represents the Local” data and as more cores are super imposed, a “global” magnetic field record will start to emerge that may provide the definitive proof of the validity of my theory in as far as the true “ICE AGE” pattern is concerned. I’m also not sure how reliable the magnetic field data is, if it is only accurate to within say 5K years and 25% intensity, then the correlation might be there hiding behind the margin of error. Especially if the margin of error increases as we go further back in time.

    In reading the article, and the one I read yesterday, I find myself wondering if the sun is not totally responsible… Clearly the correlation of sun spot observations to satellite solar intensity readings are a good one leading to the conclusion that we can trust the nearly 400 years of sun-spot observations as being a good indicator of solar intensity over the past 400 years. However we have nothing that I believe provides a history of solar intensity going beyond that. What the article does mention from ice core data could easily be skewed by the fluctuations in the Earths own magnetic field. Any way, a last note on the global warming issue… What if we are already headed into the next “ice age”? And what if the CO2 we are pumping into the climate is the only thing preventing a “Natural” global catastrophe? In other words, we may be helping our selves by putting all that green house gas into the atmosphere! So I think people need to stop the “debating” and stop working against each other, and start coming together to determine what needs to be done to promote what is in all of humanities common interest here on our “Space Ship Earth”

  • Tony Trenton April 4, 2008, 5:51 AM

    Even if we stopped carbon emissions now. How long would it take for the effects to be noticeable? 100- 200>+ years maybe?

    Surely volcanic activity on the surfice and in the oceans is having a much, much greater influence than us.

    I agree that reducing our detrimental effects is a good responsible thing to do,

    But put it in perspective please.

  • Al Hall April 4, 2008, 7:12 AM

    Did anyone read the brief by John Coleman (founder of the Weather Channel)?

    http://media.kusi.clickability.com/documents/Comments+on+Global+Warming1.pdf

    Yes, let’s keep it in perspective, please. Global warming has happened many times in the past and will many times in the future. So will ice ages. Unless we step in and interfere with it.

    Oh, another intersting site. I think it can also be linked from Coleman’s brief.

    http://www.icecap.us/

  • cosmos April 4, 2008, 8:06 AM

    For some science on CO2 and its link to global warming check this link. What it will show anyone who is interested in the science of global warming is that man-made CO2 has a miniscule effect on global climate.

    http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/greenhouse_data.html

  • Vincent Peri April 4, 2008, 9:22 AM

    There is money to be made from global warming in the form of government funding. I just read that the earth;s temperature hasn’t risen since 1998:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7329799.stm

    I guess that’s caused by “global warming” too.

  • Aknauta April 4, 2008, 10:41 AM

    I guess the Mars Rovers are causing increased temperatures on Mars too. Naughty man, terrible man, we need fewer humans and government control of those left!

  • Steve April 4, 2008, 12:13 PM

    *sigh*
    Why is it that everytime I hear each side of the argument, I want to vomit?

    Why can’t people accept a common medium ground, like humans have played a part and maybe the earth is in a natural warming cycle? When it comes down to it, for sure, we are playing a part. But how big the part is noone knows.

    The whole Northern Hemisphere just experienced the coldest winter in recent memory, with Canada and the states experiencing the coldest January in 45 years.

    Im not a full blown skeptic, Im just not a full blown believer as to humans are fully responsible. I think there are more causes at work than just C02 emissions is all

  • EOTU April 4, 2008, 12:29 PM

    Maugrim, Oil is not about to run out. The cheaper easy to get at oil is on the slide, but there are trillions of barrels of oil littered about the planet, it is just harder to process. Also, not to mention synthetic oils from coals etc.

    As for the way ahead GW wise, we have two areas yet to be developed on in the debate, self -righting mechanisms within our biosphere and the impending new quantum technology threshold this century will usher in (LHC et al) and give humanity energy sources way beyond half-baked windmills, solar panels etc.

    Those of you who remember the late 60’s and 70’s environmental warnings of doom that came to nought , it is happening again. The underlying cause high oil prices!

  • John T Smith April 5, 2008, 3:55 AM

    Ummmmmmm, after some 40 years in Astronomy, as a hobby, I have came to realise that we, humans etc, live on an insignificant lickle ball of dust going round a smallich (cosmically) “atom” bomb……….This atom bomb is going round our galaxy once every 250,000 years or so and, funily enough, is taking us with it. Now, unless I am totally wrong, and, as I am human I might be, our galaxy is full of dust and gas and other “stuff” that we don’t know about or even invent to try to prove we know what we are taking about. We move through the plane of the galaxy as we get carried round by the sun…………….Up and down, up and down like a nice sine wave………….Ok, who is thinking what I am thinking? Gas and dust, dust and gas………..We move through this stuff from time to time……………..One heats us up, the other cools us down…………………?
    I am NOT saying humans are NOT at fault because we are but………………………Just my tuppence worth

  • Bucca April 5, 2008, 12:19 PM

    An article published a short while ago concluded that the sun cannot be responsible for global warming because it only varies 0.5%. Only?? That is a lot.

    Another study concluded that man’s contribution to global warming is 0.11%. Why is 0.5% insignificant, and 0.11% huge. There is some illogical thinking here.

  • von Dawson's Express April 5, 2008, 3:43 PM

    Not what we heard at the local astronomical society on friday night… Some scientists say there may be a link with cosmic rays. The suns magnetic field changes and so can not protect us from CR. The more CR that seed clouds and make them rain the less cover we have. Give them time and it will be proved…

    One Globel Warming Sceptic…

    von Dawson’s Express

    PS Bring back Steam Trains!!!!

  • Calvin L. April 5, 2008, 4:11 PM

    Bravo, Angelo Thane… Excellent Idea and such a well written post that i read all the way to the end without blinking

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