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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)

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.


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Comments 726 to 750 out of 1300:

  1. OK, so your graphs show basically nothing. They either cover too short of time so that a supposed correlation or lack there of is most likely a figment of one's imagination... OR ... they lack a 'key' as is the case with the graph labeled "reconstructed temperatures" which makes it a bunch of squiggly lines... one marked 2004 one marked medieval warming. If the lines represent different ways of measuring the temperature of the past? why the difference? Shouldn't we be focusing on data that has been reliably taken... not theoretically? Can't we agree that regardless of how steep the upward trend of some graph is that our actions are not helping?
  2. If you're interested in reading the opposing viewpoint, Nir J. Shaviv, Isreali Astrophysicist, writes about Solar Forcing. He is quite readable. Carbon Dioxide or Solar Forcing? Chris Shaker
  3. CO2 believers attempt to squash consideration of solar forcing, while other scientists keep raising its validity. This one is from Australia, and was actually published by the AGU: Chris Shaker
  4. cjshaker - Regarding the cosmic ray argument you presented here, you should read the Could cosmic rays be causing global warming page. No statistically significant correlation between cosmic rays and global temperature has ever been established, unlike the clear correlation between temperature rises of the last 150 years and CO2 concentrations. Dr. Shaviv is expressing a viewpoint not supported by the data. The link you present here, on solar forcing, discusses the last 6500 years, not the present, and states "We present evidence to support physical links between variability in solar irradiance and change in the hydroclimate of southeast Australia and suggest that the effects of global warming and solar maxima on atmospheric circulation over extra-tropical regions may exacerbate these impacts" (emphasis added). This is hardly a critique of AGW. You should read CO2 is not the only driver of climate - CO2 has a dominant effect now, but hasn't been the driver for most climate changes in the past.
  5. cjshaker "CO2 believers" do not "squash consideration of solar forcing". Unfortunately, it's bad news for our friends living Down Under: "As a result, the effects of possible synergies occurring between global warming and solar maxima on atmospheric circulation over extra‐tropical regions could result in severe drought becoming the typical climate state in regions such as southeast Australia."
  6. Regarding claims that CO2 is the dominant driver of the current global temperature, I don't even see the IPCC making that claim. I haven't seen them claim over 1 C temperature rise from man's CO2. The glacial cycle would seem to have made a much bigger difference than that over the past 14,000 years. Chris Shaker
  7. #731: "The glacial cycle would seem to have made a much bigger difference " The 'glacial cycle' is a result, not a cause. Increased atmospheric CO2 is a causative agent (aka 'forcing') of increased warming. See CO2 is not the only driver. Please find the appropriate threads for further comments about whatever you refer to as 'cycles' -- this is 'its the sun'.
  8. Far be it for me a mere mortal to criticise scientists but if you are looking for the effects of CO2 on heat retention you should be comparing the daily maximum temperature with the daily minimum and compare one year another. i.e the daily heat loss. If the rise in temperature is due to the sun then the days maximum will be high but the amount of heat lost over the night will be constant. If it's due to CO2 then less heat will be lost at night.
  9. #733: "you should be comparing the daily maximum temperature with the daily minimum " Yes. See the post here.
  10. In another thread, Norman writes: From information I had, it was not the TSI that effected the Earth's climate but Sunspot number (from the Maunder minimum). They were not measuring the TSI at that time. I was looking for information on sunspot number to correlate with Global temps and that sight had the graph I was looking for. Obviously, the sunspot number itself doesn't influence the earth's climate -- it has to be modulated through some physical process. So if you're not using sunspots as a proxy for solar irradiance, how do you suggest that sunspots affect the climate?
  11. #735 Ned, "Obviously, the sunspot number itself doesn't influence the earth's climate -- it has to be modulated through some physical process. So if you're not using sunspots as a proxy for solar irradiance, how do you suggest that sunspots affect the climate?" This writer believes an atmospheric electrical circuit can explain how an active sun will change climate other than the TSI. Sun's effect on electrical properties of the atmosphere and how these may cause Climate Change. I am not saying this writer's theory is correct but it does answer your question about how sunspot number can cause changes in climate.
  12. Hi, Norman. So how does "an active sun" and "an atmospheric electrical circuit" change the climate? What is the physical mechanism? Can you give me a summary, or do I have to read the manuscript?
  13. #737 Ned, A quote from the article: "Despite the difficulty in identifying cause and effect in a chaotic system such as the atmosphere, it remains possible that the global atmospheric electrical circuit provides a neglected feedback in the climate system, and with it, an amplification of the solar variability signal in the climate records. This is the principal reason why the topic now deserves further exploration." The basic point was cloud formation physics and how the electrical circuit effects this phenomena. Clouds are what cause the Earth's albedo to be around 0.3. If not for clouds the albedo would be around 0.1 (ocean's make up 70% of the surface) and the Earth would be much warmer.
  14. Re: Ned (737) Based upon my (admittedly) skimming through of the paper, I saw some data cherry-picking, chance correlations and gibberish (to use some technical descriptors). Maybe I'm under-selling it, but no physical mechanism postulated in the study also postulates why the physical processes of GHG's work for the remainder of the paleo record, but not for the past 30 years. Hence my gibberish descriptor. Maybe if it had been written in Yooperese:
    "Aino went down by da crick where he'd seen dat 8-pointer da year gone by, eh? And what da ya know, der was da biggest cayoat standin' next to da still! Next time mebbe der will be a bare! - Toivil"
