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All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

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Sun & climate: moving in opposite directions

What the science says...

Select a level... Basic Intermediate Advanced

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)

At a glance

Thankfully for us, our Sun is a very average kind of star. That means it behaves stably over billions of years, steadily consuming its hydrogen fuel in the nuclear reaction that produces sunshine.

Solar stability, along with the Greenhouse Effect, combine to give our planet a habitable range of surface temperatures. In contrast, less stable stars can vary a lot in their radiation output. That lack of stability can prevent life, as we know it, from evolving on any planets that might orbit such stars.

That the Sun is a stable type of star is clearly demonstrated by the amount of Solar energy reaching Earth's average orbital position: it varies very little at all. This quantity, called the Total Solar Irradiance, has been measured for around forty years with high accuracy by sensitive instruments aboard satellites. Its average value is 1,362 watts per square metre. Irradiance fluctuates by about a watt either way, depending on where we are within the 11-year long sunspot cycle. That's a variation of no more than 0.15%.

From the early 1970s until today, the Solar radiation reaching the top of Earth's atmosphere has in fact shown a very slight decline. Through that same period, global temperatures have continued to increase. The two data records, incoming Solar energy and global temperature, have diverged. That means they have gone in opposite directions. If incoming Solar energy has decreased while the Earth continues to warm up, the Sun cannot be the control-knob of that warming.

Attempts to blame the sun for the rise in global temperatures have had to involve taking the data but selecting only the time periods that support such an argument. The remaining parts of the information - showing that divergence - have had to be ditched. Proper science study requires that all the available data be considered, not just a part of it. This particular sin is known as “cherry-picking”.

Please use this form to provide feedback about this new "At a glance" section, which was updated on May 27, 2023 to improve its readability. Read a more technical version below or dig deeper via the tabs above!


Further details

Our Sun is an average-sized main sequence star that is steadily using its hydrogen fuel, situated some 150 million kilometres away from Earth. That distance was first determined (with a small error) by a time consuming and complex set of measurements in the late 1700s. It led to the first systemic considerations of Earth's climate by Joseph Fourier in the 1820s. Fourier's number-crunching led him to realise a planet of Earth's size situated that far from the Sun ought to be significantly colder than it was. He was thereby laying the foundation stone for the line of enquiry that led after a few decades to the discovery of what we now call the Greenhouse Effect – and the way that effect changes in intensity as a response to rising or falling levels of the various greenhouse gases.

TSI Solar cycles

Figure 1: Plot of the observational record (1979-2022) on the scale of the TSIS-1 instrument currently flying on the space station. In this plot, the different records are all cross calibrated to the TSIS-1 absolute scale (e.g., the TSIS1-absolute scale is 0.858 W/m^2 higher than the SORCE absolute scale) so the variability of TSI in this plot is considered to be its “true variability” (within cross calibration uncertainties). Image: Judith Lean.

The Sun has a strong magnetic field, but one that is constantly on the move, to the extent that around every 11 years or so, Solar polarity flips: north becomes south, until another 11 years has passed when it flips back again. These Solar Cycles affect what happens at the surface of the Sun, such as the sunspots caused by those magnetic fields. Each cycle starts at Solar Minimum with very few or no sunspots, then rises mid-cycle towards Solar Maximum, where sunspots are numerous, before falling back towards the end. The total radiation emitted by the Sun – total solar irradiance (TSI) is the technical term – essentially defined as the solar flux at the Earth's orbital radius, fluctuates through this 11-year cycle by up to 0.15% between maximum and minimum.

Such short term and small fluctuations in TSI do not have a strong long term influence on Earth's climate: they are not large enough and as it's a cycle, they essentially cancel one another out. Over the longer term, more sustained changes in TSI over centuries are more important. This is why such information is included, along with other natural and human-driven influences, when running climate models, to ask them, “what if?"

An examination of the past 1150 years found temperatures to have closely matched solar activity for much of that time (Usoskin et al. 2005). But also for much of that time, greenhouse gas concentrations hardly varied at all. This led the study to conclude, "...so that at least this most recent warming episode must have another source."

TSI vs. T
Figure 2: 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 slight decline in Solar activity after 1975 was picked up through a number of independent measurements, so is definitely real. Over the last 45 years of global warming, Solar activity and global temperature have therefore been steadily diverging. In fact, an analysis of solar trends concluded that the sun has actually contributed a slight cooling influence into the mix that has driven global temperature through recent decades (Lockwood, 2008), but the massive increase in carbon-based greenhouse gases is the main forcing agent at present.

