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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...

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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.


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Comments 751 to 775 out of 1304:

  1. Sorry, but it does not. The question was whether solar activity and surface temperatures were always coupled in the holocene, or whether there were other periods of uncoupling. Your graphs do not contain any data of solar energy output at all. So the question was not addressed in your response. I understand you have preented data comparing CO2 to surface temps, but that is not what I asked.
  2. Re: TheCaz (751) Since the Daleks took my time machine back to rescue the Morlocks from the Eloi, from Beer et al, 2006:
    "To date, the only proxy providing information about the solar variability on millennial time scales are cosmogenic radionuclides stored in natural archives such as ice cores."
    Perusual of the various versions of this post, plus the graphs I showed you in My Previous Comment #749 reveal the tight relationship between solar variability, CO2 and temperatures (with temperatures being merely the composite sum of forcings and feedbacks) in the paleo record. The unusual climatic stability of the Holocene: So my questions to you, TheCaz: looking at the record of CO2 over the past 400,000 years or so (here, I'll help with a visual): When did atmospheric concentration jump 40% (which it has over the pre-industrial levels)? At any point? Do you see any uncouplings? Keep in mind that CO2 in the paleo record acted as a lagged feedback to orbital factors and solar irradiance changes. And that it is now acting as a forcing. Or do you have a source for solar activity over the paleo record that materially differs from the information presented in the various iterations of this post, my comments and linked sources? If so, what source is that? Can you furnish a link? The Yooper
  3. Your new post still does not answer the question. I do not see solar activity represented at all, except for the graph in the main article which covers only the past few hundred years. I understand temps and CO2 are uncoupled, but I was asking about solar activity and surface temps. Is the recent uncoupling unique in the holocene? I do not have the data myself. That is why I am asking the question.
  4. Perhaps what you are trying to say is 'we do not know whether solar activity and surface temps were uncoupled prior to the 1800s because the ability to measure solar activity is not able to be calculated prior to that time.' OK. So that is an answer. But repeating the CO2 data is not what I asked.
  5. TheCaz, Daniel gave you an example of solar reconstructions for the Holocene in his link to Beer et al, 2006.
  6. TheCaz, Specifically figure 2 panel c appears to be what you are looking for.
  7. I read the article, but unfortunately, that figure still does not answer the question, for two reasons: (a) the time scale makes it impossible to see the holocene in detail, and (b) it compares temps with insolation (angle and distance from the sun) and assumes a constant solar activity. I was asking specifically about solar activity (not insolation). But the paper does give something of an answer elsewhere. It says before the launching of satellites, solar activity could not be measured. So that is the answer I was looking for - "We do not know." The paper says the sun has activity cycles, but then assumes those cycles are regular. The author uses this to exclude solar activity variation as causative in the long term. We now know this is incorrect. In fact, the graph at the top of this page shows that solar activity (11-year averages) has varied over the past 130 years.
  8. The paper goes on to model solar activity based on proxies, and that is the best we can do right now. OK.
    Response: [Daniel Bailey] Apologies; I thought that the Beer et al quote I cited made that clear. I will try to be more explanatory in the future.
  9. TheCaz, Sorry I pointed you to the wrong section, the paper does go on to detail a solar activity proxy as you discovered.
  10. @TheCaz: in the absence of any evidence that there were similar "uncouplings" in the Holocene, we cannot assume there were. Thus, it's not the sun. It's CO2.
  11. Continuing from a comment here. "Solar variation did not cause the 78 – 98 warming but it can cause the 1880 to 2010 trend" Barring the obvious fact that 78-98 are contained in 1880-2010, there is no evidence for this 'solar cause'. Sunspot numbers correlate well with satellite measures of solar irradiance and the reconstructions of solar output don't support it. If anything, the sun's relatively quiet behavior in recent years should have a cooling effect; yet we know that 2000-2009 was one of the hottest 10 year period in the last 6 decades.
