Evidence that cosmic rays seed clouds

Most followers of the so-called “climate debate” are at least aware of what has been labeled, inter alia, the “Svensmark Effect” and regular readers will recall our brief feature Cosmic rays and climate. Of course Svensmark et al are not alone in associating solar activity and cloudiness. See for example, Influence of Solar Activity on State of Wheat Market in Medieval England (Pustilnik, 2003), a seemingly radical hypothesis dating from British astronomer William Herschel, who suggested a link between sunspots and wheat prices in 1801.

The importance of the SKY experiment was that it demonstrated the physical mechanism for the proposed solar/cosmic ray modulation of earth’s climate. Because it diminished the available role for changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and enhanced greenhouse effect this new demonstration was not well received, in fact it was attacked by elements of what we call the climate industry.

Somewhat bizarrely it has been suggested this is not an important effect because total solar irradiance (TSI) does not change very much and this is merely a subset of a very small change. That is a complete misunderstanding of solar/galactic cosmic ray (S/GCR) climate modulation. Let us cite numbers from the IPCC’s Assessment Report 4, Working Group 1 (Chapter 2, Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and in Radiative Forcing, page 131):

  • The combined anthropogenic RF [Radiative Forcing] is estimated to be +1.6 [+0.6 - +2.4] W m–2

  • The global mean concentration of CO2 in 2005 was 379 ppm, leading to an RF of +1.66 [±0.17] W m–2

In other words, since 1750 the net balance of anthropogenic climate forcing (warming and cooling) is estimated to be roughly the equivalent of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide: ~1.6 W/m2, so we use this figure as a guide.

Probably everyone is familiar with this graphic from Earth’s Annual Global Mean Energy Budget (Kiehl and Trenberth, 1997):

The figure of interest here is the 77 W/m2 reflected by clouds, aerosol and atmospheric gases. Going by this figure alone, atmospheric albedo – the reflectance of incoming solar radiation by clouds, aerosols and atmospheric gases – is approximately 50 times greater than the estimated change in down-welling radiation from increased atmospheric carbon dioxide over two and one-half centuries. Changes in cloud albedo then are a really big deal, more than capable of overwhelming the effect of increased atmospheric CO2, some (or most) of which has already equilibrated over the last 250-odd years.

If only cloud effects were as simple and clear cut as the reflectance figure provided by Kiehl and Trenberth but alas, they are not. Clouds also have an effect on the outgoing longwave radiation: Kiehl et al 1994 shows data from the ERBE measurements in their table 1 where the Short Wave Cloud Forcing (SWCF) is -48.2 W/m2 and the corresponding Long Wave Cloud Forcing (LWCF) +29.2 W/m2, so net cloud forcing is -19 W/m2. The direct radiative effects for aerosols (natural + manmade) is estimated to be -5.4 W/m2 (IPCC AR4, chap. 2). The 77 W/m2 also appears to contain a poorly specified contribution from unnamed gases.

Moreover, altering available cloud droplet nucleation has the additional effect of altering conversion of the most abundant greenhouse gas, water vapor, from net warmer to net cooling influence as droplet components of bright clouds, thus further amplifying the climate influence available from varying atmospheric penetration of GCRs. Unlike CO2, which is mere hundredths part of one percent of the atmosphere, water occupies 1%-4% and its climatic effect varies with altitude, latitude and physical state (vapor, liquid or solid).

Perhaps the greatest significance of the so-called “Svensmark Effect” is that it implies an alteration of the ratio of reflected shortwave (incoming solar) radiation to absorbed longwave (outgoing earth) radiation. Note that a mere 2% change in bright cloud formation, itself quite trivial given day by day variation in global cloud cover, is sufficient to make the net balance SWCF-LWCF -20.6 W/m2, equivalent to eliminating estimated increased forcing from added CO2. Here then is a demonstrated amplifier effect for solar variation’s direct effect on earth’s climate.

Consequently it would seem the burden of proof remains on the enhanced greenhouse alarmists to explain the observed absence of posited enhanced greenhouse “multiplier effects” – the much touted 2.5 times positive feedback from water vapor incorporated into climate models to make the known physical properties of CO2 fit climate observations.

Certainly skeptics of that hypothesis are under no obligation to explain climate change (although why anyone would ignore the big yellow ball in the sky in favor of an invisible trace gas is beyond us here at JunkScience.com); rather it is incumbent upon proponents to prove that CO2 is the driver of catastrophic climate change they claim it to be.