Other studies tend to agree. Foster & Rahmstorf (2011) used multiple linear regression to quantify and remove the effects of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and solar and volcanic activity from the surface and lower troposphere temperature data.  They found that from 1979 to 2010, solar activity had a very slight cooling effect of between -0.014 and -0.023°C per decade, depending on the data set. A more recent graphic, from the IPCC AR6, shows these trends to have continued.

AR6 WGI SPM Figure 1 Panel p

Figure 3: Figure SPM.1 (IPCC AR6 WGI SPM) - History of global temperature change and causes of recent warming panel (b). Changes in global surface temperature over the past 170 years (black line) relative to 1850–1900 and annually averaged, compared to Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6) climate model simulations (see Box SPM.1) of the temperature response to both human and natural drivers (brown) and to only natural drivers (solar and volcanic activity, green). For the full image and caption please click here or on the image.

Like Foster & Rahmstorf, Lean & Rind (2008) performed a multiple linear regression on the temperature data, and found that while solar activity can account for about 11% of the global warming from 1889 to 2006, it can only account for 1.6% of the warming from 1955 to 2005, and had a slight cooling effect (-0.004°C per decade) from 1979 to 2005.

Finally, physics does not support the claim that changes in TSI drive current climate change. If that claim had any credence, we would not expect to see the current situation, in which Earth's lower atmosphere is warming strongly whereas the upper atmosphere is cooling. That is exactly the pattern predicted by physics, in our situation where we have overloaded Earth's atmosphere with greenhouse gases. If warming was solely down to the Sun, we would expect the opposite pattern. In fact, the only way to propagate this myth nowadays involves cherry-picking everything prior to 1975 and completely disregarding all the more recent data. That's simply not science.

Longer-term variations in TSI received by Earth

It's also important to mention variations in TSI driven not by Solar energy output but by variations in Earth's orbit, that are of course independent of Solar activity. Such variations, however, take place over very long periods, described by the Milankovitch orbital cycles operating over tens of thousands of years. Those cycles determine the distance between Earth and the Sun at perihelion and aphelion and in addition the tilt the planet's axis of rotation: both affect how much heat-radiation the planet receives at the top of its atmosphere through time. But such fluctuations are nothing like the rapid changes we see in the weather, such as the difference between a sunny day and a cloudy one. The long time-factor ensures that.

Another even more obscure approach used to claim, "it's the sun" was (and probably still is in some quarters) to talk about, "indirect effects". To wit, when studies can't find a sufficiently large direct effect, bring even lesser factors to the fore, such as cosmic rays. Fail.

In conclusion, the recent, post 1975 steep rise in global temperatures are not reflected in TSI changes that have in fact exerted a slight cooling influence. Milankovitch cycles that operate over vastly bigger time-scales simply don't work quickly enough to change climate drastically over a few decades. Instead, the enormous rise in greenhouse gas concentrations over the same period is the primary forcing-agent. The physics predicted what is now being observed.

Last updated on 27 May 2023 by John Mason. View Archives

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Further viewing

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

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Comments

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Comments 651 to 675 out of 876:

