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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 976 to 1000 out of 1288:

  1. Hello Ladies and Gentlemen. What is the truth to the assertion/hypothesis that the Earth's orbit is degrading by approximately 1 inch per year. I am at a loss for the location of the publication that provided this information. I do find it curious. Have any of you interested parties read about or researched this hypothesis? Although I find myself wondering about the validity of the assertion/hypothesis, it would seem to be a logical,if not complete cause of warming. What would the effects of increased or decreased solar flare activity have on the Earth with this hypothesis. An interesting point for further investigation.
  2. Icyhot @976: If the Earth's orbit decayed by one inch per annum since 1750, it would be 6.65 meters closer to the Sun, on average than in 1750. Incoming solar radiation varies with the inverse square of distance. So, a decay of 6.65 meters in the approx 150 billion meters radius of the Earth's orbit would result in a 0.00000001 increase incoming solar radiation, or a forcing of 0.000000024 W/m^2. This is compared to the approx 1.8 W/m^2 forcing from increased CO2 over the same period. Therefore such a decay in the Earth's orbit would not have a detectable effect the Earth's climate (and probably would not be detectable to begin with). However, that is beside the point. There is, SFAIK, no evidence that the Earth's orbit is decaying. Indeed, if anything the solar tide on the Earth would cause the Earth's orbital distance to increase, just as the Lunar tide result in the measured increase in distance to the moon. The increase in distance, however, is very small so that there is no reason to think the Earth's orbit will increase or decay significantly at any time in the past or future several million years.
  3. Icyhot - in addition to Tom's comments, the beauty of the mainstream climate science view of atmospheric CO2 as Earth's thermostat - is that it has explanatory power. Turn up the CO2 and the Earth gets warmer, turn it down and the Earth cools. Aside from maybe one outstanding complication, the Miocene, this relationship holds true for hundreds of millions of years back in time. There are, of course, other control knobs on Earth's climate - such as the Milankovitch Cycles, but CO2 is very clearly the Big Kahuna. If, as you suggest, the Earth is moving closer to the sun, why then was it much warmer on Earth further back in time?
  4. And as a final point - if we were getting warmer because we were getting closer to the sun, then we should see that in the TSI measurements. As shown in the main article, this is not the case.
  5. My main issue with it is the term: "Total irradience" from which the conclusions are based. It might supprise people to know that the term only includes visible light and does not even include the ultraviolet spectrum. If conclusions are based on less than 10% of the measured EMR emitted from the Sun how realistic are the results ?
    Response: [DB] A prudent person would ensure that they had read both the Intermediate and Advanced versions of this post before making such a strong demurral.
  6. maximo: From what I can see your claim It might surprise people to know the term only includes visible light and does not even include the ultraviolet spectrum. is unequivocally false. One of the sources cited in this article defines TSI in the introduction as: Variations in solar total (i.e. integrated over all wavelengths) and spectral irradiance [...] [Emphasis mine.] This webpage (material taken from what appears to be some form of textbook) defines TSI as: Total solar irradiance is defined as the amount of radiant energy emitted by the Sun over all wavelengths that fall each second on 11 ft2 (1 m2) outside Earth's atmosphere. [Emphasis mine.] Similarly, other discussions of TSI do not discriminate between spectra of radiation emitted by the Sun (e.g. visible light, UV, shortwave IR, &c), such as the IPCC AR4 WG1 Glossary or this University of Colorado solar radiation project site. Do you have sources for your claim about the spectra covered under TSI?
    Response: [DB] Fixed html tag.
  7. This is what I found on the solar irradiance monitor instruments: ERBE 0.2 - 50 micron ACRIM 200-2000 nm SORCE 1-2000 nm (95% of the total) Where did maximo get that information from?
  8. Thanks Riccardo, the information of what actual radiation wavelengths and the definition of "total irradiance" being measured by those satelites can seen on those links you gave. They are measuring in the nano meter range, which is within the visible spectrum though includes some of the Ultraviolet and Infrared wavelengths that are not visible. My issue still stands, 'total irradiance' is not all wavelengths that the Sun radiates. The Sun has microwave emissions and xray emissions and other high energy particles. Clearly not all wavelengths are being measured.. Also note these satelites have only been in orbit for a short period of time and the Temperature versus Solar Activity chart at the beginning of this blog dates back well before 2004 and I wonder how accurate modelling was done before these satelites existed?
  9. maximo I'm glad you admitted you were wrong claiming that TSI only include visible light but still you're missing something. The ERBE mission started somewhere in the late '70s, I'm sure you can easily find the exact date. Apparently you missed that the range 1-2000 nm of the SORCE instruments covers 95% of the total irradiance. I can't quantify how much energy is emitted in the 1-200 nm range and I'm to lazy to check, but I'd expect it's going to be a small part. The same applies to the far infrared and microwave range. There's really no issue with TSI apart from tiny discrepancies between different instruments.
  10. maximo @983, radiation from the Sun follows a black body curve. As such, observations of emissions within a fairly small range of frequencies are enough to quantify its total radiation with a high degree of accuracy. Sufficiently high so that correlating emissions between different instruments is a much larger source of error.
  11. Admitting Ultraviolet and Infrared as being just outside the visible range isn't an incorrect statement. To recognise that as inclusive of the limited range of measurement of the 'visible spectrum' that 95% of coverage is still not measuring the larger proportaion of the non visible Solar emissions. There have been 2 solar storms this year, one just yesterday July 16. The other March 8-10, which hit the earth with 26 million kilowatt hours of thermal energy, enough to power New York for 2 years. NASA have a specially designed satelite to measure those activities, but it is only very recently.
  12. maximo @986, do you mean to say that the Earth has been hit with solar storms having an power equivalent of 1.2*10^-8 W/m^2 over the year, and you think that that will massively distort the energy balance equations. Even if we where hit by one of those storms every hour, on the hour, it would only add 0.000005 W/m^2 to the average (after albedo) 240 W/m^2 incoming solar radiation. I am really struggling to see your point here.
  13. Correction it was actually 26 billion kilowatt hours of thermal energy dumped on the earth during the March 8-10 Solar storm, enough to power New York for 2 years. It's from the NASA video on the link I posted, which Tom is nothing to do with what I think. (-Snip-)

