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What climate change is happening to other planets in the solar system?

What the science says...

Select a level... Basic Intermediate

There are three fundamental flaws in the 'other planets are warming' argument. Not all planets in the solar system are warming. The sun has shown no long term trend since 1950 and in fact has shown a slight cooling trend in recent decades. There are explanations for why other planets are warming.

Climate Myth...

Other planets are warming

"[E]vidence that CO2 is not the principle driver of warming on this planet is provided by the simultaneous warming of other planets and moons in our solar system, despite the fact that they obviously have no anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.

Mars, Triton, Pluto and Jupiter all show global warming, pointing to the Sun as the dominating influence in determining climate throughout the solar system." (Ian McClintock - PDF, page 8)

The basis of this argument is that the sun must be causing global warming and in fact, warming throughout the solar system. There are several flaws in this line of thought. Firstly, the characterisation that the whole solar system is warming is erroneous. Around 6 planets or moons out of the more than 100 bodies in the solar system have been observed to be warming. On the other hand, Uranus is cooling (Young 2001).

Secondly, the theory that a brightening sun is causing global warming falls apart when you consider the sun has shown little to no trend since the 1950s. A variety of independent measurements of solar activity including satellite data, sunspot numbers, UV levels and solar magnetograms all paint a consistent picture. Over the last 35 years of global warming, sun and climate have been moving in opposite directions.

That begs the question - what is causing warming on other planets? With the exception of Pluto, climate change on other planets are fairly understood:

  • Martian climate is primarily driven by dust and albedo. Global dust storms increase the surface albedo by settling brighter dust on dark surfaces. Higher albedo leads to more sunlight being reflected which has a cooling effect. Snapshots of Mars' surface in 1977 and 1999 find that the surface was brighter in 1977 and darker in 1999. However, this doesn't necessarily point to a long term warming trend - the 1977 snapshot was made shortly after a global dust storm while the 1999 snapshot occured before a dust storm. Consequently, there is little empirical evidence that long term global warming on Mars is occuring (Richardson & Vasavada 2007). More on Mars...
  • Neptune's orbit is 164 years so observations (1950 to present day) span less than a third of a Neptunian year. Climate modelling of Neptune suggests its brightening is a seasonal response (Sromovsky et al. 2003). Eg - Neptune's southern hemisphere is heading into summer. More on Neptune...
  • Neptune's largest moon, Triton, has warmed since the Voyager space probe visited it in 1989. The moon is approaching an extreme southern summer, a season that occurs every few hundred years. During this special time, the moon's southern hemisphere receives more direct sunlight (Elliot et al. 1998).
  • Jupiter's storms are fueled by the planet's own internal heat (sunlight is 4% the level of solar energy at Earth). When several storms merge into one large storm (eg - Red Spot Jr), the planet loses its ability to mix heat, causing warming at the equator and cooling at the poles (Marcus et al. 2006). More on Jupiter...
  • Pluto's warming is not clearly understood. Pluto's orbit is much more elliptical than that of the other planets, and its rotational axis is tipped by a large angle relative to its orbit. Both factors could contribute to drastic seasonal changes. As Pluto's orbit is equivalent to 248 Earth years and observed warming spans only 14 years, it is likely this is a seasonal response (Sromovsky et al. 2003).

Last updated on 21 October 2016 by John Cook. View Archives

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Comments 1 to 25 out of 56:

