Solar Activity Has A Direct Impact On Earth’s Cloud Cover

A team of scientists from the National Space Institute at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU Space) and the Racah Institute of Physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has linked large solar eruptions to changes in Earth’s cloud cover in a study based on over 25 years of satellite observations.

The solar eruptions are known to shield Earth’s atmosphere from cosmic rays. However, the new study, published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, shows that the global cloud cover is simultaneously reduced, supporting the idea that cosmic rays are important for cloud formation.

The eruptions cause a reduction in cloud fraction of about 2 percent corresponding to roughly a billion tonnes of liquid water disappearing from the atmosphere.

Since clouds are known to affect global temperatures on longer timescales, the present investigation represents an important step in the understanding of clouds and climate variability.

“Earth is under constant bombardment by particles from space called galactic cosmic rays. Violent eruptions at the Sun’s surface can blow these cosmic rays away from Earth for about a week. Our study has shown that when the cosmic rays are reduced in this way there is a corresponding reduction in Earth’s cloud cover. Since clouds are an important factor in controlling the temperature on Earth our results may have implications for climate change,” explains lead author on the study Jacob Svensmark of DTU.

Very energetic particles

These particles generate electrically charged molecules — ions — in Earth’s atmosphere. Ions have been shown in the laboratory to enhance the formation of aerosols, which can serve as seeds for the formation of the cloud drops that make up a cloud.

Whether this actually happens in the atmosphere, or only in the laboratory is a topic that has been investigated and debated for years.

When the large solar eruptions blow away the galactic cosmic rays before they reach Earth they cause a reduction in atmospheric ions of up to about 20 to 30 percent over the course of a week.

So if ions affect cloud formation it should be possible to observe a decrease in cloud cover during events when the Sun blows away cosmic rays, and this is precisely what is done in this study.

The so-called ‘Forbush decreases’ of the cosmic rays have previously been linked to week-long changes in Earth’s cloud cover but the effect has been debated at length in the scientific literature.

The new study concludes that “there is a real impact of Forbush decreases on cloud microphysics” and that the results support the suggestion that “ions play a significant role in the life-cycle of clouds.”

Arriving at that conclusion was, however, a hard endeavor; Very few strong Forbush decreases occur and their effect on cloud formation is expected to be close to the limit of detection using global atmospheric observations measured by satellites and land-based stations.

Therefore, it was of the greatest importance to select the strongest events for study since they had to have the most easily detected effect. Determining this strength required combining data from about 130 stations in combination with atmospheric modeling.

This new method resulted in a list of 26 events in the period of 1987-2007 ranked according to ionization. This ranked list was important for the detection of a signal, and may also shed some light on why previous studies have arrived at varied conclusions since they have relied on events that were not necessarily ranked high on the list.

Possible long-term effect

The effect of Forbush decreases on clouds is too brief to have any impact on long-term temperature changes.

However since clouds are affected by short-term changes in galactic cosmic radiation, they may well also be affected by the slower change in Solar activity that happens on scales from tens to hundreds of years, and thus play a role in the radiation budget that determines the global temperature.

The Sun’s contribution to past and future climate change may thus be larger than merely the direct changes in radiation, concludes the scientists behind the new study.

Read more at DTU Space

Comments (7)

  • Avatar

    Sonnyhill

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    It’s reassuring that real scientists are looking past carbon dioxide in order to understand Earth’s climate.

    • Avatar

      rakooi

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      Google AIP history of Global Warming
      you will see over 100 different alternative Theories that were presented to explain the END of Earth’s most powerful natural cycle, the ICE AGE….
      ALL fell woefully short of the science thresh hold of acceptance.
      On the other hand, in their attempts to substantiate any one of the theories improved and supported the standing of Global Warming Science.
      and still,
      one is dumbfounded that denial still resonates in ignorant minds….like an echo in an empty building.
      SKEPTICS / DENIERS Predictions
      are REMARKABLY WRONG, again!

      “….Jon Austin October 9, 2015
      …One of the world’s leading climate change experts claims to have
      discovered mathematical anomalies
      which effectively ‘ DISPROVE ’ global warming.
      .
      Dr David Evans, a former climate modeller for the Government’s Australian Greenhouse Office,
      says global warming predictions have been vastly exaggerated in error.
      The academic,
      from Perth, Australia, who has passed six degrees in applied mathematics,
      has analysed complex mathematical assumptions widely used to predict climate change
      and
      HE is predicting world temperature will stagnate until 2017 before cooling,
      with a ‘mini ice age’ by 2030.

      Dr. Evans is not a climatologist but rather a PHD in Electrical Engineering,
      with a Math undergraduate degree.
      He has no training in climatology.
      He has DONE no research in climatology.

      ((THIS PRECISE Prediction was made in the 70’s by SKEPTICS Scientist & DENIERS,
      THIS PRECISE Prediction was made in the 90’s by
      SKEPTIC / DENIERS CHRISTY & SPENCER ))

  • Avatar

    G

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    Solar activity would seem to be such an obvious contributor to the earth’s climate. After all, the earth is repeatedly hit by these tidal waves of energy. Yet we are told to ignore the sun and believe that CO2, check that, man-made CO2, must be the driving force of change, when the climate has been demonstrably and profoundly changing for billions of years. Climate hubris.

    • Avatar

      rakooi

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      Solar output is CONSTANTLY studied.
      It cannot explain the RISE IN WORLD Temperatures.
      Every Few Years we have a cyclical solar minimum…and temps continue to rise.
      For decades, overall solar output has been static to a tiny decrease in output.
      Why don’t you try to explain why EARTH’S most Powerful natural cycle was terminated….after 8000 years of slowly falling temps….around 1750 the fall in temps ended abruptly.
      Even though all of the natural causes of our ICE AGES continue….
      Google the Milankovitch cycles.
      Here Look:
      http://www.realclimate.org/images//Marcott.png

  • Avatar

    Spurwing Plover

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    It seems that Solar Flares and sun spots do more then disrupt radio and phone communications they also influance our weather even though were 93 million miles away from the sun

  • Avatar

    Amber

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    Gee I guess I missed the chapter on Solar Flares in the IPCC
    propaganda papers . Maybe next time …. if there is one or is the “science settled ” when the facts don’t support the propaganda ? Me thinks so.

  • Avatar

    Sonnyhill

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    The contest between solar flares and cosmic rays has been replicated in a very expensive cloud chamber in France. Why we don’t hear more about that demonstration and the implications for global warming hypothesis is a mystery to me. Maybe serious science takes time and debate? Answers lead to more questions?

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