New Study on Solar Variability Is Neither New Nor a Study

Misinterpreting a new study requires there to be a new study in the first place. Though it may seem obvious, this basic truth was evidently lost on the throngs of deniers who pounced on a story about solar variability that appeared on the news aggregator ScienceDaily—on May 12, 2008.

The piece, entitled “Solar Variability: Striking a Balance with Climate Change,” makes the point that, over the course of the Earth’s history, the sun and volcanic eruptions have typically exerted the largest influence on climate change. In recent decades, however, the sun’s influence in particular has been replaced by that of anthropogenic activity—something which Robert Cahalan, a climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, says “has never happened before.”

Calahan and his colleagues postulate that while solar activity may now be at a minimum (the next solar maximum is expected in 2012, according to the University of Colorado’s Thomas Woods), it could come to play a larger role in affecting climate change in the future.

Now, putting aside the fact that this does not exactly constitute groundbreaking news (as Scholars & Rogues’ Brian Angliss aptly notes), there’s also the small matter that the story was originally published on May 12, 2008—over a year ago. And equally important, this story doesn’t describe a new study; at best, it’s a summary of past and recent research on the sun-climate connection or, as The Phoenix’s David Bernstein put it, a “general interest article” about the subject.

Of course, that didn’t stop Daily Tech’s Michael Andrews from breathlessly reporting only last week that a new NASA study had “concluded that solar variation has made a significant impact on the Earth’s climate.” The multiple errors in Andrews’ post, in turn, did not stop the skeptic blogosphere, including such “luminaries” as Watts Up With That?’s Anthony Watts, from latching onto the “study” and using it to promote their deeply flawed arguments.

It was especially amusing to see some blogs put forth Robert Cahalan as a foil to James Hansen—a NASA scientist willing to blow the whistle on this whole “anthropogenic global warming” malarkey. Never mind the fact that Cahalan himself explains that greenhouse gases have been the “dominant influence on recent climate change” over the last 2 – 3 decades and that, as I mentioned earlier, the “Earth’s climate is now really dominated by human activity, which has never happened before.”

To add insult to injury, the American Thinker blog, in a poor attempt at snark, describes James Hansen as the head of the Goddard Institute for Space Flight—which is interesting, because he is actually the head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. Angliss, who made the catch, quips: “Just a hint, guys—getting your facts this wrong doesn’t do your already nonexistent credibility on this issue any good.” Indeed.

In all seriousness, the notion that solar variations contribute only minimally to recent climate change is well borne out by a large body of research, as Climate Progress’ Joe Romm and others have frequently observed. In a recent post—published (strangely enough) exactly a year after ScienceDaily’s story first appeared—Romm quotes this telling passage from a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters:

Changes in cosmic rays during a solar cycle are two orders of magnitude too small to account for the observed changes in cloud properties; consequently, we conclude that the hypothesized effect is too small to play a significant role in current climate change.”

And the following from a 2007 study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A:

There is considerable evidence for solar influence on the Earth’s pre-industrial climate and the Sun may well have been a factor in post-industrial climate change in the first half of the last century. Here we show that over the past 20 years, all the trends in the Sun that could have had an influence on the Earth’s climate have been in the opposite direction to that required to explain the observed rise in global mean temperatures.”

Though I recognize that these wrong-headed arguments are par for the course for deniers, I would at least hope that they get their dates right.


I have always found the deniers’ attempts to claim “the sun did it!” to be vaguely amusing, but this borders on the pathetic.  How anybody could interpret that article to support a non-anthropogenic cause of climate change is mind-boggling.  Can you say, “delusional”?

Cheers, guys


A new research report from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center looking at climate data over the past century has concluded that solar variation has made a significant impact on the Earth’s climate.  The report concludes that evidence for climate changes based on solar radiation can be traced back as far as the Industrial Revolution.


While the NASA study acknowledged the sun’s influence on warming and cooling patterns, it then went badly off the tracks.  Ignoring its own evidence, it returned to an argument that man had replaced the sun as the cause current warming patterns.  Like many studies, this conclusion was based less on hard data and more on questionable correlations and inaccurate modeling techniques.


