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Sun & climate: moving in opposite directions

What the science says...

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The sun's energy has decreased since the 1980s but the Earth keeps warming faster than before.

Climate Myth...

It's the sun

"Over the past few hundred years, there has been a steady increase in the numbers of sunspots, at the time when the Earth has been getting warmer. The data suggests solar activity is influencing the global climate causing the world to get warmer." (BBC)

Over the last 35 years the sun has shown a cooling trend. However global temperatures continue to increase. If the sun's energy is decreasing while the Earth is warming, then the sun can't be the main control of the temperature.

Figure 1 shows the trend in global temperature compared to changes in the amount of solar energy that hits the Earth. The sun's energy fluctuates on a cycle that's about 11 years long. The energy changes by about 0.1% on each cycle. If the Earth's temperature was controlled mainly by the sun, then it should have cooled between 2000 and 2008. 

TSI vs. T
Figure 1: Annual global temperature change (thin light red) with 11 year moving average of temperature (thick dark red). Temperature from NASA GISS. Annual Total Solar Irradiance (thin light blue) with 11 year moving average of TSI (thick dark blue). TSI from 1880 to 1978 from Krivova et al 2007. TSI from 1979 to 2015 from the World Radiation Center (see their PMOD index page for data updates). Plots of the most recent solar irradiance can be found at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics LISIRD site.

 

The solar fluctuations since 1870 have contributed a maximum of 0.1 °C to temperature changes. In recent times the biggest solar fluctuation happened around 1960. But the fastest global warming started in 1980.

Figure 2 shows how much different factors have contributed recent warming. It compares the contributions from the sun, volcanoes, El Niño and greenhouse gases. The sun adds 0.02 to 0.1 °C. Volcanoes cool the Earth by 0.1-0.2 °C. Natural variability (like El Niño) heats or cools by about 0.1-0.2 °C. Greenhouse gases have heated the climate by over 0.8 °C.

Contribution to T, AR5 FigFAQ5.1

Figure 2 Global surface temperature anomalies from 1870 to 2010, and the natural (solar, volcanic, and internal) and anthropogenic factors that influence them. (a) Global surface temperature record (1870–2010) relative to the average global surface temperature for 1961–1990 (black line). A model of global surface temperature change (a: red line) produced using the sum of the impacts on temperature of natural (b, c, d) and anthropogenic factors (e). (b) Estimated temperature response to solar forcing. (c) Estimated temperature response to volcanic eruptions. (d) Estimated temperature variability due to internal variability, here related to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. (e) Estimated temperature response to anthropogenic forcing, consisting of a warming component from greenhouse gases, and a cooling component from most aerosols. (IPCC AR5, Chap 5)

Some people try to blame the sun for the current rise in temperatures by cherry picking the data. They only show data from periods when sun and climate data track together. They draw a false conclusion by ignoring the last few decades when the data shows the opposite result.

 

Basic rebuttal written by Larry M, updated by Sarah


Update July 2015:

Here is a related lecture-video from Denial101x - Making Sense of Climate Science Denial

 

This rebuttal was updated by Kyle Pressler in 2021 to replace broken links. The updates are a result of our call for help published in May 2021.

Last updated on 2 April 2017 by Sarah. View Archives

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Further viewing

Related video from Peter Sinclair's "Climate Denial Crock of the Week" series:

Further viewing

This video created by Andy Redwood in May 2020 is an interesting and creative interpretation of this rebuttal:

Myth Deconstruction

Related resource: Myth Deconstruction as animated GIF

MD Sun

Please check the related blog post for background information about this graphics resource.