  1. You realize that the argument, Jupiter is heated from within and only receives a small fraction of the energy from the sun that the Earth does, depends upon that 4% of energy being incapable of driving weather. We know this to be false from your own report regarding Neptune. While Jupiter receives 25 times less energy per square meter from the sun that the Earth does, Neptune receives 900 times less. How is it that the 900 times weaker sunshine can drive weather and promote seasonal changes on Neptune, as you testify on this very blog above, but the much stronger incident sunshine on the face of Jupiter is considered inconsequential? The fact is Jupiter is a strong case for solar driven climate change. The Great Red Spot is a singular weather event without a peer or analog on any of the other known worlds. Some people insist on describing it as a hurricane. This is incorrect. A hurricane is a low pressure zone funneling surrounding warm air to the ground. The Great Red Spot is a high pressure zone, forcing hot air out of the middle of the planet. It rises 8 kilometers above the surrounding methane cloud deck, like a turkey timer that is popping out to tell us that the thanksgiving meal is ready. And now we have another great red spot, which will probably be with us for a very very long time. Neptune is changing in a spectacular and miraculous way which a cut and dried pdf file will not impart to you. Have a look at it in color. Neptune's orbit is 164 years long, and Voyager only visited it once back in 1989, so we have no baseline to judge if this change is the natural effect of Neptune traveling through it's orbit, or if it is the result of an augmented solar effect. But either way it is the sun driving Neptune's weather. Voyager was launched in 1977 and didn't get to Neptune until 1989. Right now, thirty years later, Voyager still has ten more years of travel before it reachs the heliopause, where the solar wind gives way to the pressure of interstellar space. So don't let this joker fool you that the sun is too weak or feeble to affect Jupiter.
  2. Papertiger, your comment about Jupiter is in disagreement with research conducted by Gierasch (summary and comment readable on, and several other teams. Gierasch has extensively analyzed the jovian storms and has concluded that they can not be fueled by solar energy, there is not enough of it. Other teams have built very successful models of Jupiter's atmosphere, they all use internal heat as the energy source. All this has been published and is easy to find. Jupiter's core is extrememly hot, from compression and the residual heat from the planet's formation. That heat is the main driver of the planet's weather and climate.
  3. Phil, Here is the first two sentences from Gierasch
    "The energy source driving Jupiter's active meteorology is not understood. There are two main candidates: a poorly understood internal heat source and sunlight."
    Doesn't sound like he has extensively analyzed the Jovian storms to me. Further on he says,
    We estimate that the total vertical transport of heat by storms like the one observed here is of the same order as the planet's internal heat source. We therefore conclude that moist convection-similar to large clusters of thunderstorm cells on the Earth-is a dominant factor in converting heat flow into kinetic energy in the jovian atmosphere.
    Now isn't it interesting that when in doubt Gierasch offers up water vapor as his main transport of heat energy on a planet without water. Recall it is the water born heat exchange which is not well modeled, misunderstood, discounted, and ignored by the IPCC on Earth as the basis for alarm, regarding CO2 warming. Does this not disturb you?
    Response: I think the point of the "is not understood" is that his paper sheds some light on Jupiter's meteorology. Also, there is water on Jupiter. Ingersoll 2000 says "We estimate, based on the inferred abundance of water in the deep atmosphere that the base of the water cloud is at 6 bars. From the base to the top of the cloud clusters the vertical distance is 80 km, or 0.1% of Jupiter's radius. Water is the principal agent of cloud electrication, as the other condensates are thought to be less abundant than water."
  4. I have heard discussion about ammonia clouds (being imaged for the first time and such). What is the conductivity of ammonia as compared to water? As I remember it, water is only a conductor due to impurities. Ingersol and company "infer" water deep under the opaque cloud cover, beyond direct inspected, due to lightening strikes. Is it not possible that some other chemical is the source of lightening activity on Jupiter? There were two events which allowed the direct examination of whether Jupiter's atmosphere contained appreciable ammounts of water. The Galileo atmospheric probe, which found no water, and the Shoemaker Levi comet crash. In the first instance, Ingersol explained the lack of water found by the probe as due to it falling in an area analogous to a desert region on Jupiter. IN the second case, the comet, due to it's disintigration, fell over a wide area of Jupiter. Spectroscopic analysis found some water but it wasn't native to the planet. The water vapor found was carried by the comet and after a short period of time was converted through photolytic processes into Co2.
  5. Uranus has just passed into the equinox of its orbit where the whole of the planet is receiving sunshine evenly, as opposed to just the one pole getting continuous sunlight. So of course it is going to cool down on the poles. By the way, you left out Saturn and Enceladus on your list of planets or moons undergoing climate change.
  6. What "local" climate statistics do you use to justify the assertion that Saturn or any other outer SS planet is undergoing climate change? The IPCC definition of climate for Earth involves a 30 years period. I'm sure you know what kind of time period that translates into for Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune or Pluto (respectively 356, 884, 2522, 4947 and 7435 years, give or take). I find interesting that "skeptics" so eagerly recommend taking the enormous amount of highly accurate data available for Earth with a grain of salt (or the all shaker for that matter), while at the same time accepting wild conclusions on poorly understood extra-terrestrial "climates" based on very scant, spotty observations. If you want to tell me about climate change on outer SS planets, I'll take the skeptical approach and ask for some serious climate history and data before considering any conclusion. As for Pluto's expanding atmosphere observation, it was made under ideal conditions, with equipment never available before (KECK, if I remember right). So, even if the event witnessed on that occasion is a regular occurrence, it could never have been seen before, for that reason and this other detail: with a year lasting close to 248 Earth years, Pluto has not been observed through