The inconvertible fact, here is that even NASA’s own study acknowledges that solar variation has caused climate change in the past.  And even the study’s members, mostly ardent supports of AGW theory, acknowledge that the sun may play a significant role in future climate changes.


So the (unsupported) conclusion.  For the last 20 to 30 years, we believe greenhouse gases have been the dominant influence on recent climate change,” said Robert Cahalan, astrologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.


Amazing! It-was-Sun-until-1977. Then as-if-by-magic- POOF! It-was-Man-since-1977. What utter Rubbish. Haven’t you guys heard of the PDO?

Until 1977 the influence of the sun was able to explain (at a stretch) what was going on.  But since then,  the lines have diverged at an accelerating rate, and it is no longer possible to claim that the influence of the sun can account for the trends.  Were we reading the same article?

Fern Mackenzie

AMAZING indeed the amount of misinformation and illogic a seasoned global warming denier can strew in a few short paragraphs while sounding seemingly scientific. What a talent!

Where to start?

Okay, PDO – is in a ‘cooling phase’ now – but global temp is warmer now than in 1980 when PDO was in warmer phase. So try and find some other set of initials for a more obscure phenomena that you can use for obfuscation.

‘Even NASA admits”?? Come on, of course climate scientists consider every possible effect. Let me break it to you gently: they know more and are better at doing science than you. Solar variation has been measured for nearly a quarter of a century by satellite, see ACRIM. It shows a sinusoidal phase, about 11 years, small amplitude.

and POOF? Who said if there was a solar flare when the astronauts were orbiting, they would go POOF? Was that you, genius? And how many astronauts have gone “POOF”? 

Phlogiston believes Nasa uses Astrologists!

[Phlogiston quote]

”..,Robert Cahalan, astrologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center..,” [my emphasis]

[/Phlogiston quote]

Whereas the original uses a different word.


’..,Robert Cahalan, climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center..,’  [my emphasis]


Just how could ‘climatologist’ be transformed into ‘astrologist’? Does Phlogiston’s cut & paste work that way?

Or perhaps Phlogiston gets his so-called ‘science’ from astrologers? From the drivel that he posts, it certainly looks like it!

Yes that is what I said and I said it intentionally. They might as well be astrologists, or Gypsy Lee Rose for that matter, because they would get a better climate forecast by reading horoscopes, or crystal ball gazing than what spews out of their “climate models”

Gingerladyslipper opines:


but global temp is warmer now than in 1980”

I guess it is- The RSS (Remote Sensing Systems of Santa Rosa, CA Microwave Sounder Unit (MSU) lower troposphere global temperature anomaly data for May is 0.09°C.  That’s positively scorching.


And “and POOF? Who said if there was a solar flare when the astronauts were orbiting, they would go POOF? Was that you, genius? And how many astronauts have gone “POOF”?”


Not me, check my post. The you’re the genius!

Please read the science.  I repeat my plea:  read the science. 

Fern Mackenzie

Gee Whillikers, Phlogiston, your data shows: the slightest bit of temperature rise causes the earth to melt. Let the climate scientists know the climate sensitivity is bigger than they think! Publish your own paper in an esteemed scientific journal! You’ll be famous.

Oh no, if such a little temperature degrades the earth’s weather so noticeably, then a little bit more will leave us much worse off. We’ll have to work much harder to get control of global warming. 

You keep using that graph. Have you actually read it?

The comparison is the daily average from 1979 to 2000. So if each day the ice was exactly the 1979 – 2000 average for that day, the graph would be totally flat. But the melt and growth season patterns are never exactly the same, so instead you would expect a graph that fluctuates above and below the zero line. If despite the slight temporal variation, the ice were neither growing nor melting in the longterm, then the time above the zero line would near enough match the time below the zero line. I.e. Pretty much what you can see up till mid 1996. Since then the line is more negative than positive, even though 1997-2000 are part of the baseline average. So globally the sea ice has been pretty much below (1979-2000) average since 1997.