    [DB] Please refer more closely to the comments policy (linky adjacent to the comments input box) when constructing comments. All-caps contravenes said policy and subjects comments to moderation.

    Converted all-caps to bold.

    Furthermore, please note that repetitive posting constitutes sloganeering, also a CP violation. FYI.

    Snipped repetitive link.

  14. Okay. Big difference. That means one of those storms every hour, on the hour would add 0.0005 W/m^2 to the 240W/m^2 of incoming solar radiation. I think that is considerably less than the error in the observing system.
  15. A simple equation would be 8,244,910 million New York residents x 1000 days = 8 billion persons power usage. Although not everyone on the globe has electricity or uses electrical heating.
  16. maximo @988, you are claiming that satellite sampling of solar radiation is insufficient to constrain TSI. Your evidence is the power of some solar storms which are not sampled by the instruments used to sample solar irradiance. However, even as corrected, one of those storms an hour every hour over the year would only increase solar irradiance by 0.005 W/m^2, well less than the error margin of the 240 W/m^2 we receive from the Sun. During the course of the storm, the power recieved amounted to less than, 0.000002 W/m^2 or less than one ten millionth of a percent of the 240 W/m^2 irradiance from the Sun. What is more, according to the video on which you rely, 95% of that energy was immediately reradiated to space from the thermosphere, with only 5% entering the lower atmosphere and hence effecting the Eearth's energy balance. I have to thank you for this. I did not previously know the relative power received by the Earth from solar storms. Now I do, and it is inconsequential relative to any other source of energy contributing to warming the Earth's surface. As it turns out, it is less than any other source I had previously considered, and on a par with the 0.000003 W/m^2 the Earth receives from the Cosmic Background Radiation.
  17. It's interesting to note that the thermosphere where the greenhouse gases are located subsequently cooled a short time thereafter. Those gases seem to be good at doing their job of reradiating most of that energy back into space. The storm lasted approximately 72 hours and you are right the other instruments do not measure CME's
    Response: [DB] The thermosphere is not the primary location of most of the greenhouse gases. The tropopause is considered the location of the optical depth emission layer.
  18. Solar radiation is not limited to the thermosphere, about half the solar radiation is absorbed by the Earths surface and warms it.
  19. maximo @993, are you still trying to beat your confusion up into an argument against global warming? Consider first your 992: The thermosphere is not "where the greenhouse gases are located". With some exceptions (Ozone, water vapour), greenhouse gases are distributed approximately equally throughout the atmosphere. That happens to mean there are some greenhouse gases (CO2 and NO2) in the thermosphere where they are too thin to have any appreciable effect on the greenhouse effect. However, because the can radiate in the InfraRed spectrum, they are the primary means of radiating away the heat absorbed in the thermosphere by collisions with solar particles. On to 993: Actually about 70% of solar radiation is absorbed by the Earth, lower atmosphere (troposphere) and stratosphere. Virtually none is absorbed by the thermosphere. However, the energy from the solar storms is largely absorbed by the thermosphere, from which 95% is radiated to space, and only 5% radiated towards the surface according to the NASA video you linked to.
