CERN CLOUD research team adds new pieces to puzzle of cloud formation

Aug 25, 2011 by Bob Yirka report
Image: Fabienne Marcastel

(PhysOrg.com) -- Jasper Kirkby, a physicist at CERN and colleagues have built an experimental climate chamber to measure the impact of cosmic rays on aerosol creation to mimic the creation of clouds in Earth's atmosphere. So far, as the team describes in their paper published in Nature, there appears to be some evidence of aerosol creation, but not enough to account for cloud formation, and thus there’s no evidence yet to show that cosmic rays have an impact on global temperatures.

Kirkby notes that despite widespread debate about the possible link between cosmic rays (charged particles , mostly protons thought to originate from exploding supernovae) and global temperature variations, very little is actually known about how aerosols are formed, which means, nobody really understands cloud formation. Thus the debate is rather philosophical, rather than scientific. To help bring some clarity to the issue, he and his team set up an experiment at the site of the Large Hadron Collider because it can provide artificial cosmic rays.

The experiment (called Cosmics Leaving Outdoor Droplets - CLOUD) consisted of building a climate chamber; a three meter diameter stainless steel drum pumped full of purified wet air, sulphur dioxide, ozone and ammonia gases, placing it in the path of a stream of charged-pion beams, and then standing back to watch what happens under varying temperatures.

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Initial results from the experiment showed that the bombardment of cosmic rays do indeed cause a change in the creation of aerosols; in fact, by more than a factor of ten. But, even that is not nearly enough to show that they contribute to cloud formation, much less climate change.

The reason some theorists believe that cosmic rays have an impact on Earth temperatures is because the amount of such rays vary over time due to the magnetic effect of the Sun. During times of high solar activity, such magnetism serves to shield the from some of the rays, while times of lower solar activity allows more to reach us. It’s possible some say, that times of higher or lower exposure to cosmic rays might explain global temperature variations , if it’s true that cosmic rays contribute to (via buildup of aerosols) that reflect heat back into space.

Though this most recent experiment doesn’t really answer the question of whether are having an impact on our weather, it does open the door to more research. Kirkby and his team plan to follow up their research with more variables with the goal of creating actual in their chamber and eventually, hopefully, settling things once and for all.

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More information: Role of sulphuric acid, ammonia and galactic cosmic rays in atmospheric aerosol nucleation, Nature 476, 429–433 (25 August 2011) doi:10.1038/nature10343

Abstract
Atmospheric aerosols exert an important influence on climate through their effects on stratiform cloud albedo and lifetime and the invigoration of convective storms. Model calculations suggest that almost half of the global cloud condensation nuclei in the atmospheric boundary layer may originate from the nucleation of aerosols from trace condensable vapours4, although the sensitivity of the number of cloud condensation nuclei to changes of nucleation rate may be small. Despite extensive research, fundamental questions remain about the nucleation rate of sulphuric acid particles and the mechanisms responsible, including the roles of galactic cosmic rays and other chemical species such as ammonia. Here we present the first results from the CLOUD experiment at CERN. We find that atmospherically relevant ammonia mixing ratios of 100 parts per trillion by volume, or less, increase the nucleation rate of sulphuric acid particles more than 100–1,000-fold. Time-resolved molecular measurements reveal that nucleation proceeds by a base-stabilization mechanism involving the stepwise accretion of ammonia molecules. Ions increase the nucleation rate by an additional factor of between two and more than ten at ground-level galactic-cosmic-ray intensities, provided that the nucleation rate lies below the limiting ion-pair production rate. We find that ion-induced binary nucleation of H2SO4–H2O can occur in the mid-troposphere but is negligible in the boundary layer. However, even with the large enhancements in rate due to ammonia and ions, atmospheric concentrations of ammonia and sulphuric acid are insufficient to account for observed boundary-layer nucleation.

Press release, Videos courtesy CERN.

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GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 25, 2011
So far, as the team describes in their paper published in Nature, there appears to be some evidence of aerosol creation, but not enough to account for cloud formation, and thus theres no evidence yet to show that cosmic rays have an impact on global temperatures


If you read the abstract and the press release in "nature", the experimental setup didn't allow formation of larger particles. They were strictly controling the experiment to figure out if any chemical reaction happened at all, and which chemicals were responsible. The last paragraph in the press release says that Kirby plans to continue with the experiment, and that subsequent steps will attempt to graduate to larger particles, eventually trying to make clouds form. He said it might be another five years before he gets to final conclusions. This phase of the experiment has confirmed that Svensmark isn't debunked, but does not confirm him either. It's just confirmation that further study should be carried out.
Jeddy_Mctedder
1 / 5 (8) Aug 25, 2011
this is great science. intuitively , if cosmic rays had any temperature impact on earth, we'd be dead. why? because they occur as discrete phenonmena. usually they have negligable impact on any aggregate global temperature stat. they are strong but sparse. and energy density is what matters.

if they had any affect on global temperature, any meaningful effect, it means they were dense, which means a supernova or other major galactic monster shot a very dense stream of energy direct perfectly at our planet for some reason. which means it would probably just roast the whole planet at once.