Comments

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Comments 551 to 575 out of 1289:

  1. Usoskin et al (2005) relies on Mann et al (1999) and Mann and Jones (2003) for temperature reconstructions. Unfortunately, the work of both Mann and Jones have since been discredited. Therefore, it would be appropriate to discredit Usoskin's paper. To understand the link between solar insolation and global climate, one must first understand what sunspots represent, and why they track so well with mean atmospheric temperatures. Sunspots appear when the sun's magnetic field begins to flip, as it does for some unknown reason every nine to thirteen years (the famous 11-year solar cycle). The sunspots are regions of magnetic disturbances (irregularities) which correlate with distortions in the sun's corona, with solar flares and with coronal mass ejections. The lay person could view sunspots like holes in a giant cosmic sprinkler system -- each spot spews enormous amounts of energy out into the solar system. The law of conservation of mass and energy require the entire solar system to either heat or cool, depending on the number and duration of sunspots, and the total solar equivalent energy output. However, the exact energy variability is not yet quantified. Data from satellites like SOHO and STEREO and ULYSSES are still under analysis, and won't yield science applicable to climate change for at least another 10 years. In the meantime, ice core data has already indicated temperatures over the past 600,000 years have increased (on average) about 800 years before CO2 started to increase. It is hard to argue any CO2 increase caused global warming to occur some 800 years BEFORE it began. Most of the world’s CO2 is actually not in the atmosphere, it is dissolved in the oceans. When global temperatures increase, the oceans give up some of their CO2, outgassing it into the atmosphere and increasing atmospheric concentrations. The amount of CO2 thus "outgassed" is far greater than the total CO2 produced by all anthropogenic sources combined. Mean atmospheric CO2 concentration would seem to be a good proxy for mean global ocean temperature. Most climate scientists today agree that some external force (the sun, changes in the Earth’s tilt and rotation, etc) caused past global temperature increases, which were then followed by increases in atmospheric CO2. Declaring the change in CO2 (0.01%) significant, while ignoring the change in solar insolation (0.1%) as insignificant is equivalent to scientific malfeasance.
  2. No, Ned. I followed the links provided at the top of this thread.
  3. Johno, please point me to any scientific paper claiming that the forcing leading to the glacial-interglacial cycles has been CO2. It's astonishing how this trivial mistake keeps hanging around.
  4. Johno writes: No, Ned. I followed the links provided at the top of this thread. Odd. The quote you cite appears to be from Lockwood 2010, which just came out. Google only has two references to that quote, one from the 2010 paper itself and one from a very recent commentary about it. I don't doubt you, but could you tell us which of the links at the top of the thread has that quote?
  5. Johno, the warming/CO2 lag in the ice cores is very well understood, and has been discussed in great detail on this site. You really ought to spend some time reading this site. A few relevant posts: Why does CO2 lag temperature? The significance of the CO2 lag You can find more by typing the word "lag" into the Search box at the upper left. Likewise, we are all very familiar with the fact that "Most of the world’s CO2 is actually not in the atmosphere, it is dissolved in the oceans." This is the source of part of the CO2/temperature feedback, which amplified the Pleistocene glacial/interglacial cycles. However, it's quite clear that the oceans are currently a sink rather than a source for atmospheric CO2. See here Is the long-term trend in CO2 caused by warming of the oceans? CO2 is [not] coming from the oceans See also Takahashi 2009 and Sabine 2004. Finally, you end with the following comment: Declaring the change in CO2 (0.01%) significant, while ignoring the change in solar insolation (0.1%) as insignificant is equivalent to scientific malfeasance. With all due respect, you have that seriously confused. CO2 is increasing by about 1% per year, and will double before the end of this century. If you're referring to the absolute concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, that's completely irrelevant. I'm not sure what source led you to think that is significant ... but you should probably discount anything else that source is telling you, because it's just plain wrong.
  6. One more point... Johno writes: Most climate scientists today agree that some external force (the sun, changes in the Earth’s tilt and rotation, etc) caused past global temperature increases, which were then followed by increases in atmospheric CO2. That's true of some past climate changes, but not others. See the discussion in this thread. There have been quite a few times when changes in climate were driven by changes in CO2. You might also be interested in Richard Alley's AGU presentation CO2: The Biggest Control Knob: Carbon Dioxide in Earth's Climate History
  7. Dear scientists I am not a scientist, just into financial analysis and statistics with a strong intrest into how the sceptical science progress works with regard to AGW. I would like to challenge you with the following hypothesis with regard to the amplitude of solar forcing in the current climate system. Estimations of climate sensitivity based on top-of-atmosphere radiation imbalance, (Atmos. Chem. Phys., 10, 1923–1930, 2010 www.atmos-chem-phys.net/10/1923/2010/ © Author(s) 2010) is the most recent study that I believe will solve much of the problem about the portion of solar forcing as stored in the present climate memory (soil, cryosphere, oceans, etc.). From the abstract: In this study, the TOA imbalance value of 0.85 W/m2 is used. Note that this imbalance value has large uncertainties. Based on this value, a positive climate feedback with a feedback coefficient ranging from −1.3 to −1.0 W/m2/K is found. The range of feedback coefficient is determined by climate system memory. The longer the memory, the stronger the positive feedback. The estimated time constant of the climate is large (70120 years) mainly owing to the deep ocean heat transport, implying that the system may be not in an equilibrium state under the external forcing during the industrial era. For the doubled-CO2 climate (or 3.7W/m2 forcing), the estimated global warming would be 3.1K if the