a full orbit yet. Should we add that Pluto's atmospheric changes are suspected to be highly albedo dependent and that Pluto has been darkening since the 50's (collection of space materials is probable)? There are countless caveats and like considerations for all the planets supposedly experiencing "climate change." How about crunching some numbers and showing us what kind of energy output would be necessary from the Sun to obtain those changes that you assert are Sun driven? Then we could compare that with the observed changes in solar irradiance. You could crunch some more and come up with theoretical values of increased energy input for Venus and compare with what is actually happening there (not much unusual if I recall), where the Sun is mighty close. Jupiter deserves some crunching too: three vortices merged into one to form the so-called Red spot Jr. How unusual is this? By the way, the idea of Jovian internal heat is not new, see this: But Galileo certainly helped restart the debate, as discussed here: I noted the following passage: " According to mission scientists, Galileo probe data strongly suggest that circulation patterns in Jupiter's cloud tops and its interior (which runs 10,000 miles deep) are part of one continuous process. Dr. David Atkinson of the University of Idaho continues to report persistent Jovian wind velocities of over 400 mph. The probe detected no reduction in wind speed, even at its deepest levels of measurement,approximately 100 miles below Jupiter's clouds. Galileo scientists regard this finding as confirmation that the main driving force of Jupiter's winds is internal heat radiating upward from the planet's deep interior. The strength of the Jovian winds and the fact that they do not subside with depth is very significant, according to Dr. Andrew Ingersoll of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA." This blurb is interesting also: Closer to Earth: for all the talk about Mars, it is worth pointing that it went trough significant cooling after the Viking landing, before experiencing the more recent warming some are so excited about (which is best explained by dust storm patterns). It does not leave that much correlation with Earth changes. The bottom line is this: what is presented as climate change carries little meaning when the climates in question are so poorly known to start with. Outer SS planets are exposed to all sorts of influences that have as much weight as the solar constant in their "climate." Attempts to show a solar source to terrestrial climate change by pointing to observations on other planets whose significance is unclear should be received with the highest skepticism. Especially when there are satellite observations of solar irradiance available for Earth. Sorry for the long post.
  7. Rereading through Papertiger posts, I thought it would be interesting to address the issue of water on Jupiter. Here is what I found in 10 minutes of straight, basic googling. Observations by the Galileo probe in orbit around the planet led to more information on this subject than the atmospheric probe, which entered over a very dry, cloudless area. This release gives the skinny: Here is also a cool pic from JPL: I had conversations with proponents of outer SS planetary warming before and for some reason, they seem to be fond of Dr Beebe. She contributed to this paper: Overall, it does not seem that Jupiter suffers a lack of water such as to invalidate the convective models proposed by Gierasch and many (most) others.
  8. I suggest that people who think that the sun is responsible, and cite warming on other planets become familiar with the Inverse Square Law. ;)
  9. I am curious, With the millions of dollars of equipment we left on the moon 40 years ago, did anyone leave a thermometer? Has there been trends? Remote mensurements would not be able to provide reliable data, as the technology used has changed and become much more precise in the past 40 years. The Moon has no atsmosphere so only the surface temperature based upon the direct influence of the Sun would be recorded (I know there is a very slight atmosphere and there is slight internal heating but this should suffice as a baseline to compare the planets to) There have been arguments that ground based weather stations can;t be reliable over a long period of time due to micro climate influences. Measuring stations near a grassy field 50 years ago may be a strip mall now. Before we commit billions of dollars in change. We should at least disprove the Sun's influence. Anything that could melt IceCaps on Mars should have a noticable difference on our own Moon
  10. Recent solar activity also contributes to Solar System Warming. The electromagnetic storms on the sun which cause solar flares also convert high wavelength energy into low wavelength energy. Lower wavelengths travel further and are able to better penetrate atmosphere and other barriers. This is why both solar activity and solar intensity matter.
  11. What if the two scenerios are NOT mutally exclusive? Let's supposed that their IS indeed some sort of phenonema heating planets independantly of human activity. Let's suppose that human activity is also warming the planet. What then?
    Response: If there was some phenomenon warming the solar system - a phenomenon which cannot be solar activity as the sun has shown no long term trend over the last 50 years (if anything a cooling trend) and cannot be cosmic radiation as cosmic rays have also shown no long term trend - if there was some other phenomenon not yet considered that is causing warming throughout the solar system, then that would pose several questions:
    1. Why are not all planets and moons showing warming?
    2. Why isn't the Earth showing more warming? We already know with high understanding the warming effect of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. This warming effect has been confirmed by direct observations. This warming effect is consistent with the amount of heat content observed. So any additional "solar system warming" should add to the warming we're already caused. Where is it?
  12. I'd just like to point out that it's absurd to claim with any confidence that any other planets or moons are warming, when we have so little data about them- all the while ignoring our vast armada of land and sea based temperature probes right here on Earth (and orbiting satellites). We know far more about the temperature trends on our own planet than on any other planet, and yet certain people use highly questionable speculations about other planet's temperatures to try to dismiss the trends we see here at home. We have laughably few samples of temps on other planets as compared to the astounding array of data on our own Earthly climate trends. For example, we have a handful of probes on Mars and an orbiter. Mars is the planet we probably know the most about besides Earth. With that equipment we can only get the faintest idea of what's going on with the temps there. To use this data (or records from other planets) as reliable evidence of anything more solid than the temperature sampling we have for Earth, is on its face absurd. I would also like to say that there's too much attention paid to CO2 alone. Methane and Nitrous Oxides maybe be at least as problematic. Most of this comes from livestock production. Certainly, getting them under control first will give us more return on investment.
