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Cosmic rays and clouds: Potential mechanisms

Filed under: — group @ 26 September 2011

Guest Commentary by Jeffrey Pierce (Dalhousie U.)

I’ve written this post to help readers understand potential physical mechanisms behind cosmic-ray/cloud connections. But first I briefly want to explain my motivation.

Prior to the publication of the aerosol nucleation results from the CLOUD experiment at CERN in Nature several weeks ago Kirkby et al, 2011, I was asked by Nature Geoscience to write a “News and Views” on the CLOUD results for a general science audience. As an aerosol scientist, I found the results showing the detailed measurements of the influences of ammonia, organics and ions from galactic cosmic rays on aerosol formation exciting. While none of the results were entirely unexpected, the paper still represents a major step forward in our understanding of particle formation. This excitement is what I tried to convey to the general scientific audience in the News and Views piece. However, I only used a small portion of the editorial to discuss the implications to cosmic rays and clouds because (1) I felt that these implications represented only a small portion of the CLOUD findings, and (2) the CLOUD results address only one of several necessary conditions for cosmic rays to affect clouds, and have not yet tested the others.

Many of the news articles and blog posts covering the CLOUD article understandably focused much more on the cosmic-ray/cloud connection as it is easy to tie this connection into the climate debate. While many of the articles did a good job at reporting the CLOUD results within the big picture of cosmic-ray/cloud connections, some articles erroneously claimed that the CLOUD results proved the physics behind a strong cosmic-ray/cloud/climate connection, and others still just got it very muddled. A person hoping to learn more about cosmic rays and clouds likely ended up confused after reading the range of articles published. This potential confusion (along with many great questions and comments in Gavin’s CLOUD post) motivated me to write a general overview of the potential physical mechanisms for cosmic rays affecting clouds. In this post, I will focus on what we know and don’t know regarding the two major proposed physical mechanisms connecting cosmic rays to clouds and climate.
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References

  1. J. Kirkby, J. Curtius, J. Almeida, E. Dunne, J. Duplissy, S. Ehrhart, A. Franchin, S. Gagné, L. Ickes, A. Kürten, A. Kupc, A. Metzger, F. Riccobono, L. Rondo, S. Schobesberger, G. Tsagkogeorgas, D. Wimmer, A. Amorim, F. Bianchi, M. Breitenlechner, A. David, J. Dommen, A. Downard, M. Ehn, R.C. Flagan, S. Haider, A. Hansel, D. Hauser, W. Jud, H. Junninen, F. Kreissl, A. Kvashin, A. Laaksonen, K. Lehtipalo, J. Lima, E.R. Lovejoy, V. Makhmutov, S. Mathot, J. Mikkilä, P. Minginette, S. Mogo, T. Nieminen, A. Onnela, P. Pereira, T. Petäjä, R. Schnitzhofer, J.H. Seinfeld, M. Sipilä, Y. Stozhkov, F. Stratmann, A. Tomé, J. Vanhanen, Y. Viisanen, A. Vrtala, P.E. Wagner, H. Walther, E. Weingartner, H. Wex, P.M. Winkler, K.S. Carslaw, D.R. Worsnop, U. Baltensperger, and M. Kulmala, "Role of sulphuric acid, ammonia and galactic cosmic rays in atmospheric aerosol nucleation", Nature, vol. 476, pp. 429-433, 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature10343

Please, show us your code

Filed under: — rasmus @ 17 December 2009

The 1991 Science paper by Friis-Christensen & Lassen, work by Henrik Svensmark (Physical Review Letters), and calculations done by Scafetta & West (in the journals Geophysical Research Letters, Journal of Geophysical Research, and Physics Today) have inspired the idea that the recent warming is due to changes in the sun, rather than greenhouse gases.

We have discussed these papers before here on RealClimate (here, here, and here), and I think it’s fair to say that these studies have been fairly influential one way or the other. But has anybody ever seen the details of the methods used, or the data? I believe that a full disclosure of their codes and data would really boost the confidence in their work, if they were sound. So if they believe so strongly that their work is solid, why not more transparency?

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Cosmic rays don’t die so easily

Filed under: — rasmus @ 4 October 2007

Cover picture of Solar Activity and Earth's Climate Last week, a Norwegian official-looking – and in my view – climatesceptic website praised Eigil Friis-Christensen from the Danish space center (featuring in the Great Global Warming Swindle) and hailed him for having given the best speech ever in the annual Birkeland seminar organized by Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (NASL). There were rumours of controversy behind the scene before the seminar, as the NASL is regarded as a prestigious body in Norway.

Furthermore, Svensmark and Friis-Christensen have written a response (title ‘Reply to Lockwood and Fröhlich – The persistent role of the Sun in climate forcing’; DNSC Scientific Report Series 3/2007) to a recent paper by Lockwood and Frohlich (LF2007). In this response, they state ’… [LF2007] argue that this historical link between the Sun and climate came to an end about 20 years ago‘. Another quote from their response is ‘Here we rebut their argument comprehensively’. So the cosmic ray theory isn’t quite dead after all?

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Fun with correlations!

Filed under: — gavin @ 9 May 2007 - (Türkçe)

We are forever being bombarded with apparently incredible correlations of various solar indices and climate. A number of them came up in the excoriable TGGWS mockumentary last month where they were mysteriously ‘improved’ in a number of underhand ways. But even without those improvements (which variously involved changing the axes, drawing in non-existent data, taking out data that would contradict the point etc.), the as-published correlations were superficially quite impressive. Why then are we not impressed?

To give you an idea, I’m going to go through the motions of constructing a new theory of political change using techniques that have been pioneered by a small subset of solar-climate researchers (references will of course be given). And to make it even more relevant, I’m going to take as my starting point research that Richard Lindzen has highlighted on his office door for many years:
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The lure of solar forcing

Filed under: — gavin @ 15 July 2005

It’s obvious.

The sun provides 99.998% of the energy to the Earth’s climate (the rest coming from geothermal heat sources). The circulation patterns of the tropical Hadley Cell, the mid latitude storm tracks the polar high and the resulting climate zones are all driven by the gradients of solar heating as a function of latitude. So of course any significant change to solar output is bound to affect the climate, it stands to reason! Since we can see that there are changes in solar activity, it’s therefore just a question of finding the link. Researchers for over a century have therefore taken any climate records they can find and searched for correlations to the sunspots, the solar-cycle length, geomagnetic indices, cosmogenic isotopes or smoothed versions thereof (and there are many ways to do the smoothing, and you don’t even need to confine yourself to one single method per record). At the same time, estimates of solar output in the past are extremely uncertain, and so there is a great deal of scope in blaming any unexplained phenomena on solar changes without fear of contradiction.

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