    The Yooper
  15. Ned, On a previous thread I posted a albedo calculator. Located on the page I will link to. It is a calculator that will determine temp with no GHG, just the two variables. TSI and albedo (basically to simplify so you can see relative contribution to temp). If you play with this calculator a bit you will see TSI has little effect at the ranges during sunspot cycles. But alter the albedo a few %points and you can see it has a rather large effect on global temps. If sunspot cycles alter the Earth's albedo even a few percent points, they can have a large effect on global temps. Not saying that is the cause but if sunspot number does effect cloud formation via the Earth's electrical circuit then that is a mechanism to explain how sunspot number can alter climate.
  16. Sorry Ned, I neglected to link to the albedo calculator. albedo and TSI calculator.
  17. Norman, firstly, your calculator is too simplistic. Clouds both warm and cool. Secondly, noone doubts changing albedo (with no other change) will affect temperature. So magical fairy dust might increase albedo but "electrical connection between sun-earth" is in same category until someone presents some believable physics to show how this could work instead of gobbledegook. You appear to preferring wild speculation backed by dodgy "facts" in preference to a working model, conforming to known physics.
  18. Ray Ladbury just offered up this juicy bit which aptly describes the focus on GCR's and magical other postulated electric-thingy's:
    "First, you have to look at ALL the evidence. There is no way you get simultaneous stratospheric cooling and tropospheric warming without a greenhouse forcing. And increased tropospheric water vapor ain’t gonna give you that. Second, one cannot simply posit a mystery forcing and say it will behave like a greenhouse gas without specifying the candidate mechanism. If they were saying the mechanism were increased insolation, then perhaps you would see warmed nights, but it is very unlikely you’d see the seasonal effect (WV persists only on a timescale of days). I cannot emphasize this second point enough. I mean ferchrissake, they could posit Martians with heat rays sending in IR photons to exactly mimic greenhouse forcing by CO2. They need to propose a mechanism and see what sort of signature it would give. Simply saying, “Well, it could be something else” ain’t science."
    I love it when PHd's get riled... The Yooper
  19. scaddenp writes: Secondly, noone doubts changing albedo (with no other change) will affect temperature You obviously haven't been keeping up with the thread on the second law of thermodynamics, where someone just wrote: "The idea that planetary temperature is affected by its albedo is quite mistaken."
  20. Ned, I had kind of (lost interest really in someone determined not to understand physics) so perhaps "noone" was optimistic. Let try "no physicist doubts..."
  21. #743 Daniel Bailey, Ray Ladbury may make statements with vigor and certainty but that does not make them correct. "First, you have to look at ALL the evidence. There is no way you get simultaneous stratospheric cooling and tropospheric warming without a greenhouse forcing. And increased tropospheric water vapor ain’t gonna give you that." NASA may disagree. An active Sun can destroy ozone in the stratosphere (the primary cause of warming in that region). An active sun can warm the Troposphere by adding more heat to the surface and by destroying the ozone it can at the same time cool the stratosphere. No greenhouse forcing is needed in this case. You have two possible causes for an observed effect. It is possible (I am not saying it is likely, just questioning the claim made by Ray Ladbury) that the troposphere can warm at the same time the stratosphere cools via active sun without GHG forcing (in an atmophere with no GHG that is). Supporting evidence for the above claim. Active Sun can destroy ozone in stratosphere.
  22. Norman @746, you ought to read your sources more carefully. Specifically, from your link above,
    "If you look at the total atmospheric column, from your head on up to the top of the atmosphere, this solar proton event depleted less than one percent of the total ozone in the Northern Hemisphere."
    A 1% reduction of NH ozone (less from the SH) would represent at most a 1% reduction of incoming UV energy, and a 0.25% reduction in temperature. To put that into perspective, chlorofluorocarbons reduced stratospheric ozone by about 30%, an effect which contributes around 30% of the observed cooling of the stratosphere. As the event causing this reduction was episodic (the one observed being the third largest in 30 years) and as the Ozone recovers between episodes, it is doubtfull that such events would compensate for the warming effect in the stratosphere of increased insolation. They certainly would not reverse that effect and give as large a cooling as has been observed.
  23. The figure (and referenced data) show a de-coupling of solar output from Earth's surface temperatures, starting in the mid 1970s. The conclusion is that there must be another causative agent that overwhelms solar influences, starting around that time (greenhouse gases). But the data's weakness is that the prior correlation only goes back a few hundred years. If the data was traced back a few thousand years, then would it show any other periods of uncoupling? Or is the recent uncoupling unique in the holocene?
  24. Re: TheCaz (748) Short answer? In the paleo record, CO2 acted as a feedback to temperatures, with orbital factors being a primary driver of climate change (with the exception of methane burps [think PETM]). What is different today is the immense bolus, or carbon slug, of CO2 mankind has injected into the atmosphere. By doing so, we have changed the game: instead of CO2 acting as a feedback, it now acts as forcing, causing a cascade feedback reaction of warming that also drives more CO2 and CH4 release, causing further warming. The warming will continue until CO2/CH4 emissions stablize + about 40 years for the thermal lag of the oceans to catch up. Once radiative balance is then achieved, temps and resulting large and micro-scale climate patterns will stabilize. And that was the short answer. The Yooper
  25. Although that is interesting, it does not actually anser the question about the correlation between solar activity and surface temperatures.
    Response: [Daniel Bailey] I addressed everything in your original comment that had a question mark attached. As to your question in this comment, did you read the original post? How about the Intermediate version? Or the Advanced version?

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