Now there is a new paper describing experiments by M.B. Enghoff, J. O. Pepke Pedersen, U. I. Uggerhøj, S. M. Paling, and H. Svensmark, “Aerosol nucleation induced by a high energy particle beam,” Geophysical Research Letters, 38, L09805, doi:10.1029/2011GL047036. See the Aarhus University release:

Scientists At Aarhus University (AU) And The National Space Institute (DTU Space) Show That Particles From Space Create Cloud Cover

New input to the United Nations climate model: Ulrik Ingerslev Uggerhøj, Physics and Astronomy, AU, along with others including Jens Olaf Pepke Pedersen and Martin Bødker Enghoff, DTU Space, have directly demonstrated in a new experiment that cosmic radiation can create small floating particles – so-called aerosols – in the atmosphere. By doing so, they substantiate the connection between the Sun’s magnetic activity and the Earth’s climate.

With the new results just published in the recognised journal Geophysical Research Letters, scientists have succeeded for the first time in directly observing that the electrically charged particles coming from space and hitting the atmosphere at high speed contribute to creating the aerosols that are the prerequisites for cloud formation.

The more cloud cover occurring around the world, the lower the global temperature – and vice versa when there are fewer clouds. The number of particles from space vary from year to year – partly controlled by solar activity. An understanding of the impact of cosmic particles – consisting of electrons, protons and other charged particles – on cloud formation and thereby the number of clouds, is therefore very important as regards climate models.

With the researchers’ new knowledge, it is now clear that here is a correlation between the Sun’s varying activity and the formation of aerosols in the Earth’s atmosphere. Initially, the researchers have demonstrated that there is a correlation, and they will therefore now carry out systematic measurements and modellings to determine how important it is to the climate. The new studies will be made at DTU Space in Copenhagen, with support that includes a new grant of DKK 2 million (approximately EUR 270,000) from the Danish National Research Councils. … (AU release)

Further description is available here at PhysicsWorld

Those defeated by GRL‘s pay wall and with a desperate need to examine the full paper can borrow my copy, click here. Please state in the body text whether you require the supplementary information as well.

The immediate take-home points of this are that the use of the particle accelerator directly answers critics of the original SKY experiment and comparison of results from a gamma ray source show the original criticism unfounded – this will also likely lead to a proliferation of GCR cloud nucleation experiments using the simpler and significantly cheaper array.

Doubtless the results will be spun as contentious, not least because there was an observable step result between runs (likely induced by some difference in impurities between “clean air” tanks) and particularly because the introduced SO2 was available at a rate an order of magnitude higher than typically found in the open, clean air atmosphere. Nonetheless the researchers have confirmed the effect is real. They have demonstrated that it can be investigated with much simpler and cheaper arrays, so we can expect numerous attempts to replicate results (highly desirable in any field of science) and thus an expanding set of results to help quantify the effect in the real world.

In the end experiments are perhaps best defined by how they persuade critics and skeptics and it looks as though Enghoff et al might be on a winner:

Indirect Solar Forcing of Climate by Galactic Cosmic Rays: An Observational Estimate

While I have been skeptical of Svensmark’s cosmic ray theory up until now, it looks like the evidence is becoming too strong for me to ignore. The following results will surely be controversial, and the reader should remember that what follows is not peer reviewed, and is only a preliminary estimate.

I’ve made calculations based upon satellite observations of how the global radiative energy balance has varied over the last 10 years (between Solar Max and Solar Min) as a result of variations in cosmic ray activity. The results suggest that the total (direct + indirect) solar forcing is at least 3.5 times stronger than that due to changing solar irradiance alone.

If this is anywhere close to being correct, it supports the claim that the sun has a much larger potential role (and therefore humans a smaller role) in climate change than what the “scientific consensus” states. …

The results, I must admit, are enough for me to now place at least one foot solidly in the cosmic ray theory camp. (Roy W. Spencer)

We tend to agree, it looks like critics have their work cut out for them.

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17 responses to “Evidence that cosmic rays seed clouds

  1. Pingback: Cosmic rays as climate driver: The Svensmark demonstrated | JunkScience.com

  2. John Marshall

    You show Trenberth’s graphic above but that shows a violation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. So is not relavent.

    Svensmark’s theory, on the other hand, is very compelling and the Cloud experiment at CERN, together with Svensmark’s experiments from an aitcraft mentioned in his book, confirms this effect to trump Trenberths theory of GHG’s.

  3. This tells us that there is much to learn about our climate , it is still in the infancy stages and we can study for decades and never fully understand the great earth that God gave to us. There is sure to be great laughter in heaven when the so called smart guys come up with something that is not so. Yes I believe God has a sense of humor, He invented it. We can not agree with the global warming people as we would all be wrong . Blanket statement yes it is but it does sum up the situation.