  20. Those observed facts from NASA show the atmosphere cools in a short period of time. What exactly is confusing or goes against what you believe?. Atmospheric gases are found high up into the atmosphere 600km and the greatest concentration of them is at 25km. The average density of gases in the atmosphere is log 10 cm -3.
  21. maximo, rather than continuing to be cryptic, please concisely make whatever-it-is point you are trying (and failing) to make. Unless your goal is to waste the time of others.
  22. maximo @995: First, the NASA video indicated that the extra energy in the thermosphere accumulated because of the solar storm dissipated in a few days. To dissipate that energy, the thermosphere had to radiate around 0.000002 W/m^2 (or less) over those few days. This has absolutely no bearing on how long it would take to dissipate the approximately 900 thousand times larger energy imbalance in the lower atmosphere due to anthropogenic effects, particularly as that energy imbalance is not a temporary (three day) storm, but an ongoing flux. Second, the graph you show only shows the density of three atmospheric gases, Molecular Oxygen (O2), Nitrogen (N2) and atomic Oxygen (O), along with the density of electrons. The atomic oxygen and electrons are formed by molecular oxygen being split by UV radiation, thereby absorbing the UV radiation. As can be seen, the relative densities of O2 and N2,ie, d(O2)/d(O2+N2) and likewise for N2, where d(x) is the density of x, are near constant in the mesosphere and below. Above the mesophere, the relative density of O2 + O, ie, d(O2 + 0)/d(O2 + O + N2), is also near constant and approximately equal to d(O2)/d(O2 + N2) in the mesosphere and below. In other words, what the graph shows is only that the relative density of O2 is reduced by the splitting of O2 into two oxygen ions by UV radiation. That has no bearing on the densities of CO2 and NO2 which are typically not split by UV radiation. Finally, I grow tired of having a discussion where I have to deduce your implied point, made with irrelevant data, and largely irrelevant to the topic of discussion. There is a name for posting claims containing no clear argument and serving only to identify that you disagree (or agree) with the OP, or subsequent discussion. It is called sloganeering, and is contrary to forum rules. Unless you begin to clearly state not only what evidence you think you are bringing, but how it relates to the thread topic and ongoing discussion, I suggest your posts simply be deleted as being in violation of the comments policy.
  23. (-Snip-) ... (-Snip-)

    [DB] Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right. This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it. Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter.

    Inflammatory snipped.

    Sloganeering snipped.

  24. (snip)
    Response: TC: Sabretruthtiger, your post is a gish gallop of off topic claims and bald assertions, none of it backed by evidence from the peer reviewed literature or other reliable source. As such it constituted sloganeering. It contributes nothing more to the discussion than simply typing "You are all wrong" would have. Sloganeering is forbidden by the comments policy. I recommend you read it, and comply with it in future.
  25. Trying for efficient anti denialists argument. Against any thing about present being like med warm period, or the sun being brighter , why does it not suffice to simply state: 1. If the temperature of the earth were increasing since ~1990 only because of the solar flux increasing for any reason whatsoever, then the temperature of the stratosphere would not have been decreasing during this time frame. 2. The temperature of the stratosphere has been decreasing systematically since 1980. Therefore the increased temperature of the surface is due to increased trapping of outgoing IR from greenhouse gases, and can have nothing to do with increasing solar. QED?

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