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The link between sunspots and climate

In a preprint paper published today on the Los Alamos astro-ph website and accepted for publication in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, Norwegian scientists have found a strong correlation between the length of the solar sunspot cycle and the Earth’s temperature during the following cycle. From the abstract:

Relations between the length of a sunspot cycle and the average temperature in the same and the next cycle are calculated for a number of meteorological stations in Norway and in the North Atlantic region. No significant trend is found between the length of a cycle and the average temperature in the same cycle, but a significant negative trend is found between the length of a cycle and the temperature in the next cycle. This provides a tool to predict an average temperature decrease of at least 1.0 ◦ C from solar cycle 23 to 24 for the stations and areas analyzed. We find for the Norwegian local stations investigated that 25–56% of the temperature increase the last 150 years may be attributed to the Sun. For 3 North Atlantic stations we get 63–72% solar contribution. [emphasis mine]

You can download a copy of the paper here [pdf].

Their paper finds that if a particular sunspot cycle is longer with less activity, the climate will show significant cooling during the next cycle.

The paper makes several important points:

  • The researchers do not explain why this link exists, only that it does. This is consistent with much solar research for the past hundred years: There is a close correlation between solar activity and climate change, but the mechanism for driving it remains unclear. The Sun’s actual brightness does not change enough to account for the temperature changes.
  • The researchers also note that though solar activity does not seem to account for all the temperature changes observed in the past 150 years, their data suggests its contribution is far higher that previously believed. As they note, “For the average temperatures of Norway and the 60 European stations, the solar contribution to the temperature variations in the period investigated is of the order 40%. An even higher contribution (63-72%) is found for stations at Faroe Islands, Iceland and Svalbard. This is higher than the 7% attributed to the Sun for the global temperature rise in [the 2007 IPCC report].”
  • Based on their research, they predict that there will be an overall temperature drop in the Northern Hemisphere of about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the next decade, with much greater temperature drops for certain local regions.

Before the global warming skeptics in my readership start crowing, I must emphasis that these researchers also note that the Sun does not appear to be sole cause of the warming seen in the past 150 years. Other factors, including the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, must be considered. The problem, however, is determining the contribution of each factor, and scientists just don’t have enough information yet to pin those numbers down.

While this research once again demonstrates that we do not yet understand completely what is going on with the Earth’s climate, it also suggests, to me at least, that if carbon dioxide is warming the atmosphere, that might actually be a very good thing, as it will likely mitigate the threatened cooling from less solar activity, which in the past has done far more harm. As the researchers point out,

de Jager & Duhau (2011) concludes that the solar activity is presently going through a brief transition period (2000-2014), which will be followed by a Grand Minimum of the Maunder type, most probably starting in the twenties of the present century. Another prediction, based on reduced solar irradiance due to reduced solar radius, is a series of lower solar activity cycles leading to a Maunder like minimum starting around 2040 (Abdussamatov, 2007).

If we are about to experience another Grand Minimum, then a little bit of warming from carbon dioxide might help to prevent crop failures and famine, as happened in the 1600s, the last time the Sun decided to shut down its sunspot factory for decades.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Kelly Starks

    Solar output changes could effect Earths temps — really?!!


    And It doesn’t apear likely high CO2 can stall global cooling much given the geological record.

  • Chris Kirkendall

    Yeah – who knew?? ! ! If the rise in CO2 isn’t enough to offset cooling, the consequences of any significant cooling trend could actually be worse for us than warming in some ways – shorter growing seasons could mean lower crop yields, or even outright crop failures in some cases. Also it could force us to use more energy for heat if winters are colder & longer. Of course, hotter summers could result in more energy use for cooling, but people in many parts of the world don’t even have or use AC, and you can get by without it, but not without heat in the winter…

  • Patrick Ritchie

    “it also suggests, to me at least, that if carbon dioxide is warming the atmosphere, that might actually be a very good thing”

    This is a dangerous line of thinking.

    Stating both that we don’t understand the climate and we might inadvertently be improving things is contradictory and no better than the global warming alarmism.

    If the science is not evolved enough to make recommendations then we need to invest more into understanding the climate. Guesswork is how we got into the current mess.

