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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 1076 to 1100 out of 1304:

  1. Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions, or looking for a simple correlation?

    The nexus may not be a direct link nor logarithmic progression.  It may be that a number of factors must align, or a threshhold be reached, before the effect of sunspot activity, volcanic activity or other factors have more than a negligable effect on the weather - this would perhaps be best demonstrated by research into unusual tornado events in winter, in the US.  It was suspected the link related to El Nino/La Nina events.  This, and swings in the jet stream related to it, were eventually established once the right question was found.  This is not a simple correlation but rather that a cluster of severe torandoes must be identified, rather than simply that a tornado occured, before the effect is identified (movement of the jetstream, spinning up the severe tornados, related to the El Nino/La Nina winds changes), and a correlation established.

    This information was there for all to see but not found until the right question was asked.

    Those who cite unusual weather events as proof are puting the cart before the horse, and ignoring the fact that weather prediction is an evolving science without absolutes. 

    Those who cite CO2 as the only culprit in weather change are again ignoring the fact that our models to date have failed to predict temperature and weather movements with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

  2. Chris wrote: "Those who cite CO2 as the only culprit in weather change..."

    No such people exist. As should be clear from the original article, the Sun does have a major impact on weather and climate. It just demonstrably is not responsible for the current unprecedented warming. Volcanoes, ENSO fluctuations, greenhouse gases other than CO2, aerosols, clouds, and many other factors which influence climate are discussed in detail in various posts on this site.

    However, the factor currently undergoing the biggest change is clearly the atmospheric CO2 level. We can look at every other factor and see that it has changed by a few percent at most... atmospheric CO2 is up by more than 40% in the past ~150 years. That's a profound change at a rate vastly greater than anything we have ever seen in nature. Ditto the corresponding increase in temperature. We've got two shockingly fast global increases occuring in tandem and basic physics tells us that increasing CO2 must cause increasing temperatures... yet somehow people keep insisting that we ignore the obvious primary issue and concentrate on anything and everything else.

    Why is that?

  3. Chris, your idea of "reasonable degree of accuracy" obviously expects models to predict science says they cannot. They are designed to predict climate not weather and have shown considerable skill. Please see "Models are unreliable" and feel free to comment if you still dispute this after reading the article.

    Please note to that strawmen arguments are easy  - disputing a claim that the science has never made - but doing that here will win you no points. 

  4. Chris:

    There is a fundamental problem with your argument, as indeed with any argument which tries to exonerate the enormous - and extraordinarily rapid - rise in atmospheric CO2 as the principal cause of the recent, also extraordinarily rapid, changes in the Earth climate system. This fundamental problem is that it flies in the face of extremely well-validated radiative physics.

  5. Chris: "Those who cite CO2 as the only culprit in weather change are again ignoring the fact that our models to date have failed to predict temperature and weather movements with a reasonable degree of accuracy."

    Ironically, it's fake skeptics who pull this sort of maneuver by claiming "natural cycles" or solar or GCRs and refusing to account for the rather well-established greenhouse effect and its recent enhancement.

  6. I have recently had a conversation with a 'sceptic' friend who believes 'it's the sun' . Showed him figure 1 to which he appeared slightly aggitated and suggested that whoever produced the chart was being misleading as it is based on the 11 year average, and this is not as reliable as the 'smooth' average. Apparantly the smooth average shows much less of a divegency between solar avtivity in temps from 1980 onwards. Can anyone enlighten me as to what he is on about? Thanks.

  7. Ho hum. Call me wrong. I really thought the ocean cycles would have to flip to get the cooling thing going, but it seems the solar backing down is doing it all on it's own. I said it once and I'll say it again. When the solar output drops below 1365.7, and it has, the warming stops. If it drops into area below 1365 get ready for major cooling. It looks to be going there.

  8. cruzn246...  Yes, you are clearly wrong on this one.  My suggestion would be for you to read all three levels of the scientific response to the myth you're presenting.  The relative forcing you're presenting is small compared to GHG forcing.


    [DB] Please note that cruzn246 has an extensive history of sloganeering and trolling in this venue.

  9. Cruzn, that's a really wierd argument.  You're implying that solar is responsible for the fifty year trend, yet the 11-year cycle is not well-represented in the GMST trend.  For a forcing to be that dominant, one would expect the trend of that forcing to be writ large in the long-term trend.  It's not.  The long-term trend is rather steady in its advance.  Surely you're not arguing from the long-term solar trend--clearly flat or falling since 1960.  We just had the deepest 11-year cycle minimum in the instrumental period (trough bottomed out through 2009-2010).  That trough spent a year below the minima of previous cycles.  The 12-month period between mid 2009 and mid 2010 was the warmest 12-month period in the instrumental record. 