We know Antarctic sea ice has been growing slowly, if we call up we can see that during the southern hemisphere winter the sea ice is above average, but during the summer the sea ice is about average. In the north the ice is below average for the whole year.

Take those back to your original graph and we can see that the Arctic is melting faster than the Antarctic is growing, i.e. throughout most of the year the ice is below normal. And the negative deviation from the average is growing in amplitude.


First, I was referring to world ice, including glaciers; you chose to find a subset, sea ice, whose graph you can cherrypick. Unless a reader looks carefully at the graph, and thinks about the difference between summer and winter ice, and considers that area is measured whereas volume is the more significant factor, he/she may think you have a point.

Second, I know Bob Calahan as a fine scientist and a fine man. shot, that ‘astrologist’ bit. You publish as many papers in scientific journals as he has and then you can talk.

You try turning raw data into finished science graphs instead of repeating or generating propaganda for the fossil fuels companies. Then you can ‘advise’ me.

Yes, I am alarmed. AGW is a scary phenomenon and it’s past time we start working to mitigate it.

Perhaps you are so old you think AGW won’t affect you. Perhaps you have no children/grandchildren to consider. Perhaps you only care about yourself, not humanity. So you can put out your disingenuous gibberish without a prick of conscience.

Gingeladyslipper thinks “Perhaps you are so old you think AGW won’t affect you. Perhaps you have no children/grandchildren to consider. Perhaps you only care about yourself, not humanity. So you can put out your disingenuous gibberish without a prick of conscience.”

No I am married with 3 young children. I care pssionately about their future and that of the environment and the economy. I do not want to see my children growing up in a World, catapulted back to the Dark Ages by the Cult of AGW.

China is not so stupid,
China cares about as much about “anthropogenic global warming” as Chairman
Mao did about providing his population with five-course steak dinners. AGW’s
only use, as far as the Chinese are concerned, is as an ingenious device to
suck up money and power from the gullible West. Once we realise that, we can start addressing the real problems. like overfishing, deforestation, deserification by overgrazing and irrigation with brackish water, and last but not least, giving other Countries the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty, by burning oil and coal.

Then concern about children gives us common purpose. What we don’t agree on is the ends.

China is a significant part of the emissions problem. They are bringing one coal-fired power plant on line a week. They are now rivaling the U.S. in CO2 output. Certainly I don’t want them to have a free pass. It causes economic distortions to our disadvantage (like their undervalued currency which no U.S. government tackles).

I agree deforestation, etc., are serious problems and impair our ability to absorb CO2.

AGW is not a cult. I don’t know why you think that. It is science, well-established science, the same as bring us the benefits of modern life.

Phlogiston wrote (in part): “No, I am married with 3 young children. I care passionately about their future and that of the environment and the economy. I do not want to see my children growing up in a World, catapulted back to the Dark Ages by the Cult of AGW.”

Do you really think this so-called cult wants to plunge the world into a new Dark Age? But if that were the aim, do you think anyone outside the “cult” could stop it? Remember, it allegedly includes the governments of the developed nations, along with most of the world’s scientists.

As Coby Beck wrote, when most of the world agrees on a certain answer, it could be a conspiracy. But, equally likely, it could be because that’s the right answer. (In fact, per Occam’s Razor, it’s overwhelmingly more likely.)

using facts, logic or reason with Phlog. He has proven time and again that he is impervious to them.

And lately he has decended to using words like “cult” and “Dark Age” in his increasingly irrational posts.

In short, Phlog is not in Kansas any more.

The AGW argument is based upon computer modelling. In any computer model the important issues always are the assumptions/approximations that are made. I’ve been reading Glassman’s account of “eight major modeling faults” here and would be interested in rebuttals of any/all of these crits.

Glassman doesn’t begin to understand; his headline proves that. Albedo is the net return of sunlight back into space. It is an overall measure of how much sunlight is captured.

NASA built a satellite to measure this DISCOVR. It has been stored for 8 years, for unstated reasons, some people think Cheney mothballed it. A pity, we would know how much the albedo is changing, due to the increased absorption of sunlight by carbon dioxide.

all the earmarks of a fishing expedition, and quite honestly trolls are ten a penny.