current estimate Correspondence to: B. Lin (bing.lin@nasa.gov) of 0.85 W/m2 TOA net radiative heating could be confirmed. With accurate long-term measurements of TOA radiation, the analysis method suggested by this study provides a great potential in the estimations of middle-range climate sensitivity. From the results: Coupled ocean-atmosphere GCM simulations (Hansen et al., 2007) show that the climate response for an instantaneous 2×CO2 forcing reaches 60% of the equilibrium response after 100 years and 90% after 1000 years. The former system response corresponds to a time constant of 109 years, which is consistent with current estimates, while the latter indicates another even bigger time constant of the climate system of about 434 years. This longer time scale may be related to thermohaline circulations of the deep ocean, whose physical processes are beyond the scope of current study. It has been discussed that the mainly short-wave radiation originating from direct solar radiation heats the ocean more efficiently than long term radiation from the atmosphere. I don't want to enter into a debagte about that again. So let's assume, the memory for both solar and greenhouse forcing is about the same over time. Solar forcing at the beginning of the industrial area was about 1365.3 W/m2, it then increased steadily to reach about 1366.2 W/m2 in 1960. The 2000 forcing is about 1365.8, which makes it an average forcing of about 1366 W/m2 during those 40 years. This means a sustained natural forcing of about 0.7W/m2 above year 1880 affected the climate system between approx. 1950 - 2005. Therefore, even though we are now in a sustained solar minimum, the memory of the climate system resulting from about +0.7W/m2 solar irradiance is now 60 years old. If, according to AOGCMs, only 60% of the equilibrum response is reached after 100 years for CO2 doubling, I deduce at least the same (if not longer periods) are required for an equilibrium response to solar forcing. Assuming, it is the same, it is safe to assume that at least 40% of the current, estimated radiative imbalance of 0.85W/m2 since 1880 is due to solar forcing. Why? 0.28W response is given after 100 years and later, this leaves a minimum of 0.35W in the memory after 60 years, in 2010. This leaves 0.5W/m2 owing to human forcings, not 0.85W/m2 as "committed" atmospheric warming resulting from human activities for the future. Since, with its logarithmic effect, we reached roughly 1.6W/m2 forcing since the beginning of ia. Subtractingg 0.5W/m2, this leaves 1.1W/m2 to increase temperature of the atmosphere. So with model average beeing S=3°C for 2xCO2eq (3.7W/m2), temperature increase owing to human radiative forces should be roughly +0.9°C from surface to TOA. Even IF this is the case and can be measured soon, it will take 1000 years to reach 90% of the 3°C increase for 2xCO2, remember?
  8. climatepatrol, the Earth's energy imbalance is still increasing, which it cannot be doing if the your hypothesis is correct. See the post Climate Time Lag.
  9. Thank you for your reply. I don't understand your reasoning on this, but I realised that I took the entire solar constant into my back of the envelope calculation. I corrected it below: Solar forcing at the beginning of the industrial area was about 1365.3 W/m2, it then increased steadily to reach about 1366.2 W/m2 in 1960. The 2000 forcing is about 1365.8, which makes it an average forcing of about 1366 W/m2 during those 40 years. The average solar forcing reaching the earth at any particular time and weather and place is 240 W/m2 according to http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/2007/ . I divide the figures used in comment "*558 by 5.8. Therefore, even though we are now in a sustained solar minimum, the memory of the climate system resulting from about +0.12W/m2 solar irradiance is now 60 years old. If, according to AOGCMs, only 60% of the equilibrum response is reached after 100 years for CO2 doubling, I deduce at least the same (if not longer periods) are required for an equilibrium response to solar forcing. Assuming, it is the same, it is safe to assume that at least ...% of the current, estimated radiative imbalance of 0.85W/m2 since 1880 is due to solar forcing. Why? 0.05W response is given after 100 years and later, this leaves a minimum of 0.06W in the memory after 60 years, in 2010. This leaves 0.79 W/m2 owing to human forcings, not 0.85W/m2, as "committed" atmospheric warming resulting from human activities for the future. Since, with its logarithmic effect, we reached roughly 1.6 W/m2 forcing since the beginning of ia. Subtracting 0.79 W/m2, this leaves 0.81 W/m2 to increase temperature of the atmosphere. So with model average beeing S=3°C for 2xCO2eq (3.7W/m2), temperature increase owing to human radiative forces should be roughly +0.65°C from surface to TOA.
  10. In reading through this string of posts there seems to be a complete lack of understanding (both experts and non-experts) regarding the physics of energy transfer from the Sun to the Earth. Solar forcing must include more than simply TSI. We have barely begun to quantify the interaction between the solar wind and the magnetosphere, which transfers highly variable amounts of energy to the earth's climate system. While early estimates indicated this energy exchange was negligible in comparison to TSI (only a few watts per square meter), it is NOT negligible compared to the assumed forcing of anthropogenic CO2 in earth's atmosphere (also a few watts per square meter). Until these phenomena have been successfully observed, measured and monitored for several decades, it will be impossible to adequately account for CO2 forcing.
  11. Johno, do you mean "adequately" account for CO2 forcing, or 'exactly'......... If you're trying to say - and until then we should do nothing based on on our current limited understanding - then you're failing to understand science generally. In the medical sciences, prescriptions and procedures are tried out, and adjusted when necessary. In the social sciences, economics models and projections are commonly used despite no-one understanding if or when any projection will ever be reliable. Life isn't mathematics. Science isn't mathematics. You want absolute certainty? Stick with maths, avoid science.
  12. For those interested in my previous post, the following sources lay a good foundation for understanding our current studies regarding solar energy transfer to the earth's climate system. Read: "Quantitative modeling of magnetospheric processes" (Olson, W.P. - American Geophysical Union, 1979) This book contains the paper by Paulikas & Blake: "Effects of the Solar Wind on Magnetospheric Dynamics: Energetic Electrons at the Synchronous Orbit" (Paulikas, G.A. and Blake, J.B. - pp. 180-202) Also, read: "Solar Wind Magnetosphere Coupling" (Kamide, Y. and Slavins, J.A.; Terra Scientific Pub. Co., 1986)