  • Ooo, I am expressing “dangerous” thoughts. Shall we call Interpol to come and arrest me, as the Saudis have done against a journalist who expressed dissent against Mohammad?

    If you have read even a little of my writings, you would realize that I am a strong advocate for more research. However, I am an even stronger advocate for dealing with the facts honestly and without fear. If global warming is happening, and if that fact actually is beneficial, then no one should be afraid to say so.

    Saying it, however does not prove it. Above all we need to find out.

  • Rene Borbon

    I haven’t read the entire abstract, but it does seem logical.

    I find it stupid to say: ‘Longer-term estimates of solar irradiance have been made using sunspot records and other so-called “proxy indicators,” such as the amount of carbon in tree rings. The most recent analyses of these proxies indicate that solar irradiance changes cannot plausibly account for more than 10 percent of the 20th century’s warming.’


    NASA references a paper written by Mike Lockwood, of the University of Reading. So, the author is relying on mixed data including from tree rings, to say the Sun’s change in solar irradiance cannot possibly contribute more than 10% to global climate change. An astonishing claim, considering if the Sun were stop irradiating at all, we’d have an icy planet, totally uninhabitable.

  • Patrick Ritchie

    “Saying it, however does not prove it. Above all we need to find out.”

    A much better quote! The goal of my comment was to highlight the danger of your post being misinterpreted, I doubt a headline of “Zimmerman endorses co2 emissions to counter global cooling!” was what you were going for.

    As to reporting you to Interpol… I will be first the to defend your right to express “dangerous” thoughts but also the first to critcize when I believe that you are in error.

  • Actually, a headline that read “Zimmerman endorses co2 emissions to counter global cooling!” wouldn’t bother me at all, especially if CO2 emissions actually do counter global cooling. The truth is what matters, not what is considered politically correct.

  • Nikola Milovic

    I agree with you that climate change on Earth, in general, closely related to sunspot cycles. Methods of finding these connections in today’s science is inadequate, not original and radical.It needs find the causes of phenomena on the Sun, in general, so it is easy to determine all cycles of all these fenomena.If someone wants a more detailed analysis and perhaps some mathematical proof, here is my e-mail. We can establish korespondenciju.It needs know the whole chain of events before the appearance of the sunspot cycle and the reconnection of magnetic poles of the sun, etc.

  • Patrick Ritchie

    That’s interesting.

    I understand and agree with the bit about political correctness.

    But I’m surprised you would not be bothered by a headline backing a specific course of action given the current state of the science. Could you elaborate?

  • You are taking me too literally. If the science demonstrates that CO2 would counter global cooling, and if the cooling was proven to be true, than I would have no fear of saying this. I’d want the science to prove it first, of course.

    However, that really wasn’t my point. What I find important is the willingness to speak the truth, whatever it is, no matter how “dangerous” (your word) others consider that truth to be.

    The science of climate research has been badly damaged because many global warming scientists have done whatever they could to squelch both alternative but quite valid scientific interpretations of the data as well as the wealth of data that shows how uncertain the science is. This has been a corruption of science and it has to stop. And the best way to stop it is to expose it, and describe it in full detail, without fear.

  • Patrick Ritchie

    Glad to hear I was being too literal, I think we are basically in agreement.

    I don’t consider the truth to be dangerous, exactly the opposite in fact. I strongly believe in using evidence over ego when it comes to decision making.

  • Leon

    Just watch the 53 minute youtube video “The Cloud Mystery” by Henrik Svensmark and there will be no mystery at all as to the mechanism. As one scientist involved said, so poetically in my opinion, “clouds drive our climate, and stars give the clouds their orders.”

    It’s clear to me, what with the climate-gate bust and knowing about how their graphs avoided or even hid the various natural warming events from earlier times on Earth with less CO2 than now but warmer temps than now, and the times with more CO2 and yet far colder temps than now, and the way in which CO2 rise lags global warming by hundreds of years, and the words in the emails themselves being so incriminating, that the tap dance now is:
    to find the least embarrassing way to back away from the exposed scam, as Earth is going colder, before so many people are so angry and cold and hungry that the political and other consequences become really harsh for those who kept it alive.

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