  12. First, "relatively quiet behavior" is not necessarily cooling, the (cooling) low cloud coverage diverged from the higher GCR (quiet sun) cosmic-rays-and-global-warming.htm The quiet behavior (and increased GCR) can certainly change the weather in some cases (e.g. increased blocking). Second, the cooling would not be instant due to thermal inertia (i.e. the ocean is storing the cooling)
  13. #762: Eric, We've been through the cosmic ray discussion many times. There is no consistent evidence of any such effect. "the cooling would not be instant due to thermal inertia (i.e. the ocean is storing the cooling)" The solar max occurred in the late 50s. Sixty years later, still no cooling. And for your own benefit, please don't ever say something 'stores cooling' in any public forum. It's like asking what is the speed of darkness?
  14. Re: muoncounter (763) And you can't have the speed of darkness without the Sound of Silence By 2012, when the sun is really cookin' and the Arctic ice recedes from the pole for the first time in unknown millennia, enquiring minds will want to know: Just how did those Mayans know? I bet this thread hits 1,000 comments before spring... The Yooper
  15. Reminds me of the world's fastest climatologist, Muhammad Ali. Sucker bet on hitting the thou. If I took it, all you'd need to do is drop the words 'climate sensitivity' in here.
  16. Cool Papa Bell was attributed to have said (OK, Satch said it) that Ali quote about a half-century before Ali. If we say "waste heat" we'll draw a cool mill...then John could charge admission & make this site a revenue source instead of sink... The Yooper
  17. Continuing from a comment here. Lockwood 2010 Solar change and climate: an update in the light of the current exceptional solar minimum is an interesting summary paper for the Royal Society. By way of introduction, The Internet has played a useful role in conveying some of the understanding, images and data that lead climate scientists to their conclusions. However, it has also become a haven for un-refereed pseudo-science with dangerously incorrect inference. It has served to give the false impression that there is a serious, widespread academic debate on the basic nature of climate change. The most popular argument runs like this: ‘The Sun drives Earth’s climate system. Therefore changes in the Sun must drive changes in Earth’s climate system’. The first sentence is, of course, absolutely correct; but understanding why the second sentence does not follow from the first requires scientific training and study. --emphasis added The remainder of the paper is a thorough treatment of solar variation, concluding with ... the popular idea (at least on the Internet and in some parts of the media) that solar changes are some kind of alternative to GHG forcing in explaining the rise in surface temperatures has no credibility with almost all climate scientists. Sounds like he's got his head on straight.
  18. Well, the sun isn´t dead yet: A combination of the increased TSI and UV may explain up to 0.44 degrees of the 0.55 degree HADCRU warming - 80%. "A peer-reviewed paper [Krivova et al.] published in the Journal of Geophysical Research finds that reconstructions of total solar irradiance (TSI) show a significant increase since the Maunder minimum in the 1600's during the Little Ice Age and shows further increases over the 19th and 20th centuries.....Use of the Stefan-Boltzmann equation indicates that a 1.25 W/m2 increase in solar activity could account for an approximate .44C global temperature increase.....A significant new finding is that portions of the more energetic ultraviolet region of the solar spectrum increased by almost 50% over the 400 years since the Maunder minimum.....This is highly significant because the UV portion of the solar spectrum is the most important for heating of the oceans due to the greatest penetration beyond the surface and highest energy levels. Solar UV is capable of penetrating the ocean to depths of several meters to cause ocean heating." [N. A. Krivova, L. E. A. Vieira, S. K. Solanki 2010: Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 115, A12112, 11 PP., 2010 doi:10.1029/2010JA015431
  19. #768: "shows further increases over the 19th and 20th centuries ..." Figures 5 and 6 in the paper (pdf here) clearly show the solar UV max coincident with the late '50s 'grand maximum'. That suggests that in the 50 years since, the 4 subsequent solar maxima were flat to lower than this well-known peak. That's the key point in this post: between the 1960s and the present day the same solar measurements have shown that the energy from the sun is now decreasing. See the graph at the top of the page. On another note, when I was in the awl bidness, we referred to Mother Exxon as 'the double cross' - and that was before the Valdez.