  13. @adelady: surely you can't be serious? Pharmaceutical companies do not invest trillions of dollars to "try out" a new medicine to "see if it works". Surely you aren't proposing we bankrupt the world's economy and limit future industrial development over an irrational fear? Surely you want action based on proper scientific study and evaluation? And while (not "medical sciences") pharmaceutical companies do invest billions of dollars for truly promising cures, they are using their own profits, not my hard-earned income, taken by the government through taxation. If you aren't following, then consider the following polemic arguments (as unscientific as AGW): AGW proponents seem intent on taking my money to fight global climate change. Nonsense! Stop studying pseudo-science and go get a real job, so I won't have to support you anymore. This applies to Dr. James Hansen as much as anyone. His grasp of climate science is limited to his computer model, which has been unfairly compared with direct observations at the top of this subject string. Solar, Wind, and other renewable energy sources will become competitive as fossil fuels run out, and prices for fossil fuels naturally rise. When this happens, atmospheric CO2 levels will necessarily begin to fall. The only question is how high will CO2 levels rise before fossil fuels run out? Based on the reading I've done, this seems to be somewhere between 2X and 5X current levels (that's 1500ppm, or 0.15% CO2). Just so we're clear, all of the AGW fear-mongering to date has been over 0.008% of the earth's atmosphere (+80ppm of CO2). Until the OCO is launched and collects its data, we don't have any reliable method of estimating changes as small as 0.008% of anything global. Again, based on the papers I've read, this would generate mean global temperature increase of no more than 10 degC. The increase would occur slowly, over the course of the next 1000 years. Therefore, predictions of coastal flooding and massive loss of life due to climate change (which happens over a period of decades) are simply sensational and unscientific. There remains a complete lack of any objective scientific data to demonstrate that hurricanes, typhoons, floods, or droughts have increased in either number or severity over the course of the last century. However, a 10-degree mean temperature increase coupled with 3-fold CO2 increase would produce ideal growing conditions. Plants would thrive. We'd be faced with battling all weeds the way some battle bamboo or briar patches in rich soil. Since the food chain relies on a strong foundation of plant life, all animals would thrive as well. In addition, higher global temperatures could result in preventing or delaying the onset of the next Ice Age -- a highly desirable result. Land animals cannot survive an ice ball planet, and crops will fail if growing seasons are cut short. The question is not whether ocean levels will rise, or more flooding and droughts will occur if temperatures are generally higher over the next few centuries; the question is how are we preparing for the coming Ice Age? Do we bankrupt our economy chasing after a little hot air, or do we begin investing in technologies to help us survive a dormant Sun?
  14. Johno at 00:36 AM on 5 August, 2010: "However, a 10-degree mean temperature increase coupled with 3-fold CO2 increase would produce ideal growing conditions." Since even a 6 degree rise would be disastrous, I think you'll have a very hard time finding anyone to sell those crops to. ;)
  15. Johno, it appears that you need to start reading some of the threads here at Skeptical Science. Try these, for starters : Models are unreliable We're heading into an ice age It's not bad CO2 measurements are suspect Hanson's 1998 prediction was wrong Animals and plants can adapt to Global Warming The rest of the arguments are here
  16. Agreed with JMurphy's comment. Johno, it's generally better to stick with one or two topics in a given comment, rather than tossing in economics, taxation, climate models, climate sensitivity, the fact that CO2 is a small fraction of the mass of the atmosphere, reliability of CO2 measurements, climate change impacts, the CO2/primary productivity relationship, ice ages, and solar irradiance. Throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks doesn't lead to very productive discussions.
  17. Johno, pharmaceutical companies spend vast amounts of money "seeing if it works." "It isn't happening and it's good for us" is not very persuasive, leaving aside your contrarian liturgy of wrongness. It leaves me wondering why you're so passionate about proving the case for AGW wrong if you're so keen on it happening. You also might take a look at the Stern Review w/regard to costs and benefits of mitigation. Though criticized in a way remindful of critiques of climate change science, it still has the virtue of existence, something its critics have not been able to address with their own implementation.
  18. By the way, Johno's entry to this thread and subsequent arc of discussion was truly classic. Arrogant but otherwise science-related premise leading to a screed about "my money" attached to a myriad of misinformation. An old story but useful. If somebody ends up talking about their money they're not really interested in science and wasting further time in discussion is probably pointless.
  19. Good thing I've kept it short then. ;)
  20. Considering previous time periods with higher concentrations of CO2, I have a few questions. During these times (pick any period) we see larger, widespread plant life. This plethora of vegetation leads to larger animals (dinosaurs). Could someone explain how more plant life due to increased CO2 levels - which provides more food for animals - is a bad scenario? If animal life has benefitted from increased CO2 levels in the past, why is there a negative reaction to increases in CO2 in our current time period? It's assumed that common knowledge of ice age periods lead to a reduction in biological populations. Should this be the real fear instead of warming?
    Response: The difference between the past and now is the sun was much cooler in past periods of high CO2. Currently, we're heading towards high CO2 and high solar output. As it gets hotter, drought severity increases (it's been increasing over the last century). This has a significant impact on plant growth and agriculture.