  4. Don Vandervelde

    This recalls a personal anecdote. As a young lab chemist in the early 50s, when nuclear developments were good and global warming was a nonissue, for fun, I made a crude cloud-chamber radiation detector with dry ice to supercool alcohol vapor in a flask. My radium painted watch produced cloud tracks thru the vapor to my delight. Little did I suspect the principle of climate involved.

    • Walter Sobchak

      I was in middle school in the late 50s, and I built a cloud chamber out of a coffee can for my school science project. I remember the little clouds forming from a radioactive needle I inserted in the can.

      • How wonderful it was that you could have done that then. Now days someone would protect you from the absurdly tiny radiation.

  5. More evidence of just how little is truly KNOWN; and how truly suspect the AGW advocates motives and intentions should be treated. Imagine that…. the SUN is actually a major influence on earths climate!!
    Being a scientist/engineer, I have always cherished and lauded the notion of scientific method, repeatability of results, peer-review (the real old-fashion kind, that is), and most of all honesty and integrity in research. This invaluable information forum is a jewel in this constant sea of corruption. It continues to prove that there is actually reputable and honest scientific study being conducted out there. Bravo, Steve. Keep up the good fight!

  6. The simple fact is that greenhouse effect is categorically not a heat transfer from the cooler atmosphere to a warmer earth surface but a slowing of cooling, another matter entirely.

    IR absorbing gases such a CO2 and H2O(vap) also emit radiation in all directions: thus of the IR absorbed on the way down to the earth’s surface just over 50% is radiated back into space, ie a net slight cooling effect.

    It is often claimed that the earth, Mars & Venus are kept warmer than theory predicts because of GHGs.
    This is a mistake and is neatly disproved by adding one more planetary body to the list: the moon.
    It too has an elevated temperature above theory of around 40K – and not a GHG in sight!
    The mistake lies in assuming that the theoretical surface temperature (based on Blackbody radiation theory) is correct. It is not. Arrhenius made an assumption in all his papers that no heat is conducted below the surface of a body (Blackbodies do not actually exist in reality – they are purely theoretical) receiving IR. This was a mega blunder and has led the world a merry dance for a hundred years. Heat below the surface conducts to the surface where by convection (and a little radiation) the surface loses heat.

    [Comment link added by Editor - please note the "reply" link following the date time stamp on comments, clicking this link rather than simply filling in the comment text field keeps comments threaded and facilitates grouped conversations.]

    • Actually Philip, while GHGs do modulate incoming IR the effect is really quite trivial simply because IR is such a small proportion of incoming solar radiation.

      As far as outbound longwave radiation goes I don’t find your “slightly more than 50% is radiated to space” claim all that compelling. If GHE began at say, 10,000 feet then I would nod and agree with your radiation geometry but that isn’t the case, is it? Absorption begins with the first encountered GH molecule (which may be earth’s surface plus one molecule [Es+1]), of which there will be a roughly even split of outbound/inbound emission, true? Not the end of the story though. Now our intrepid outbound emission must run the gauntlet of Es+2 where again a roughly 50/50 split occurs but, for now, we have 75% earthbound emissions and only 25% outbound – of course, the Es+2 downwelling emission can still be intercepted by Es+1 level GHGs and be split again but in only two outbound transactions we have ended up with at least 62.5% earthbound, not “slightly more than 50% radiated to space”.

  7. Commuter Chris

    You say that total solar irradiance doesn’t vary enough to make a difference. I periodically find it necessary to remind people that absent the energy from the Sun, the temperature of the Earth’s surface (if the Earth existed at all) would be very close to absolute zero -460F. The current average surface temperature is 590 degrees above absolute zero. A 1/4 percent change in solar total solar energy input would change the Earth’s surface temperature 1.5 degrees. Does the Sun change 1/4 of one percent over centuries of time? Yep! The 11 year solar cycle causes more than 1/4 percent change. The cycle adjusted average changes that much in just decades! Check NASA’s total Solar irradiance data bases. Total solar irradiance increased early in NASA’s life (1957-1968) and has been dropping for the past 30 years (1980-2010). This alone explains why the AGW lobby wants the “Solar Constant” in all of the global climate models. Include the Sun and there is little left for CO2 to explain in the statistical models. To ignore the Solar variability invalidates them all.

  8. Isn’t the atmosphere just a not so good insulator. So it just slows down the heat flow from the surface to space (and sun to earth of course). From an engineers point of view, the calculations would be a simpler if an “R” factor is applied to the atmosphere as an average or a number of layers having seperate “R” factors.


