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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

Printable Version  |  Offline PDF Version  |  Link to this page

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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 1026 to 1050 out of 1288:

  1. KR and marsupial Thank you for your input. I understand your points. From the information provided to me, I did not have the information on the Heartland funding. I will look for data on global cloud cover. Does anyone have any links to such data? Thank you both for your time.
  2. I have been able to find some data on global cloud cover. I also see that it is a bit complicated with low clouds cooling Earth and high clouds warming Earth. Will take some figuring out. Again, thanks for your time.
  3. SirNubwub - I would suggest looking at Ari Jokimäki's list of Papers on global cloud cover trends, in particular Eastman et al 2011.
  4. SirNubWub: You really need to get more specific in just what it is you're looking for. Although not totally useless, "sunshine hours" is awfully simplistic. It used to be commonly measured by devices such as the Campbell-Stokes Sunshine Recorder, and is defined formally as the amount of time where direct solar radiation exceeds 120 W/m^2. It depends on cloud, other atmospheric conditions, sun angles, etc., and is only very loosely related to solar energy received at the earth's surface. Likewise "cloud cover". Cloud is not something that is easily summarized in one number. What type? What altitude? What time of day? all this changes the effect that "one tenth cloud cover" will have on solar radiation. If you are interested in energy received at the surface, it is better to look directly at the measurements, such as those archived at The Baseline Surface Radiation Network. Note that the "fake skeptics" that are trying to mislead people (or are misleading themselves) will often ignore real, direct readings of importance (e.g. radiation) and focus on indirect, approximate readings of loosely-related factors (e.g., sunshine, cloud cover). This is another form of cherry-picking. Regardless of whether it is intentional or the result of confirmation bias or motivated reasoning, it is not good science.
  5. Bob, Thanks for the info. I see that the graph I posted is fairly useless. I will have to dive deeper into the subject of radiation. I appreciate the link.
  6. @ Bob Loblaw #1029: SirNubWub's posts on this thread and others suggest to me that his primary purpose is not to learn, but rather, it is to provoke SkS authors into saying something intemperate. Therefore, be careful not to take the bait.
  7. John, You have me wrong and I am a bit ticked by you accusation. All of my discussions have been based on data from referrenced links. I have admitted that I have been wrong on two occassions now in the past few days. If that and my reply in line 1030 is not what you want to see from all skeptics, then please tell me how you hope I would reply.
    Response: [DB] Point taken. Dialogue and discussion in good faith should be accorded respect from all parties. The point of this site is to disseminate and foster civil discussion of the primary literature of climate change and to overcome misperceptions and misinformation about it.
  8. @ SirNubwub #1032 I'd be very pleased if you were to proove me wrong. If you do, I will apologize.
    Response: [DB] SirNubwub should be accorded the benefit of the doubt, as per his/her recent comment above. Comments made in good faith on these threads are what matter.
  9. SirNubwub - While I feel it inappropriate to speculate on others motives, I would like to point out some issues with your previous postings. Your first posting on SkS, as far as I have found, asked "Can I now present to my classes that the hockey stick argument has been discarded by the AGW proponents? ". I recall another one (can't find it at the moment) asking why there was no significant warming in 15 years. You've also recently put forth the proposition that climate science is driven by the money, rather than the data. And in this thread you open up by stating "I am not here to debate a point. I have read the report, but I am not knowledgeable enough in the topic to try to defend it. I just want to learn the alarmist side of the point", then showing a graph of cherry-picked data, from a bad source, arguing directly against the point of the opening post. So, in context, you have presented a series of 'skeptic'/denial talking points, asking about the "alarmist side", usually with an air of "Doesn't this prove all of the science wrong?". The support for these points (IIRC) has been from newspaper articles, blog postings, and sources like the NIPCC. Bad sources, bad phrasing in your questions, all of which unfortunately can lead to a perception that you are more interested in propping up denial memes than investigating the data. It also appears clear to me that you have not read the opening post(s) on the threads you have joined, or looked over the list of 'skeptic' arguments, all of which quite frankly answer the questions you have raised. If you wish to be taken as someone actually interested in answers, I would suggest several things: (1) read the opening post(s), (2) critically evaluate your sources, and (3) ask questions, rather than dropping these "Aren't all of you wrong?" statements. Because, quite frankly, anyone involved enough in climate science and the public discussion to be present on a website like this has already heard enough"Silver Bullet" arguments from 'skeptics' to find them quite antagonizing.
    Response: [DB] The thread in question leads up to this comment by SirNubwub here. Fixed link & text per request.
  10. DB, thank you.
  11. (Continued from here) Dikran Marsupial, Falkenherz - Foster and Rahmstorf 2011 (discussed here) examined atmospheric responses to various forcings, namely aerosols, MEI/ENSO, and insolation, using multiple linear regression to examine their contributions. The steady increase in CO2 forcing was not associated with a time lag: as a near-linear trend, it doesn't have the necessary variations to be time-matched to temperature changes (no 'teeth' to match). For that component F&R 2011 just used a linear rising trend. [Source] The atmosphere, in particular the upper troposphere (RSS/UAH) responds quite quickly to changes in TSI. Overall effects (larger temperature swings) will occur over longer periods due to the thermal buffering of the oceans, but there is a fairly immediate and detectable atmosphere response.
  12. The atmosphere, in particular the upper troposphere (RSS/UAH) responds quite quickly to changes in TSI. Overall effects (larger temperature swings) will occur over longer periods due to the thermal buffering of the oceans, but there is a fairly immediate and detectable atmosphere response.
    Indeed - as the seasonal changes in response to annual hemispherical insolation changes suggest.
  13. As Bob explained to me up thread there are various time constants for warming of lower layers of the ocean. There should thus be a roughly exponential rise in GAT (atmosphere) based on those time constants after the immediate GAT rise. The annual cycle of solar means it can only perturb the mixed layer before cycling back. A secular rise in solar would affect the deeper layers for which we would have to derive time constants.
  14. Interesting article on this topic: Steinhilber et al 2012, "9,400 years of cosmic radiation and solar activity from ice cores and tree rings". They use Be10 and C14 isotopes from ice cores and tree rings to reconstruct total solar irradiance over that period, taking advantage of some more recent ice cores for cross-checking. They then compare that to the Asian climate record, and find good coherence - albeit with periods of very low coherence, which they state are "...pointing to other forcings like volcanoes and greenhouse gases and their corresponding feedbacks. Their forcing data will apparently be made available at the NOAA server for paleo datasets, although only his 2009 revision is currently up.
  15. New Research for the topic: Evidence of recent causal decoupling between solar radiation and global temperature "We have shown that there is an evident causal decoupling between total solar irradiance and global temperature in recent periods. Our work permits us to fix the 1960s as the time of the loss of importance of solar influence on temperature. At the same time greenhouse gases total radiative forcing has shown a strong Granger causal link with temperature since the 1940s up to the present day. ..." Well, eyeballing MarkIII the TSI/Temperature Graph gives a similar impression, but scientific proof of it gives a way better argument.
  16. That chart shows temperatures continuously and sharpely increasing since 1980, that is pure nonsense.  The most accurate measurements, satellite measurements, the ones the Clinate Scientists seem to choose to ignore shows flat temperatures from 1980 to 2000, with a few spikes. Then the reletively volcano free 2000 through today shows an increase of 0.2 degrees. As recent as 2008 we were at or below the level of 1980. If the best the (-snip-)highlighted by the original article starting this thread.