  13. On the simplest level, if Pluto were being warmed significantly by increase in solar output despite how very far away it is, a much closer planet like Earth would be fried by that increased output.
  14. the thing for me is, all this stuff is great, what troubles me is that the climate debate has "been settled" its all ready considered a fact that we (humans) are causing 'dangerous climate change' when other factors are still largely being debated. legislation already being put in place without conclusive evidence that global warming is man made. evolution is considered a fact because of the amount of evidence and no other scientifically plausible explanations, but that is not the case with climate change, it seems to me like every other theory is thrown out without the slightest consideration. there are plenty of plausible explanation for why the earth could be heating but none of them have undergone testing. for example, i cant recall ever seeing a news report or debate where the participants were not already in agreement that humans are causing climate change, yet there are professors and such out there who do not agree with the UN's models so why don't we ever hear from them? while different causes can still be debated there can be no settlement and laws should not be made to reinforce a theory that has yet to be proven, that would make it a religion, and not science
    Response: Thank you for trying to post on a relevant thread. But this thread is not appropriate for this particular comment of yours. Your comment is too general, and so belongs in one of the more general threads. Please either comment on this thread about other planets warming (but read the post at the top of this page first), or look through the list of "Arguments" to find one that is more relevant to your general comment. A good candidate is "It’s not us." But please do read the post on that page before commenting there.
  15. The sun's output is still higher than any time in the entire century before 1950. Cirrus values may be consistent with rising temps
    Response: See the Argument "It's the Sun."
  16. So, many different bodies may have quite different reasons for warming or cooling, and these may be irrespective of solar activity. No argument from me there, as long as climate change on planet Earth is given the same objective analysis and assessment. However scientists, being apparently quite anthropomorphically inclined, have placed their attention on a single variable, "human activity" and of course can then find lots of reasons to support their conclusions. The more likely scenario is that highly-complex and interacting variables are behind warming or cooling of all the bodies in our solar system, and since this occurs both with and without the impact of homo sapiens, we have to consider that our puny contribution may possibly be of no consequence, and that we ought to be continuing our search for understanding of climate change in other directions.
  17. Christine, This claim that scientists have placed their attention solely on a single variable is wholly incorrect. Please review this site and the primary sources that the articles link to, and consider that you may be doing exactly what you are condemning - finding lots of reasons to support a preconceived notion.
    Response: For example, Christine, see "CO2 is not the only driver of climate."
  18. Isn't there a much simpler way to rebut this argument. All these other planets are devoid of life , looking at the Solar System should remind us that the 'goldilocks zone' where life is possible is very narrow. Comparing dead planets to the Earth is less than persuasive because these other planets have incredibly hostile environments. Also isnt this argument a (logical)fallacy ? 'Correlation is not causation' springs to mind
  19. This is a recent study of ice cores that seems to show that the Sun is actually more active on a longer timescale and it's activity has increased. A&A 413, 745-751 (2004) DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20031533 "Reconstruction of solar activity for the last millennium using 10Be data" I. G. Usoskin1, K. Mursula2, S. Solanki3, M. Sch?ssler3 and K. Alanko2 The study used ice cores. The authors concluded "In conclusion, we have presented here a new reconstruction of solar activity on the millennium time scale based upon a description of the related physical processes. It implies that the present high level of sunspot activity is unprecedented on the millennium time scale. The results will be the subject of further analysis."
  20. Saparonia @19, Solanki 2004 shows the following reconstructions of sunspot numbers based on icecore isotopes: With two out of three reconstructions showing negative sunspot numbers in some periods, and the third significantly under representing solar variability, it is clear that these methods are not sufficient to make so definitive a statement about sunspot numbers. Even should we accept the reconstructions at face value, however, the fact is that solar forcing between twentieth century maximum and maunder minimum is about 0.3 W/m^2 at Earth's distance from the Sun. for Mars and the outer planets, the forcing is much less because of the inverse square law. Why we should ignore the 1.8 W/m^2 forcing from CO2 in favour of the much smaller solar forcing remains a mystery. Even more mysterious is why we should do so when the solar forcing has been declining over the last 30-50 years.
  21. This defense of position is particularly poor and can be refuted by a simple 5th grade-level experiment. Take a brisket and put it in your oven, setting the oven at 175 degrees Fahrenheit. After an hour check the brisket's temperature. Put it back in the oven and raise the oven's temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for twenty minutes. After twenty minutes, take it out and check the brisket's temperature. It went up right? Now put the brisket back on the oven and lower the oven's temperature slightly to 325 degrees Fahrenhiet for a half hour. Take the brisket out and check it's temperature. The temperature of the brisket will have continued to rise! "How is that?", you seem to say, "How could the temperature of the brisket continue to rise when the temperature of the oven went down by 25 degrees?" Your "defense" is that the oven couldn't be warming the brisket because the brisket didn't cool when the oven's temperature was slightly lowered -- even though the oven's temperature was still well above the brisket's point of stasis. Seriously???