  9. I am sorry I wasn’t suggesting that insulation was a heat source. I was suggesting that using an insulation analogy for the atmosphere makes the argument easier to understand. (for me)
    That is
    1: Sun Heats Earth through Insulation layer
    2: Earth radiates Heat and cools through Insulated layer

    Heat flow through insulated layer flows only from hot to cold. Reverse heat flow is impossible.

  10. You say that :
    “Certainly skeptics of that hypothesis are under no obligation to explain climate change (although why anyone would ignore the big yellow ball in the sky in favor of an invisible trace gas is beyond us here at JunkScience.com); rather it is incumbent upon proponents to prove that CO2 is the driver of catastrophic climate change they claim it to be.”

    On the other hand, there is a range of scientists who have put the proposition, with detailed models, that increasing CO2 emissions are causing global warming. On that basis, it does seem incumbent on supporters of the status quo i.e. continued CO2 emissions at present or growing levels, to provide similar detailed models and explanations proving that it is safe to do so, and allow the details and workings of their models to be tested and critiqued.

    Otherwise, the AGW people appear to have a scientific argument (albeit still developing and needing to address new science as it arises) and the “business as usual” people don’t.

    • On the contrary, Nigel, proponents have delivered zero evidence, only PlayStation® climatology as support any problem exists at all. We do not have to keep demonstrating that the world will be here tomorrow just because someone makes money writing a model that says it will not. At this stage we have no empirical measure outside the range of previously experienced climatic variability and nothing to prove.

      With regard to the models I strongly suggest you have a look at the UN’s CMIP (climate model intercomparison project) and see just how appallingly bad these models are, which still can not agree the unperturbed mean temperature of the planet within 5 kelvins. If they can’t figure out the baseline unforced temperature how do you propose they will determine the various forcings (both +ve and -ve) delivering a response a full order of magnitude smaller over an entire century? See the limitation notes in Hansen’s papers declaring model errors of 20-50W/m2 over huge slabs of the planet and then think about the claimed one-tenth W/m2 accuracy in forcing diagnoses.

      Update: I’ve been reminded I didn’t demonstrate how easily UNFCCC IPCC-approved models are invalidated so let me show you a simple script model which suggests (models never prove) the IPCC is using the wrong sign for their feedback: How do they get a lot of warming from a little gas. The file still hasn’t been updated so that internal links point to junksciencearchive rather than junkscience for the host domain but that will not affect the operation of the calculation scripts, the oh-so-simple model that says the IPCC’s $multimillion mega monsters produce utter rubbish. :end update

  11. Is the belief that anthropogenic CO2 is responsible for the warming since the Little Ice Age a simple case of false correlation? In the ’70s and ’80s it was observed that both the average temperature and atmospheric CO2 concentration increased together. Did the AGW people jump to a false conclusion: that CO2 was the driver causing the (very) small increase in global temperature(about 0.67 deg C over 140 years in my city)? From memory there was also a belief at that time that the high temperatures on Venus was due to a runaway greenhouse gas effect so CO2 was an obvious candidate for the earth’s temperature increases. We now know that the absence of a magnetosphere allows the full effect of solar radiation to reach the surface, hence the high temperature. And the temperature increase since the Little Ice Age as a natural phenomenon.
    Once convinced by the greenhouse (CO2) theory, did the AGW proponents get locked into their belief system? They can produce no reliable evidence for their beliefs, but are sticking to them like glue. And they use viscious ad hominem arguments. Why? Can anyone help me please?

  12. A false correlation, yes, but not simply that. You may have noticed that the acceptance of the AGW hypothesis correlates with left-of-center political orientation. The uncritical acceptance of the false correlation goes deeper. Douglas and Wildavsky (1982) found that the egalitarian (left) fears technology, particularly modern industrial society. The false correlation confirms their fears. The hypothesis gets reinterpreted in terms of good and evil, rather than correct and incorrect. At that point it takes on the psychological character of a religion. It is an article of faith, though they rationalize it as ‘scientific’. Those who depart from the dogma are not just ‘skeptics’, they are blasphemers. The divinity (the Environment) is the source of all that is good and right, and man is the fallen angel who defiles the divine by engaging in sinful behavior (consumption, pollution, carbon emissions, etc.) Salvation is possible only through confession, and conversion to the new way of sustainability. Heaven is that society where man lives in harmony with nature, i.e. no environmental impact.
    Recommended reading:
    Wildavsky, “But is it true?”
    Crichton, M. “Aliens cause global warming”

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