Link found between cold European winters and solar activity

Aug 23, 2012
Researchers have linked low solar activity to a localized, temporary cooling of Central Europe, by studying the freezing of the Rhine river (CREDIT: Warburg, via Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists have long suspected that the Sun's 11-year cycle influences climate of certain regions on Earth. Yet records of average, seasonal temperatures do not date back far enough to confirm any patterns. Now, armed with a unique proxy, an international team of researchers show that unusually cold winters in Central Europe are related to low solar activity – when sunspot numbers are minimal. The freezing of Germany's largest river, the Rhine, is the key.

Although the Earth's surface overall continues to warm, the new analysis has revealed a correlation between periods of low activity of the Sun and of some cooling – on a limited, regional scale in , along the Rhine.

"The advantage with studying the Rhine is because it's a very simple measurement," said Frank Sirocko lead author of a paper on the study and professor of Sedimentology and Paleoclimatology at the Institute of of Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. "Freezing is special in that it's like an on-off mode. Either there is ice or there is no ice."

From the early 19th through mid-20th centuries, riverboat men used the Rhine for cargo transport. And so docks along the river have annual records of when ice clogged the waterway and stymied shipping. The scientists used these easily-accessible documents, as well as additional historical accounts, to determine the number of freezing episodes since 1780.

Sirocko and his colleagues found that between 1780 and 1963, the Rhine froze in multiple places 14 different times. The sheer size of the river means it takes extremely to freeze over making freezing episodes a good proxy for very cold winters in the region, Sirocko said.

Mapping the freezing episodes against the solar activity's 11-year cycle – a cycle of the Sun's varying magnetic strength and thus total radiation output – Sirocko and his colleagues determined that ten of the fourteen freezes occurred during years around when the Sun had minimal sunspots. Using statistical methods, the scientists calculated that there is a 99 percent chance that extremely cold Central European winters and low solar activity are inherently linked.

"We provide, for the first time, statistically robust evidence that the succession of during the last 230 years in Central Europe has a common cause," Sirocko said.

With the new paper, Sirocko and his colleagues have added to the research linking solar variability with climate, said Thomas Crowley, Director of the Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment, and Society, who was not involved with the study.

"There is some suspension of belief in this link," Crowley said, "and this study tilts the argument more towards thinking there really is something to this link. If you have more statistical evidence to support this explanation, one is more likely to say it's true."

The study, conducted by researchers at Johannes Gutenberg and the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich, Switzerland, is set to be published August 25 in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

When sunspot numbers are down, the Sun emits less ultraviolet radiation. Less radiation means less heating of Earth's atmosphere, which sparks a change in the circulation patterns of the two lowest atmospheric levels, the troposphere and stratosphere. Such changes lead to climatic phenomena such as the North Atlantic Oscillation, a pattern of atmospheric pressure variations that influences wind patterns in the North Atlantic and weather behavior in regions in and around Europe.

"Due to this indirect effect, the solar cycle does not impact hemispherically averaged temperatures, but only leads to regional temperature anomalies," said Stephan Pfahl, a co-author of the study who is now at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich.

The authors show that this change in atmospheric circulation leads to cooling in parts of Central Europe but warming in other European countries, such as Iceland. So, sunspots don't necessarily cool the entire globe – their cooling effect is more localized, Sirocko said.

In fact, studies have suggested that the extremely cold European winters of 2010 and 2011 were the result of the North Atlantic Oscillation, which Sirocko and his team now link to the low solar activity during that time.

The 2010 and 2011 European winters were so cold that they resulted in record lows for the month of November in certain countries. Some who dispute the occurrence of anthropogenic climate change argue that this two-year period shows that Earth's climate is not getting any warmer. But climate is a complex system, Sirocko said. And a short-term, localized dip in temperatures only temporarily masks the effects of a warming world.

"Climate is not ruled by one variable," said Sirocko. "In fact, it has [at least] five or six variables. Carbon dioxide is certainly one, but is also one."

Moreover, the researchers also point out that, despite Central Europe's prospect to suffer colder winters every 11 years or so, the average temperature of those winters is increasing and has been for the past three decades. As one piece of evidence of that warming, the Rhine River has not frozen over since 1963. Sirocko said such warming results, in part, from climate change.