As has already been stated, the AGW argument is based on established physics. Computer models are merely a tool for alleviating the drudgery of calculating a substantial number of equations.

For you to evaluate any rebuttal provided on these pages, you will be required to critically assess the merits of the opposing arguments. So why not start now, show your good faith, provide us with your critical assessment of the page you linked to. You might start with the validity of all eight points, then how points 1 to 7 relate to albedo, and for point eight why don’t the GCR’s in the “published cosmic ray” model, (Oh, look, a model!), correspond to the actual measurements.

The AGW argument is not based upon computer modeling, it’s based on fundamental physics and 185 years of scientific observation and experiment. The computer models are based on that physics.

Wow! OK - Let me rephrase carefully and happy to be shown to have this wrong also. The AGW argument is based upon computer models that model in particular ways some elements of the science of climate. I am interested in the physics/chemistry side of things (PhD in physical organic chemistry – way past its use by date and a supervisor who’d never let me use any software unless I had unpacked every line of code… yeah that long ago–got a pub out of it) and the modeling in particular (and here I am happy to confess to be swayed by the cautionings of Jo Weizenbaum (Computer Power & Human Reason).  So what is of interest to me is what specific bits of physics and chemistry are modelled and how. This is what drew me to the Glassman work and am happy to go away and do some homework. I was looking for shortcuts.. ie. if it has been demolished then I don’t need to. I could find nothing other than the commonly found assertions that really did not help with the assumptions/approximations. And I suppose the reference to Trolls is not to the billy goats gruff? 

The AGW argument is not based upon computer modeling, it’s based on fundamental physics and 185 years of scientific observation and experiment. The computer models are based on that physics.”


But what if the physics is not fully implemented…


Clouds have, of course, been the primary source of uncertainty in climate models since the 1970s. Some of the conclusions from cloud parameterization studies are quite startling.


The Climate Process Team on Low-Latitude Cloud Feedbacks on Climate Sensitivity reported that:


The world’s first superparameterization climate sensitivity results show strong negative cloud feedbacks driven by enhancement of boundary layer clouds in a warmer climate.

These strong negative cloud feedbacks resulted in a low climate sensitivity of only 0.41 K/(W m-2), described as being at the “low end” of traditional GCMS (i.e. around 1.5 deg C/doubled CO2.):


Hmmm. This is a bit less than the Climate Armageddon the Alarmists keep screaming about/

Shame, really.


The computer model study on clouds overwhelming climate with negative feedbacks does not fit the current scientific understanding of the paleoclimate or observations of the climate.

There are large temperature swings in and out of ice ages.  Carbon dioxide plays a large role in this positive feedback.  If strong negative feedback mechanisms such as clouds existed as the study suggests, it would have overwhelmed and dampened past climates to prevent the wild swings from positive feedback mechanisms such as CO2 and other greenhouse gases from significantly warming the climate.  

There does not appear to be any evidence for the hypothesis that natural warming from past climates had ever been overwhelmed by strong negative feedback mechanisms.  This also appears to have been the case during the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum, in which there was thought to be a huge release of greenhouse gases and a dramatic temperature rise.  

This is also the case for current climate, which has been intrinsically stable over the past few decades: negatory.  It has been warming steadily, yet there is no evidence for negative feedbacks such as clouds to overwhelm this warming in any way whatsoever to offset it. If such negative feedback mechanisms played any role whatsoever in climate, surely we would have seen evidence for it by now?  

Observations based on real world data and proxy data from present and the past climates do not agree with this particular model study on clouds or any other negative feedback offsetting the effects of greenhouse gases.  If negative feedbacks could overwhelm the climate, there would be evidence to indicate that based on real world data (not just a computer climate model).  I’m not aware of any other GCM replicating such strong negative feedback mechanisms, either.  How do you account for all of these discrepancy?

Phlogiston evidently could not account for this discrepancy.  But let us suppose (in the unlikely event) that a link exists between the sun, cosmic rays, the Earth’s magnetic sphere, and low-latitude precipitation (cloud formation) to produce some negative feedback mechanism.  In the past, some have hypothesized that when solar activity is low due to greater sunspot activity, high-energy particles such as cosmic rays enter the Earth’s atmosphere and collide with super-cooled water vapor to trigger bubbles and cloud formation, resulting in a possible cooling via negative feedback.