    If you were truly basing your theory on solid evidence, you'd have absolutely no need or motivation for the bitter tone and reluctance to share your math.  Your past history smells like troll.  Is that the extent of your contribution?

  10. The whole point is about the solar forcing value ,versus the CO2 forcing

    Unless a big volcanic event come to mess things up 

    we should observe the consequences ( or not ) of the very weak solar cycle 24 ,

    it has now just passed its maximum with a very curious double peak .

    solar cycle 25 has everyone guessing,the consensus is a long inter cycle minimum with a record low maximum .

    Should this be the case we will be able to observe and compute the solar forcing

  11. I think we are starting to see the effect of a weak cycle 24 with the unusually cold winter in the eastern U.S., and the strong rebound in the Arctic sea ice extent, escpecially the 3-4+ year ice.

  12. Perhaps you can explain why a weak sun doesnt make everywhere colder? The immediate reason for the cold eastern US winter (and the very warm winter weather elsewhere) is the pertubations on the jet stream. How does the sun slipping just below peak cause this?

    Science works like this: you put forward your hypothesis. Assuming the hypothesis is true what observations would I expect to see. Check observations against predictions. Your hypothesis would seem to fail against such tests while the alternative hypothesis (reduction in pole/equator temperature difference affecting jet stream) seems to be holding well.

  13. Over here Klapper postulated a link to climate from AA index.

    Klapper, lets see if I have understood this:

    You are postulating a climate effect from geomagnetic activity (or other) for which the AA index is a proxy. Furthermore, you are implying that variation in this phenomena is more effective climatically than variations in radiative energy from the sun (ie TSI, measured directly from satellites since 1979). As a corollary, you are also postulating an undiscovered negative feedback or process that stops the extra longwave irradiation due to enhanced greenhouse effect from warming the earth.

    Your lag proposal postulates a process where the response can increase after the driving force has decreased.

    Frankly, call me skeptical. What is missing from your arguments is evidence for plausable physical processes. Rather it seems further evidence that you have uninformed a priori position on AGW and looking for supporting arguments while ignoring the overwhelming support for a better model.

  14. WUWT web site (purportedly "The world's most viewed site on global warming and climate change",  ahem) claims the following paper suggests it really IS the Sun and solar cycles and so forth.  Has anyone read it?  I think it's in Chinese.  Yet it does amuse me that much of the solar science purporting to refute AGW is from this part of the world, or Russia.

    ZHAO X H, FENG X S. Periodicities of solar activity and the surface temperature variation of the Earth and their correlations (in Chinese). Chin Sci Bull (Chin Ver), 2014, 59: 1284, doi: 10.1360/972013-1089

  15. knaugle - As was pointed out (repeatedly) on that 2-month old WUWT thread by Leif Svalgaard, a solar expert who is a frequent visitor there, there has been no recent 'Modern Grand Maximum'. Their paper fails on that alone. 

    Add to that issues such as equating postulated 64.3-year (oddly specific) temperature cycles to 50-year solar cycles (bzzzt), making claims based on low correlations, requiring a climate response far beyond the changes in solar forcings (implying a very high climate sensitivity), and the general avoidance of other forcings such as GHGs, aerosols, land use, etc., and the paper appears to be an exercise in bad curve-fitting. 

    Non-linear changes in various climate forcings (see here for data and links to published work on those) cause non-linear temperature changes - and if you ignore those factors you might think that there were significant long-term cyclical oscillations. But you have to ignore a great deal of the physics to do so. 

  16. knaugle:

    I only read the abstract and list of references. The references include Friis-Christensen and Lassen, Singer, and Svensmark. Not exactly awe-inspiring.