    Response: (Rob P) Inflammatory snipped.
  17. "The most accurate measurements, satellite measurements, the ones the Clinate Scientists seem to choose to ignore shows flat temperatures from 1980 to 2000, with a few spikes"

    Nonsense.  UAH, a satellite measurement from climate "skeptics" Roy Spencer and John Christy, shows about .22*C of warming from 1980 to 2000.  From 1980 to the present it shows about .42*C.  You are completely wrong. 

    "As recent as 2008 we were at or below the level of 1980."

    Nonsense again.  2008 was no where near as cool as 1980. 

    " If the best the (-snip-) can do is rely on highly innacurate ground measurements they don't have much of a case."

    The ground measurements agree very well with the satellite data, which you are obviously are unfamiliar with.  Nothing you said above is true.  Talk about a . (-snip-) 

    Response: (Rob P) Inflammatory snipped.
  18. Robert Wagner @ 1042, those same satellite measurements you claim to be accurate show a TOA energy imbalance: more energy entering the Earth system than leaving it. What do you think is happening to all that extra energy Earth is absorbing, if it is not warming the biosphere?

  19. Robert Wagner @1041, below are 11 year running averages of Gistemp (as used in figure 1 above) post 1950, along with 11 year running averages of RSS and UAH data, all offset to have a common baseline of 1981-2010.  As can clearly be seen, the trends of the three are virtualy indistinguishable.  Your primary claim is, therefore, patently false.