  1. Ken #649: "The Earth's temperature in AD1750 which according to you and the AGW community is 0.8 degC COOLER than today's temperature." The 0.8 C figure is warming since the global temperature record began in 1880 AD. Most paleoclimate reconstructions have 1750 being somewhat cooler than that. That said, in 1750 TSI was around 1365.5 w/m^2. In order for TSI alone to cause a 0.8 C increase in global temperatures it would have to increase to about 1370 (a level never seen in the planet's entire history) rather than it's current level of about 1365. I pulled all of this TSI information from the 'Advanced' version of this article. Hadn't you read it?
  2. KR #637 "1750 has perhaps the best (not perfect) chance of being at equilibrium of those three dates - 900 temps have a steady downward trend, part of the Little Ice Age, I suspect, while 1880 is in early industrialization with numerous forcing changes from early CO2. But as the various forcings move around, the climate can only follow, only hitting equilibrium if (a) forcings don't change for a period long enough for the oceans to catch up, or (b) forcings reverse and pass climate change going the other way." Well I agree with you that AD1750 at near the Maunder Minimum would be closest to equilibrium so the temperature 'trajectory' is close to zero. Having said that - you seem to then confuse Temperature trajectories with forcings. I notice that none of ya'll (Ned KR, kdkd) seem to accept my basic point that the area under ALL the forcing curves represents the total energy gained or lost by the Earth system. I have found a summation of the 10 Radiative forcings from your chart at #623, here: http://www.brighton73.freeserve.co.uk/gw/GISS_forcings.gif Now this is interesting because if you take the areas under the "Sum of 10 Forcings" composite curve - you can see that from 1850 to about 1915 all the area under the curve is negative. According to this The Earth system has lost energy from 1850 to 1915 so we should see cooling. There is no significant cooling in temperatures in this period - in fact all charts show increasing temperatures since 1850. Clearly the only forcing which could maintain temperatures and add energy to offset the negative area was Solar, but this has been 'chart zeroed' at 1850 and has negligible area under its curve. If a S-B IR cooling response curve was added which corresponded to a temp rise of about 0.1 degC (probably more)in that period then another -0.4W/sq.m of IR cooling would add to the negative area under the combined curves. The only conclusion is that Solar should not have been zeroed, but entered the chart in AD1850 at about 0.2W/sq.m+, in order to maintain a positive area under the composite curves to support a 0.1 degC+ warming in that period. The same argument follows on for the rest of the chart up to date.
  3. @Ken, why are you looking for absolute values in graphs that show relative changes?
  4. @Ken - I completely agree with archiesteel, he's stated it perfectly. You are taking graphs showing deltas (changes) from a baseline, and claiming that absolute values you derive from them (which are not present in just those graphs) are inaccurate. This is quite simply an incorrect use of the data on your part, completely without basis. Your insistence on continuing to do this over 50-60 posts on this thread indicates to me that you need to step back, and reconsider your approach.
  5. @Ken: ""In fact, there is a continuous range of TSI values, any one of which can be balanced by a corresponding OLR value, leading to some particular stable temperature." Question: And can you guess what that particular temperature of interest is? " There is no such fixed temperature, it's a relative value. This theoretical equilibrium temperature would be determined by the sum of all forcings. Again, you're looking for an absolute reference point that doesn't exist.
  6. Prepare for a new argument front: Study: energy increased instead of decreased during lull in (solar) cycle The study finds that during the most recent lull in the sun's weather cycle, the amount of energy that reached Earth increased, instead of decreasing as predicted. The planet may have experienced a slight warming effect as well, researchers said.
  7. pbjamm - Nope, it appears (as commented upon here by CBD and here by muoncounter, that "the possible range of variation here is more than an order of magnitude less than GHG forcings." Oh, I guess someone could make the argument - but they would be demonstrably wrong at the start. Orders of magnitude, folks, orders of magnitude. They make a difference...
  8. I heard about this news from a skeptic I know on IRC. Skeptic is being generous since he believes AGW to be a cult/conspiracy and has more than once referred to me as a "useful idiot" for not agreeing. Demonstrably false will not matter. Expect to see reference to this on all the usual sites.
  9. pbjamm at 05:44 AM, this may have some relevance. The chart below came from a link another poster provided in another thread and relates to changing rice yields under warming conditions. The article is available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC454199/ Does anyone want to comment on the significant upward trend as indicated in the bottom graphs which track radiation measured at the different trial sites and put it into perspective.
    Response: Just to be clear, let's not talk about rice yields on this thread.
  10. Worth noting, the solarimeter used to measure radiation as shown in John's graph is located at the bottom of the atmosphere, an important detail.
  11. Regardless, the solar change is dwarfed by the impact from the extra heat trapped by CO2 alone since 1750: an additional 1.66 watts per square meter, Pure supposition.