  22. mkuske, the only way your analogy is valid is if the brisket has not yet reached the oven's temperature of 325 when you lower the oven's temperature from 350 to 325. The oven is still warmer than the brisket, so of course the brisket continues to warm toward that temperature of 325. If instead the brisket has reached the equilibrium temperature of 350 before you lower the oven's temperature to 325, then the brisket will start to cool down from 350. (And it will cool slower than the oven does, because the brisket has greater thermal mass than the oven's air.)

    But let's skip your analogy and use the real Earth.  You are implying there is a lag between the increased incoming energy from the Sun and the Earth's heating.  You are quite correct.  Assuming the Earth initially was in thermal equilibrium (same energy coming in as going out to space), an increase in the energy coming in from the Sun will cause energy immediately to start accumulating in the Earth (by which I mean the atmosphere, surface land, surface water, deep oceans--the whole shebang).  But that extra energy is distributed among all the components of "the Earth," which takes time.  So although parts of the Earth immediately start heating, there is a lag before the entire Earth system reaches a new temperature.  If the Sun's input stops increasing--flattens out--then the Earth's energy indeed will continue to increase, but only until it reaches equilibrium.

    But simultaneously, as the Earth's temperature increases, the Earth emits more energy to space.  So as soon as the Sun's input to the Earth flattens, the energy imbalance in the Earth (energy in minus energy out) instantly starts decreasing.  That makes the rate of temperature increase slow down.  But that is not what has been happening.  Instead the energy imbalance has continued to increase, and the rate of temperature increase has not slowed.  Also, we have a large amount of empirical evidence of the length of the lag between a change in the Sun's input to the Earth and the resulting temperature change (e.g., the Sun's 11-year cycle and volcanic eruptions of large amounts of reflective aerosols).  The lag is not nearly as long as the time in which the Sun's radiance has been flat. 