To establish a more complete record of past temperature dips, the researchers are looking to other proxies, such as the spread of disease and migratory habits.

"Disease can be transported by insects and rats, but during a strong freezing year that is not likely," said Sirocko. "Also, Romans used the Rhine to defend against the Germanics, but as soon as the river froze people could move across it. The freezing of the Rhine is very important on historical timescales."

It wasn't, however, the Rhine that first got Sirocko to thinking about the connection between freezing rivers and sunspot activity. In fact, it was a 125-mile ice-skating race he attended over 20 years ago in the Netherlands that sparked the scientist's idea.

"Skaters can only do this race every 10 or 11 years because that's when the rivers freeze up," Sirocko said. "I thought to myself, 'There must be a reason for this,' and it turns out there is."

Explore further: Clean air: Fewer sources for self-cleaning

More information: doi: 10.1029/2012GL052412

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User comments : 26

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rod_russell_9
2.1 / 5 (18) Aug 23, 2012
How can this be possible? Everyone with any sense knows that human activities control climate change.
cantdrive85
2 / 5 (16) Aug 23, 2012
"Scientists have long suspected that the Sun's 11-year cycle influences climate of certain regions on Earth."

How completely narrow minded could one possibly be? Certain regions? Clearly if it causes cooling in one area, which in turn changes the weather in another area, it does in FACT indicate that Earth's climate and weather is affected globally by the cycle and one can also deduce that individual CME's (and other solar events) can also affect the weather. Hurricane and tornadic activity has also been linked to sunspot activity, maybe one of these days the scientists will realize, "It's the Sun stupid!"

Parsec
4 / 5 (12) Aug 23, 2012
I still find it astonishing how many people with absolutely no knowledge of science, and no obvious interest in science still come here to post drivel.

As the article mentions, of course solar activity is a climate driver. So is greenhouse gas levels, a portion of which is caused by human activities. In fact there are other drivers as well. Upper atmosphere particulates that increase after volcano's erupt for another.

Simple minds want simple answers. But the nature of reality isn't simple. It is quite complex. The nature of a scientific mind is being willing to embrace the full complexity of reality, always knowing that understanding is always approximate, and human beings are quite often wrong. Many scientists do not have a scientific mind, and many with that kind of mind are not scientists.
runrig
3.5 / 5 (8) Aug 23, 2012
Try reading the article - where does it say that the Sun's 11 yr cycle controls the climate? It is a regional weather effect that occurs quite rarely, and specifically in Europe. Actually this not new, It was known about 40 years ago at least, before I became a meteorologist. It's quite simple. There is not a net reduction ( measurable ) in solar energy hitting the earth's NH surface in a low solar winter. It is just that the tropospheric circulation is affected and polar cold spills south. You don't get something for nothing and so as a result the arctic is warmer, as are other parts affected by winds from the south to balance northerly winds in other parts. It's called meridional flow or "blocking" flow.
rubberman
3.6 / 5 (14) Aug 23, 2012
"maybe one of these days the scientists will realize, "It's the Sun stupid!"

I bet they never even thought of the sun as a possible driver of climate....me either, until this very post! The dense fog of climate science has finally been lifted to expose the truth, thank you oh givers of knowledge and wisdom!
I knew sea levels were dropping and I thought it had been feeling cooler lately, AGW my ass. We'll be skating to Europe in july if we aren't careful.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (8) Aug 23, 2012
"It is just that the tropospheric circulation is affected and polar cold spills south"
"It's called meridional flow or "blocking" flow."

That circulation and flow are the distinct manifestation of the electric currents that course throughout the atmosphere, the Earth, solar system, and every other conceivable part of the cosmos.
"From the smallest particle to the largest galactic formation, a web of electrical circuitry connects and unifies all of nature, organizing galaxies, energizing stars, giving birth to planets and, on our own world, controlling weather and animating biological organisms. There are no isolated islands in an electric universe".

- David Talbott and Wallace Thornhill, Thunderbolts of the Gods.
rubberman
4.6 / 5 (9) Aug 23, 2012
"That circulation and flow are the distinct manifestation of the electric currents that course throughout the atmosphere"

No, they're not. Don't let your electric universe theory mutate into an electric atmosphere theory.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (2) Aug 23, 2012
"That circulation and flow are the distinct manifestation of the electric currents that course throughout the atmosphere"

No, they're not. Don't let your electric universe theory mutate into an electric atmosphere theory.