  12. I have been exploring a bit but could use some help. I'm looking for accurate temperature trends from 1800-1900. Also, earthquake frequency data during the same period including volcanic eruptions. I want to find if there is any changes in the data of significance post-1849.
  13. Interesting... Found this via New Scientist and has been commented on fully at Real Climate. The Nature article can be linked through to via new scientist (couldn't get the nature link to work for some reason) "Joanna Haigh of Imperial College London studied satellite measurements of solar radiation between 2004 and 2007, when overall solar activity was in decline. The sun puts out less energy when its activity is low, but different types of radiation vary to different degrees. Until now, this had been poorly studied...Haigh's measurements showed that visible radiation increased between 2004 and 2007, when it was expected to decrease, and ultraviolet radiation dropped four times as much as predicted...Stefan Brönnimann of the University of Bern in Switzerland says Haigh's study shows the importance of looking at radiation changes in detail but cautions that the results could be a one-off. He points out that the sun's most recent cycle is known to have been atypical" (from new scientist) ...maybe something... may be nothing... more research is needed...
  14. KR #637 "1750 has perhaps the best (not perfect) chance of being at equilibrium of those three dates - 900 temps have a steady downward trend, part of the Little Ice Age, I suspect, while 1880 is in early industrialization with numerous forcing changes from early CO2. But as the various forcings move around, the climate can only follow, only hitting equilibrium if (a) forcings don't change for a period long enough for the oceans to catch up, or (b) forcings reverse and pass climate change going the other way." Well I agree with you that AD1750 at near the Maunder Minimum would be closest to equilibrium so the temperature 'trajectory' is close to zero. Having said that - you seem to then confuse Temperature trajectories with forcings. I notice that none of ya'll (Ned KR, kdkd) seem to accept my basic point that the area under ALL the forcing curves represents the total energy gained or lost by the Earth system. I have found a summation of the 10 Radiative forcings from your chart at #623, here: Now this is interesting because if you take the areas under the "Sum of 10 Forcings" composite curve - you can see that from 1850 to about 1915 all the area under the curve is negative. According to this The Earth system has lost energy from 1850 to 1915 so we should see cooling. There is no significant cooling in temperatures in this period - in fact all charts show increasing temperatures since 1850. Clearly the only forcing which could maintain temperatures and add energy to offset the negative area was Solar, but this has been 'chart zeroed' at 1850 and has negligible area under its curve. If a S-B IR cooling response curve was added which corresponded to a temp rise of about 0.1 degC (probably more)in that period then another -0.4W/sq.m of IR cooling would add to the negative area under the combined curves. The only conclusion is that Solar should not have been zeroed, but entered the chart in AD1850 at about 0.2W/sq.m+, in order to maintain a positive area under the composite curves to support a 0.1 degC+ warming in that period. The same argument follows on for the rest of the chart up to date.
  15. @Ken: "I notice that none of ya'll (Ned KR, kdkd) seem to accept my basic point that the area under ALL the forcing curves represents the total energy gained or lost by the Earth system." That's because the graph shows values starting from a relative reference point, and not an absolute level. You've been told this many times, and yet you refuse to hear it. This suggests you are not interested in debating, but instead pushing your point of view without addressing any challenges to it.
  16. Sorry for the double post at #664 My browser was showing nothing after page 13 - so I tried again. #665 Archisteel No, I hear what you say architeel - and it is wrong. There were none or negligible AG forcings BY DEFINITION in AD1750 because CO2 levels were steady at about 280ppmv and sulphate aersols, methane etc were not changed by large human release fossil fuel burning. This would be not much different in AD1850. So in fact for the AG forcings - the RELATIVE value IS the ABSOLUTE value because none supposedly existed in AD1750. Get it - anthropogenic forcing is supposed to be a human fossil fuel burning effect. So if you then use these AG forcings to illustrate the portions of warming contributed by each - you need to compare them with the ABSOLUTE value of Solar forcing to effectively compare apples with apples.
  17. CBD #651 Yeah I had read the advanced version. Where did you get the TSI in AD1750 at 1365.5? The charts show it at or below 1365W/sq.m. Dr Trenberth calculates his climate response due to IR cooling at -2.8W/sq.m based on a surface warming of 0.75degC (close enough to 0.8). He equates this surface warming increase to the increase in the radiative equilibrium temperature of the planet. This figure is then used to subtract from the AG forcings from IPCC AR4 Fig2.4 which we know are referenced to AD1750. I have made the rash assmption that the surface warmng since AD1750 is 0.75degC (0.8degC for short), otherwise Dr Trenberth would not be adding or subtracting apples from apples, would he?
  18. @Ken: "No, I hear what you say architeel - and it is wrong." You may hear what I say, but you clearly don't understand it. "So in fact for the AG forcings - the RELATIVE value IS the ABSOLUTE value because none supposedly existed in AD1750." The graph (assuming we're still talking about KR's graph at #623) doesn't show "AG forcings", it shows "well-mixed greenhouse gases" forcing. The fact that all forcings start at the same point should give you a hint that they are all relative values. Also, this tidbit after the graph is pretty clear: "This starts from a baseline of 1880 (where the "zero" is set), showing deltas (changes) from those values." What's the use of stating all kinds of numbers if you don't get simple logic?