  20. #769 I´m not sure that the peak values are the most important. The oceans are acting as large integrators and from the diagrams in the article in can clearly be seen that the overall imparted energy has increased (from the UV-band) until about the year 2000. Since UV have a higher penetrability than light in the oceans it is not strange to assume that variations in UV energy fluence may have some impact on the total energy content. The decrease in energy fluence after approx. 2000 is consistent from what is observed, i.e a stable decrease in ocean energy content (since 2002-03). This may eventually have an impact on the surface temperatures as well. (The word "may" should be used more often in climate science considering the uncertainties).
    Response: [Daniel Bailey] Your own linked graphic you provide in 771 below shows the fallacy of focusing on short time scales: Datasets are noisy; the overall trend is up, like global temps.
  21. #770 Update: here is a couple of figures showing the latest (corrected) data on energy content of the oceans (one together with GISS-projections).
    Response: [Daniel Bailey] Further discussion on ocean heat content should go on a more relevant page. Use the search function in the upper left corner of every page to find a more appropriate thread if continuing a discussion of OHC is your intent. Thanks!
  22. #770: "not sure that the peak values are the most important. ... from the diagrams in the article in can clearly be seen ..." Figure 5 in the Krivova paper is a graph of UV flux vs. time. In order to represent increasing energy, the area under the curve must increase: either the peaks must be bigger or the width (time duration) of the peaks are broader. The largest peak UV was in 1958 and the time duration of the subsequent cycles is the standard 10-11 years. What part of that is clearly demonstrating your point? If you are saying that the cumulative energy summed over all cycles is increasing, that's obvious. But that sum is not a measure of the energy balance at TOA or in the oceans. Here are the author's conclusions: ... since the LTE approximation underlies the computations of the brightness spectra of different photospheric components, the original version of the model fails in the UV. Although it contributes little to the total irradiance (such that the modelled TSI is nevertheless quite accurate), this wavelegth range on its own is of special interest for climate research due to its important influence on the chemistry and dynamics of the Earth’s atmosphere ... -- emphasis added There is no mention of UV contributing to ocean heating. Their "value of about 1.25 W/m2 as our best estimate for the 11-yr averaged increase in the TSI between the end of the Maunder minimum and the end of the 20th century, compared to 1.3 W/m2 derived by Balmaceda et al. [2007] and Krivova et al. [2007]" doesn't specifically say that it increased through the end of the century. Further discussion specific to ocean heat content should go here.
  23. The current trend in sunspot number Cycle 24 is under the projected trend. NASA's 2006 forecast was ~150. The current predicted maximum of 90, in May 2013, may need further revision downward. I am reminded of the Penn and Livingston 2006 paper that showed a linear decline in umbral magnetic flux, suggesting that a continued decrease below 1500G may result in sunspots disappearing altogether.
    Response: So what? That's not relevant to the point of this post, which is a rebuttal of the skeptic argument that increase in the Sun's irradiation of the Earth is what has and is causing the Earth's temperature rise since about 1850.
  24. My understanding is that solar activity levels have been above the historical norm since the 1940's, See Cycle 21-23, and the correlation between surface temperature anomalies and sunspot cycle length is interesting. A NASA study showed that solar activity influenced the observed warming of the previous century by 25%. But cycle 24 looks similar to cycles 5 and 6, during the Dalton Minumum. It's still too early to say for sure but it is possible that a weak cycle 24 may lead to subsequent global cooling.
  25. Your understanding is incorrect. Please read the article you are replying to. As for a decrease in solar activity trumping the enhanced greenhouse effect, please use the search box to find the article on what would happen if the Sun returned to Maunder Minimum activity levels.

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