    As for the fear of an impending ice age, so long as you don't see a huge ice sheet creeping down over Canada, you can rest assured.
  21. GnDoty The polar ice caps had melted in many of those warmer periods, which means that the oceans were several tens of meters higher than they are now. Of course that wouldn't be a problem would it? ;o) The point is that our agriculture and civilisation has adatped to suit a particular climate. If the climate changes then we have to adapt our agricultre, which can only be done at a cost; a cost that a large proportion of the Earth's population cannot afford (as they are already at subsitence level or worse). Even if overall productivity goes up, that doesn't mean that it will go up everywhere, so what happens to the countries that find because of first world use of fossil fuels their country can no longer support its population? That wouldn't be a bad scenario perhaps for someone who wanted a world government that oversaw the redistribution of wealth to make sure everyone got enough of that food to live on, but I don't think that would be everybodys cup of tea! In short, the change is a problem, regardless of the eventual destination. There is also a risk the destination will be bad in its own right, but it doesn't have to be for climate change to be a problem worth trying to avoid.
  22. GnDoty, that's a good question. The appropriate thread for it is It’s not bad.
  23. "Response: The difference between the past and now is the sun was much cooler in past periods of high CO2. Currently, we're heading towards high CO2 and high solar output. As it gets hotter, drought severity increases (it's been increasing over the last century). This has a significant impact on plant growth and agriculture." I am still working towards my geophysics degree so I apologize for the continued questions. In a period with a "much cooler" sun, other than increased volcanic activity, what would be another source that could contribute global increases in CO2 to the point of global warming?I could see ice melting releasing methane and CO2, but wouldn't solar influence be the cause for this to happen? If so, would the origin of of all global warming or cooling be the sun? I understand the complexity of climate changes, but I'm trying to simplify the process to find the origin.
    Response: "what would be another source that could contribute global increases in CO2 to the point of global warming?"