Given the very low order of magnitude that we currently know that the sun has on the Earth’s climate (compared to greenhouse gases such as CO2 and water vapor), it is still possible–though only very very slight–that a high amount of super-cooled water vapor triggered by cosmic rays bombarding the Earth’s atmosphere could trigger bubbles and cloud formation to dampen the effects of greenhouse gases to thereby reduce temperature and the impact of human-caused global warming.  If there is any time to “test” this hypothesis to see if such a phenomenon can vindicate global warming deniers it is now, due to solar minimum and decreased solar activity since about 1979.  And what have we found?

Temperatures have continued to increase steadily since 1979 and continue to escalate in spite of the low solar activity due to solar minimum.  That being said, it is still possible for such a feedback to presently dampen the effects of positive feedbacks such as CO2 and methane release (although it is likely to be only minimal, due to ongoing rise in greenhouse gases and rising temperature).  Meaning that if such a negative feedback mechanism is currently dampening the climate, that an increase of cosmic ray bombardment is currently masking the full impact of human-caused global warming.  Meaning that when we return to solar maximum in five years or so, we will no longer have the benefit of negative feedbacks to protect us from the full impact of the CO2 and methane release that has risen sharply in recent years and is presently in the atmosphere.  Something that should be a cause for concern, Phlogistan–not vindication.

Curiously, something that prompted me to re-examine the cloud hypothesis and a possible sun-climate-cosmic ray connection was a comment posted to Climate Progress that I happened to chance upon the night before.  As if by magic or chance, I slept the much of the day, which seems to always occur in conjunction with PMS and hot rainy days when the rain is beating down on the hot tin roof (or shingled roof, depending on the structure) in the hot summertime in a sleepy one-horse town in South Georgia.  Thus mimicking a cave or womb and a cocoon-like atmosphere which is akin to a state of magical space-timelessness.  

Jean Gebser refers to one-dimensional magical space-timelessness as a phase of human consciousness that is far removed from space and time and akin to deep sleep.  Thus, rain combined with PMS can induce a deep state of relaxation and a “semi-hemispheric synchronization of the brain” which alternates between the magical somnolence of deep sleep and twilight dreaming of myth, inducing visions among those who are hypersensitive to noise and feedback mechanisms (whether positive or negative) in the climate.  This is just my hypothesis.

About an hour ago, my mother knocked on my door to inform me of the occurrence of hail today.  She could hear it from the roof, which explains how I slept so hard; and that “hail” and “hyo,” which is “hail” in Japanese, sounded very similar to her in sound (she is Japanese and speaks very broken English).

I decided to look up the connection of summer time rain and hail activity to climate or climate change and connected the phenomenon with the formation of cumulonimbus clouds.  I am unsure of its connection to climate change, yet the presence of hail in the summer time in the Deep South does lend credence to the hypothesis that super-cooled water vapor can collide with cosmic rays to result in negative feedbacks on the climate system producing hail.  

Given the sharp rise of human greenhouse gases in recent years such as CO2 and methane release that has occurred coincidentally with low solar activity, however–and the fact that solar activity does not remain static at solar minimums but goes through ongoing 11-year cycles between maximums and minimums–the cloud hypothesis suggests, if anything, that positive feedback mechanisms are currently being partially masked by negative feedbacks.  And that the sun is a time-bomb that is set to go off in full force when solar activity is at maximum in approximately 5 years, and triggers all kinds of positive feedback mechanisms due to recent accumulations of human GHGs.  This is all hypothetical, of course.

In this article it states that the next maximum solar flare cycle is estimated to be in 2012 - with all the ways that we are killing the ozone layer…this is not looking good and that is a bad bad year according to prophets (hopefully they are full of crap though - I hope -scary) Jay

I have been reading your blog last weeks and enjoy it. Thanks Mini blinds and Gourmet gift baskets. I have also added to my favorite list.