  17. Zhao and Feng have now published their paper in Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics: Correlation between solar activity and the local temperature of Antarctica during the past 11,000 years

    Would be great to get som updated comments since this is making the denier blog round

  18.  The scaling of the graphs is disguising the true facts. ‘Oh really’ I hear you say! Yes really I say to you.
    The key to the truth is a characteristic of the temperature graph, which can be seen in any temperature record from around the world, and that is the falling temperature from the late 40’s to the early 80’s, which, according to the IPCC, was due to post WW” industrial pollution pumping tons of aerosols into the atmosphere, probably augmented by the hundreds of atmospheric tests of nuclear devices carried out during the same period. This pollution was reduced by changes in global legislation in the early 1980’s.
    Now, according to the reconstructions of Total Solar Irradiance (TSI), solar irradiance began to increase in the late 1980’s and using Central England Annual Mean Temperature (CEAMT) data available from the Met Office, it can be seen that temperature began increasing at the same time. Both parameters continued to the late 1940’s when TSI continued to increase but CEAMT began to fall.
    TSI stabilised in the mid to late 50’s and began oscillating in the 11 year Schwabe cycles, so when the atmospheric pollution was reduced during the 80’s, CEAMT began to rapidly rise playing ‘catch up’ with TSI, a rapid rise which caused so much concern and was the birth of Global Warming. However, had the ‘man made’ period of falling temperatures not occurred CEAMT would most likely to have continued rising until the 60’s when it would of levelled out and stabilised with TSI.
    Further connection with the sun can be achieved by not only comparing the CEAMT data with TSI but from 1929, with England Annual Hours of Sunshine (Sunshine being when a minimum of 120W/m2 can be measured on the surface.) where you will find a very unexpected level of correlation.
    All this data is freely available from the Net and the Met office and can easily be graphed in Excel – give it a try.
    Good luck. TonyMo

  19. TonyMo

    What part of "the CEAMT is not a global record" is not understood by you?

  20. TonyMo. Your description of TSI reconstruction doesnt match the graph above nor more recent reconstructions (more). "began oscillating"?? Solar physics and sunspot observation would suggest the 11 yr oscillation has persisted much much longer than that. Perhaps you should provide a link to the graph that you are looking at?

  21. TonyMo, at the top of this page, click the "Intermediate" tab.  After you read that tabbed pane, click the "Advanced" tab and read that tabbed pane. 

    Several researchers have tried different durations of lag between solar input to Earth and Earth's temperature, and they all have found nothing like what you claim.

    In addition, there are other aspects of warming that are incompatible with your assertion.  For example, in the Advanced tabbed pane, read the sections "Inability to Explain Empirical Observations" and "Conservation of Energy."

  22. TonyMo @1093 says:

    "The key to the truth is a characteristic of the temperature graph, which can be seen in any temperature record from around the world, and that is the falling temperature from the late 40’s to the early 80’s, which, according to the IPCC, was due to post WW” industrial pollution pumping tons of aerosols into the atmosphere, probably augmented by the hundreds of atmospheric tests of nuclear devices carried out during the same period."

    (My emphasis)

    Really?  Any temperature record at all?

    The Australian temperature seems to have risen more or less continuously since the 1930s.  Perhaps we use a different sun donw under?

    Indeed, speaking of "down under" more generally, ie, the Southern Hemisphere, it is interesting to compare the running thirty year trends of temperature with the running 30 year trends of TSI (normalized to show the same overal variance):

    The year shown is the start year of each thirty year trend.  From that we can see that while the trend was just negative in the years 1937 to 1939, from 1940 it goes positive and rises sharply to a peak prior to 1970.  It does not show the pattern TonyMo claims at all.

    It is even more informative to compare the temperature trends with the TSI trends.  They in fact show almost no correlations (R squared = 0.027), both because of the timing of change in overall trends differ and because of the residual solar cycle (due to using a 30 year rather than a 33 year mean).  That of course raises the question as to why is the temperature response to much larger variation in the solar cycle so small when the variations in mean TSI is supposed to have driven the large temperature increase over the twentieth century.

    Of course, one of the interesting things about using the SH is that aerosol pollution has a regionaly effect, and is primarilly produced in the NH.  That is, SH temperature variation has a relatively reduced impact from sulfates compared to the NH.

    In summary, the data cleary refutes TonyMo's claims, both in detail and as to his general conclusions.  It only remains to see if he has the integrity to admit that, and to admit that the Sun is not a major driver of twentieth century temperature changes.

  23. Sorry to be so stupid, but can anyone tell me how to insert graphs or pictures int a comment?   Many thanks T


    [RH] Look at the comments text box. On top there are three tabs. One says "insert." You click the image icon and paste in a link to the image. Note that your image has to be hosted somewhere. You can't paste in images from your computer. That's just a limitation to our current systems.

  24. Ah, I see, nothing easy in this life! So next stupid question - where and how do I host my images to do this? Thanks' very much for you reply.  T


    [RH] Try

  25. Postimage is quite usable, also free. Imgur is another option for image hosting.

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