    If I understand you correctly, you're asking what could be causing the rise in CO2 levels other than human activity? We actually have many lines of evidence that clearly point to the burning of fossil fuels causing rising CO2. Firstly, the simple numbers that we're emitting around 28 billion tonnes of CO2 per year while the actual amount of CO2 in the air is going up by around 15 billion tonnes per year. Secondly, the type of carbon in the air matches the type of carbon that comes from fossil fuels - a distinct human fingerprint. Thirdly, we see the same pattern in carbon isotopes in corals - another fossil fuel fingerprint. So there is really only one explanation for the sharp rise in CO2 and it's the common sense explanation - much of the CO2 we're throwing into the air is staying there.
  24. Actually, I think GnDoty has a good question, one which has occurred to me. What caused such high levels of CO2 in the past?" I believe the answer is a "DaisyWorld" scenario, described in the CO2 was higher in the past thread - with a lower solar output, glaciers cover the world, and block weathering absorption of CO2 by rocks. Over geologic time, CO2 from continuing volcanos accumulate, until enough ice melts to allow weathering to catch up again. It's a slow feedback cycle. I could be wrong, though; I'm certainly not a geologist - I invite corrections if I'm just making things up here :)
  25. "We actually have many lines of evidence that clearly point to the burning of fossil fuels causing rising CO2. " Sorry, I should have stated more clearly I was inquiring about past warming cycles with higher CO2 concentrations (with a cooler sun). I think KR posted above providing a potential cause for rising CO2 levels which cause warming with a much cooler sun compared to present. If I understood your first response correctly, previous warming was caused by increased CO2 levels caused by non-solar forces. I'm trying to understand what causes CO2 levels to rise high enough to cause warming (excluding fossil fuels, volcanic activity, and the sun). This also begs the question: if current global warming is caused by solar forces AND CO2, are we not fast-tracking the earth to provide a natural balance as seen in the past (assuming an origin for increased CO2 is the sun).

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