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FORCE MAJEURE: The Sun’s Role in Climate Change

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This report by Dr. Henrik Svensmark shows that the solar influence on climate is much larger than is recognized in government and IPCC reports. The report reviews three theories of how the sun can influence climate other than just the total heat output of the sun, called total solar irradiance. Dr. Svensmark says that the effect of sun modulating the galactic cosmic rays that effect cloud formation has received substantial empirical support in recent years. Other solar effects includes the solar ultraviolet changes and the atmospheric electric field effect on clouds. The report discusses the strong correlation between solar activity and global temperatures over the last 12,000 years. Experiments in 2006 showed that cosmic ray can create small aerosols (1 – 2 nm diameter) and later experiments show that when air is exposed to ionizing radiation the aerosol clusters grow much more quickly to become cloud condensation nuclei. This increases cloudiness and affects global temperatures.

Is the Sun driving ozone and changing the climate?

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The Sun affects the ozone layer through changes in UV or charged particles. When the Sun is more active there is more ozone above the equator and less over the poles, and vice versa. An increase in ozone warms the stratosphere or mesosphere, which pushes the tropopause lower. There is thus a solar induced see-saw effect on the height of the tropopause, which causes the climate zones to shift towards then away from the equator, moving the jet streams and changing them from “zonal” jet streams to “meridional” ones. When meridional, the jet streams wander in loops further north and south, resulting in longer lines of air mass mixing at climate zone boundaries, which creates more clouds. Clouds reflect sunlight back out to space, determining how much the climate system is heated by the near-constant incoming solar radiation. Thus the Sun’s UV and charged particles modulate the solar heating of the Earth.

Modulation of Ice Ages via Precession and Dust-Albedo Feedbacks

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The slow wobble, or precession, of the axis of the Earth causes the "Great Year" because it gives warm and cool seasons over its approximate 23,000-year cycle. The advancing ice sheets during a "Great Winter" increases the Earth's albedo, reflecting sunlight and resisting the warming effect of the next "Great Summer". As the ice sheets grow and the seas cool, CO2 also reduces as it is absorbed by the oceans. Most plants suffer severe stress at 190 ppm CO2 and die at 150 ppm, because CO2 is a primary plant-food. The concentration finally reaches the critical 190 ppm level where world flora begins to die and the Gobi steppe-lands turn into a true sand desert. The ensuing dust storms dump thousands of tonnes of dust onto the northern ice sheets each year. The interglacial periods occur only every fourth or fifth Great Year. Ice core data shows that every interglacial warming period is preceded by about 10,000 years of intense dust storms. When the next Great Summer comes along, the dusty polar ice sheets can warm and melt and the next interglacial is born. Low concentrations of CO2 near the end of an ice age causes a die-off of plants leading to dust storms, reducing the ice sheet albedo, resulting in warming and the interglacial periods.

Climate and the Solar System

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Past Friends of Science director Albert Jacobs writes about the substantial solar influence on earth's climate. He writes, "the influence of the sun and the solar system has been proven to be far more complex" than just the total solar irradiance recognized by the IPCC. Solar research includes variations in the "solar wind", the behaviour of the solar dual dynamo, the effects of conjunction and opposition of the major planets orbiting the sun, and the influence of the variations in solar radiation on the Galactic Cosmic Ray flux, which affects worldwide cloud cover. The larger planets may influence the sun’s tachocline that controls the solar magnetic cycles and thus its various influences on earthly climate.

Solar Activity and Variations in sea surface temperature (SST) and Atmospheric Circulation

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A study published in Quaternary International evaluated the regional and global relationships between solar activity and variations in sea surface temperature (SST) and atmospheric circulation during the instrumental record period. The study found significant correlations between sunspot numbers (SSN) and SST over a 111-year period from 1901 to 2011 for 11.7% of the global sea surface at the 95% significance level. The strongest correlations were in the Pacific off northern California, off eastern Japan and in the vicinity of Nauru. The study also “indicated that higher geopotential height anomalies tended to appear in the stratosphere and troposphere in the northern hemisphere, centering on around the Hawaiian Islands from November to December, in the second year of the solar maximum. … Analyses of the relationships between solar activity and the Earth's climate system also revealed relationships between variations in solar activity and circulation in the troposphere.” The pattern in the Pacific corresponded with the positive phase of the Pacific Decadal oscillation (PDO). The strongest correlations were found between SSN and the PDO and SSN and the central-Pacific El Niño at a 29-month lag after solar maximum. The authors say that the effect of solar activity on SST seems to be related to the PDO. The paper concludes “it is likely that the solar activity had an influence on the troposphere not only from the stratosphere but also via the sea surface.”

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