  19. archisteel #668 The KR chart at #623 uses the same data as IPCC AR4 Fig 2.4 forcings which are labelled 'Anthropogenic' (AG my shorthand). Natural Forcing from Fig 2.4 is Solar irradiance. 'Well mixed greenhouse gases' forcing is a sum of CO2, CH4, N2O and Halocarbons - which are termed 'long lived greenhouse gasas' in same Figure. At 2005 CO2 contributed about 1.66W/sq.m and CH4 and the others about 1.0W/sq.m - total about 2.7W/sq.m - which aligns with the green curve in Chart #623. All these AG forcings are supposedly caused by fossil fuel burning and and did not exist before AD1750 - and were pretty small before AD1850. So 'well mixed greenhouse gase forcing' archisteel is in fact the main positive AG forcing - same thing. Maybe a short course in IPCC AR4 would help your understanding.
  20. @Ken: don't be so arrogant when you keep missing the same point over and over again. In fact, by saying that "well-mixed greenhouse gases" is the same as "positive AGW forcing," you confirm the point I was making - and admit it's false to claim that it was a zero in 1750, because there *were* greenhouse gases in the atmosphere back then. Again, the reason these start in the middle of the graph is that the graph measures deltas, not absolute values. Wrapping your ignorance in a big layer of jargon isn't going to make it any more valid, I'm afraid. (See, I didn't even need to put numbers in my post to demonstrate yours was wrong. That's called logic - you should try it sometimes.)
  21. Ken Lambert - You incorrectly state that I "confuse Temperature trajectories with forcings". What I said was that non-zero temperature trajectories indicated non-equilibrium climate states (energy imbalance, to be more clear), and zero or non-zero, the state and trajectory of the climate include the effects of forcings at that time. Forcings are never zero (unless looking at some hypothetical object at 0°K). But when looking at how the climate has changed the we can compare changes in forcings (deltas). You have also yet to address the fact (shown in the data you've presented, as well as in mine) that changes (note: changes) in radiative forcings due to greenhouse gases since the beginning of the industrial era are an order of magnitude greater than changes of insolation. And that they correlate quite well with the heating since the 1970's. You have presented exactly zero evidence for any mis-measure of TSI at any point in this discussion, and hence have no support for your apparent theory of TSI causing global warming. Again - it's not the sun.
  22. archisteel #670 "In fact, by saying that "well-mixed greenhouse gases" is the same as "positive AGW forcing," you confirm the point I was making - and admit it's false to claim that it was a zero in 1750, because there *were* greenhouse gases in the atmosphere back then" Of course there were 'well mixed greenhouse gases' in the atmosphere back in AD1750. I never claimed otherwise. What you don't get is those WMGG were not in theory 'forcing' (warming or cooling) the planet. The 'forcing' equation for the main GHG - CO2 is quoted as 5.35ln(CO2a/CO2b)where CO2a is the (well mixed)concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere at any time and CO2b is 280ppmv - the pre-industrial concentration. You can see that that if CO2a = CO2b = 280ppmv there is no theoretical forcing from CO2.
  23. KR #672 "You have presented exactly zero evidence for any mis-measure of TSI at any point in this discussion, and hence have no support for your apparent theory of TSI causing global warming." It is well established that Solar forcing in the range of 0.2 - 0.5W/sq.m was responsible for a a substantial portion of warming at least in the first half of the 20th century when theoretical CO2GHG forcing was much lower - by the equation I quoted in #672 above. Again the absolute values need to be used above a theoretical 'zero' equilibrium to quantify the energy gain or loss from each forcing. If you want a mis-measure of the current TSI - go to the SORCE website for the latest TIMS measurements - only out by a lazy -4.5W/sq.m.
  24. Ken Lambert - Are you certain of your numbers, 4.5W/m^2? Because looking at the graphed data (sorry, can't get to the original behind the paywall), the difference is on the order of 4-5 mW/m^2, not W/m^2! That's 0.0045W/m^2, just to make it clear. Again, that's several orders of magnitude too small to be the major issue with late 20th century warming. I could be mistaken - I don't have access to the original paper - but the effect appears to be very small. If I'm incorrect, please provide a link to the portion of the SORCE website (I spent some time, couldn't find it) that indicates such a major measurement error. It certainly doesn't appear to be visible in Haigh et al 2010.
  25. @Ken: "What you don't get is those WMGG were not in theory 'forcing' (warming or cooling) the planet." Of course they were warming the planet, otherwise it would be much colder. The fact that it was relatively stable doesn't mean it had no effect, and in fact temperatures were far from stable pre-1750 (LIA, MWP, etc.) - they simply didn't go as high as the current trend is reaching. Furthermore, concentration wasn't stable at 280ppm, but varied between 180 and 280ppm. Again, the point is moot, as the graph does not show absolute values, but deltas. The fact you continue to claim otherwise shows that, despite using all the trappings of scientific discourse, you struggle to understand some vary basic concepts about the science.

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