    For more details, and for a more proper place to put your comments on this topic, see the post "Climate time lag."

  23. mkuske, also see the post "It's the Sun."  Be sure to read the Basic tabbed pane, then the Intermediate one, then the Advanced one.

  24. Tom Dayton, First I'll acknowledge that this is a simplistic analogy. However, you're assuming that the Earth has in fact reached the equilibrial state for the amount of increased activity from the Solar Grand Maximum (Modern Maximum), likewise assuming that the equiibrial state would be met almost instantly (in the larger picture of time).

    Just like the temperature of the brisket doesn't instantly jump to 350 degrees just because the oven around it did, neither does the Earth when irradiated by the Sun. In fact the oven could heat to 350 degrees in minutes but it would take hours for the brisket to reach that temperature.

    In this analogy the brisket only increases in temperature if affected relatively constantly by the heat input of the oven over an extended period of time. Also when the brisket is cooked, it doesn't immediately express it's stored heat and become room temperature, it releases it over time. After all you don't have to heat it back up 5 minutes after it comes out of the oven. Likewise if it's been out of the oven for 30 minutes and you do want it a little warmer, you don't have to cook it for an hour again, starting from scratch. It has stored some of that heat radiation and gets to temperature much more quickly. Likewise the Earth would not immediately express its stored energy especially considering it -- until very, very recently -- has been exposed to a fairly constant and atypical excess of irradiation from the Sun.You're assuming that the Earth -- and rest of the solar system -- has reached the temperature that it would if the Solar Grand Maximum were the typical constant state.

    In this analogy, what is typical for the brisket is the 175 degrees worth of heat radiation from the oven. What's typical for the Earth is a normal non-Solar Grand Maximum fluctuation of radiation from the Sun. The brisket only heats because it is exposed to a constant yet atypical 350 degrees of heat radiation from the oven before the oven drops slightly to 325 degrees, as the Earth has been exposed to an atypical and constant amount of the Sun's increased energy, even though there has been the slightest dip in activity -- which is still being atypical.

    And the constancy is important. After all if you turn the stove on for 15 minutes, then turn the stove off for fifteen minutes, then turn the stove on for fifteen minutes, then turn it off for fifteen minutes and continue on that way, you won't get very far at cooking your meat as the brisket will barely have time to absorb more enegy than it expresses. Keep that oven on for 45 minutes though, with the meat continuing to absorb more and more heat and what happens? Your brisket gets cooked. As for Earth -- and the rest of the solar system -- because of the extended Solar Grand Maximum, the Earth has been in the "oven" and constantly asborbing a hightened level of radiation for an extended period of time (since approximately 1900). That doesn't mean it met its equilirial temperature for that heightened state of solar activity.

  25. Tom Dayton, I also find it interesting and somewhat amusing the differing standards that are applied. For instance, the reason given for solar activity not causing global warming is that solar activity has retreated ever so slightly (while still being at an atypically much higher rate over an extended period of time). Meanwhile the Earth's temperature virtually flat-lining over a period of time in which CO2 has been released into the atmosphere at the highest rate ever is in fact accepted.    


    [DB] This thread is about other planets' warming, or not.  If you wish to discuss whether global warming has continued over the recent decade+ period, go to this thread where they explain why you are very, very wrong:

    Global warming since 1997 more than twice as fast as previously estimated, new study shows

    Further, you should also review this post:

    Global warming is being caused by humans, not the sun, and is highly sensitive to CO2, new research shows

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