    I will also note that your supposition that the satellite records, by virtue of being satelite records, are more accurate records is unfounded.  It is well known that the surface temperature record needs adjustment for the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, Time of Observation (TOBS), along with changes of instruments over time.  The satellite record, however, invovles adjustments for changes of instruments (as one Satellite is replaced by another), for the fact that the raw data includes a large measure of the cooling stratosphere in its observations, for the fact that the time of observation at any location changes as the satellite orbits , for bias arising from the properties of different surfaces, and their altitudes; and so on.  Far more, and far more mathematically challenging mathematical adjustments are required to take raw satellite records and turn them into a temperature record than are required for the surface record.

    Below are a list of the main corrections of the main, known errors in the UAH record that have been needed over time (and acknowledged by Roy Spenser).  There has been a scientific paper published pointing out yet another apparently needed correction that Dr Spencer does not yet agree with.  Only time will tell if he has finally got it about right, or whether yet more corrections will be needed before UAH can finally be considered as accurate as the surface record:

  20. Why are people even debating this The empirical evidence in favor of the solar explanation is overwhelming.

    Dozens of peer-reviewed studies have found a very high degree of correlation (.5 to .8) between solar-magnetic activity and global temperature going back many thousands of years (Bond 2001, Neff 2001, Shaviv 2003, Usoskin 2005, and many others listed below). In other words, solar activity “explains,” in the statistical sense, 50 to 80% of past temperature change.

    Such a high degree of correlation over such long time periods implies causality, which can only go one way. Global temperature cannot be driving solar activity, so there must be some mechanism by which solar activity is driving or modulating global temperature change. The high degree of correlation also suggests that solar activity is the primary driver of global temperature on every time scale studied (which is pretty much every time scale but the Milankovitch cycle).

    In contrast, records of CO2 and temperature reveal no discernable warming effect of CO2. There is a correlation between atmospheric CO2 and temperature, but with CO2 changes following temperature changes by an average of about 800 years (Caillon 2003), indicating that it is temperature change that is driving atmospheric CO2 change (as it should, since warming oceans are able to hold less CO2). This does not rule out the possibility that CO2 also drives temperature, and in theory a doubling of CO2 should cause about a 1 degree increase in temperature before any feedback effects are accounted, but feedbacks could be negative (dampening rather than amplifying temperature forcings), so there no reason, just from what we know about the greenhouse mechanism, that CO2 has to be a significant player. The one thing we can say is that whatever the warming effect of CO2, it is not detectable in the raw CO2 vs. temperature data.

    This is in glaring contrast to solar activity, which lights up like a neon sign in the raw data. Literally dozens of studies finding .5 to .8 degrees of correlation with temperature. (-snip-). RF for CO2 is entered as ___ W/m^2 while RF for total solar effects is entered as ___ W/m^2. [I'm not going to quote the actual numbers, but yeah, the ratio is an astounding 40 to 1, up from 14 to 1 in AR4, which listed total solar forcing as 0.12 W/m^2, vs. 1.66 for CO2.]

    So the 50% driver of global temperature according to mountains of temperature correlation data is assumed to have 1/40th the warming effect of something whose warming effect is not even discernable in the temperature record. (-snip-).



    Response: [DB] Off-topic and inflammatory rhetoric snipped.
  21. Sabre, you did read the intermediate and advanced articles tabbed above, yes?  Yes, global temp track solar variation quite well until about 1960. Where is it argued that it doesn't?  What happens after 1960, as TSI drops from the modern max, and temp just keeps on rising.  You're familiar with Pasini et al. (2012), yes?  And the same Usoskin (2005) points out "during these last 30 years the solar total irradiance, solar UV irradiance and cosmic ray flux has not shown any significant secular trend, so that at least this most recent warming episode must have another source." 

  22. DSL,

    Apparently some people don't feel uncomfortable commenting on posts they haven't read. It gets a bit ridiculous when the post you'd provide them with a link to in order to dispel their misconception is the one they've commented on!

  23. Just out of curiosity, what's the most-commented post here at SkS? This would have to be a contender, which strikes me as amazing because it's one of the most obviously wrong myths yet apparently one of the most fervently argued.

  24. Sabre @1045...  Do you honestly believe that the broad scientific community hasn't already considered everything you've stated here before coming to the overwhelming conclusion that human are primarily responsibe for the rise of global temperature of the past 40 years?

    Just curious.

  25. JasonB...  I was thinking exactly the same thing.  Literally, this is probably THE most clearly debunked myths there is in the climate debate.  It's stunning that anyone is still clinging to it.

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