seems to me like it's all or nothing. i would presume that the temperature affect of the light of the brightest star must first be ascertained before anyone starts blubbering on about the temperature affects of unpredictable and consistently brief cosmic rays.
GSwift7
3.4 / 5 (5) Aug 25, 2011
if cosmic rays had any temperature impact on earth, we'd be dead


no

because they occur as discrete phenonmena


no, there's a constant stream, which varies only slightly over time, for the most part.

if they had any affect on global temperature, any meaningful effect, it means they were dense


that isn't how it works

seems to me like it's all or nothing


before anyone starts blubbering on about the temperature affects of unpredictable and consistently brief cosmic rays


wrong again. You need to read up a bit more about it. Start with NASA at the following link:

http://imagine.gs...ays.html

from nasa:

The magnetic fields of the Galaxy, the solar system, and the Earth have scrambled the flight paths of these particles so much that we can no longer point back to their sources in the Galaxy. If you made a map of the sky with cosmic ray intensities, it would be completely uniform[q/]
GSwift7
1 / 5 (2) Aug 25, 2011
For anyone who would like to read it, there's an interesting piece on Nigel Calder's blog. Calder actually helped Kirby (the guy running the CLOUD experiment) write his initial funding proposal for CLOUD. He's intimately acquainted with the experiment and the work of Svensmark. If you don't like to read skeptical opinions, then stay away because he clearly leans that way. However, he goes a bit deeper into the findings, the chemistry, and shares his (biased) opinions about the experiment.

Here's a link to his blog:

http://calderup.wordpress.com/

aparently there's a graph of particle formation rates that was excluded from the Nature press release and the story above, but was part of the appendix of the study, which Calder has provided on his blog. They're small particles, but further study might reveal that they later lead to larger ones. I guess we'll have to wait and see. This could still turn out to be either a major discovery or absolutely nothing.
Akonoor
not rated yet Aug 28, 2011
GSwift7, if you think readers should stay away of Nigel Calder's blog because of his biased opinions, the only one I see who is biased is you. No insult.

Science is basically freethinking. For those who are really interested in science it is inevitable to become unbiased aquainted to all facets in its entirety.
There have been lots of documentations before explaining cloud condensation nucleii and LACC (Low altitude cloud condensation) long before the CERN experiment.
I.e. University of Michigan has a good documentation in their AOSS 470 section (4/13/07, Cosmic Rays and Cloud Cover), or i.e. Prof. Nir Shaviv in his documentation about climate sensitivity (On climate response to changes in the cosmic ray flux and radiative budget).

However, you're right with wait and see.
Callippo
not rated yet Aug 28, 2011
Actually these results doesn't prove anything what we don't know already for many years.

http://www.telegr...ing.html

Cosmic rays can cause a nucleation of tiny droplets - but it's questionable, whether this effect increases the global warming (with increased absorption of light with clouds) or it's suppressing it (by reflection of heat from clouds). In addition, it's not clear, why the cosmic ray intensity should change in recent period instead of human activity in fossil fuel burning.

The CERN didn't prove any link to global warming in his apparatus, he just created a large cloud chamber for gamma rays to demonstrate the effect, which is already known for decades and which everyone can test in his school lab.

http://www.youtub...5LpR_I0Q
GSwift7
1 / 5 (2) Aug 29, 2011
GSwift7, if you think readers should stay away of Nigel Calder's blog because of his biased opinions, the only one I see who is biased is you. No insult


I didn't express my opinion, so how do you think I'm biased? I think maybe you are misunderstanding my post? No offense taken. It's not always easy to communicate in a forum like this. All I intended to say, was that if anyone gets offended by reading a somewhat biased opinion, then they will not like my link. I personally prefer to read any opinion, and then judge for myself whether it is worth reading. I don't usually give any preference to one side versus the other. I am equally quick to point out biases from either extreme of the political spectrum. I try to mentally block out the parts of an article that are just opinion and then read and evaluate what is left. Sometimes that isn't much, but Calder's blog post actually had quite a bit of good stuff aside from his opinions.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (2) Aug 29, 2011
As for my opinion about Calder's blog:

here's my official 'opinion' about it. I think he goes too far in terms of drawing conclusions from available evidence. That doesn't mean that he's wrong. It could turn out that he knows what he's talking about, but I think he's making some educated guesses which could potentially be wrong. But that's just MY opinion, and my opinion doesn't mean anything to anybody but me. I do hope he's right though. It would be good news for all of us except the people making money from co2-related activities. I think I'll wait five more years and see what Kirby has to say in the next few phases of the research.

he just created a large cloud chamber for gamma rays to demonstrate the effect, which is already known for decades and which everyone can test in his school lab.


That's not the same thing. You should read up on the differences.
R2Bacca
not rated yet Aug 31, 2011
...and thus theres no evidence yet to show that cosmic rays have an impact on global temperatures.


This statement is completely contrary to the way science works - a scientist can *never* prove anything with 100% certainty, and thus the effort in science is to disprove. It doesn't matter how much "proof" a theory has; it only takes a single piece of "disproof" to show it is incorrect.

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