Oh, you mean like this?
http://phys.org/n...nce.html

or this?
http://phys.org/n...ion.html
rubberman
3.4 / 5 (5) Aug 23, 2012
Although the title of the first article would indicate the existence of an electric atmosphere theory, the article itself is about plasma in space, same with the second. If there were electric/plasma fields influencing atmospheric circulation, they would be detectable and measurable (as with those that accompany CME's). I have no comment on the electric universe other than I find it an intriguing theory, it just doesn't fit an atmospheric medium.
ryggesogn2
2.1 / 5 (7) Aug 23, 2012
anti, not all Europeans support AGW.

"The study, conducted by researchers at Johannes Gutenberg and the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich, Switzerland,

Read more at: http://phys.org/n...tml#jCp"
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (2) Aug 23, 2012
Although the title of the first article would indicate the existence of an electric atmosphere theory, the article itself is about plasma in space, same with the second. If there were electric/plasma fields influencing atmospheric circulation, they would be detectable and measurable (as with those that accompany CME's). I have no comment on the electric universe other than I find it an intriguing theory, it just doesn't fit an atmospheric medium.


Kristian Birkeland detected these electric currents running parallel to the Aurora Borealis during his aural research projects over a hundred years ago. His Terella Experiments that reproduced aurora in a lab required an electric current. Also, NASA just recently shot some chem-trail rockets into the upper atmosphere to attempt to measure these currents at lower latitudes. So, you are correct that these currents/fields are detectable, but as with any things else, unless you are looking for it, chances are you will not find it.
DarkWingDuck
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 23, 2012
I have to disagree. NASA attributed increased CO2 as a 20% influence to the collapse of the Thermosphere through hyper colling effects (i.e. it increased the normal rate of oscillation of the collapse/expansion cycle). It's actually caused by the increase in pressure for the negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation due to the reversal in the full collapse of the thermsosphere in 2009. The few decades prior exhibited a pressure for the postive of the AO driving warmer temps heading from mid latitudes toward the poles, thus melting the actic more than usual.

Now, it's reversing and driving higher pressure at the poles causing the harsh winters. On the upside, we are likely to get a slowing of ice melt. We're already seeing cooler ocean temps as expected.

DarkWingDuck
1 / 5 (2) Aug 23, 2012
I have to disagree. NASA attributed increased CO2 as a 20% influence to the collapse of the Thermosphere through hyper colling effects (i.e. it increased the normal rate of oscillation of the collapse/expansion cycle).

In additon of that collapse of the thermosphere, the collapse forced enough water from the atmosphere to account for 1/8 of the total rise in ocean levels over the last couple of decades. Now with the reverse, it'll want to absorb and replace that water as we are seeing already 3 years into the new cycle. This was about 100 year cycle and thus adds up when they say this is the worst drought we've had in 100 years.....
DarkWingDuck
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 23, 2012
anti, not all Europeans support AGW.

"The study, conducted by researchers at Johannes Gutenberg and the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich, Switzerland,

Read more at: http://phys.org/n...tml#jCp"

If they accept CO2 as a "factor" or "multiplier" as I do, then they have to admit that there is some degree of AGW. However, I feel too much weight is on CO2 given it can and has been measured in the lab and thus the appropriate weight for cooling and feedback should be able to be applied and not "assigned" as a fudge factor. Instead, they should look for how their equations fail such as reaveal from the NASA SORCE Satellite data (BIG WHAMMIE) and the collapse of the thermophers and it's affect of the arctic oscillations.
borc
not rated yet Aug 24, 2012
Here in 50 min 55 seconds NASA will launch 2 RBSP spaceships into space to explore the radiation belts around earth. Their readings will explain more specifically how solar weather affects earths radiation belts, primarily for space explorers, but also how this space weather affects everything from satellites to power grids. I expect once the data starts to flow that we might get some more empirical statistical accuracy in the degree of linkage between space weather and global climate/weather. Can't wait! I love science.
borc
5 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2012
And on that note, I'd like to emphasize in my previous comment "in the degree of linkage between space weather and global climate/weather."... The key here is DEGREE OF LINKAGE. Which is what the OP is about. Original question: is there a correlation between solar cycles and the Rhine freezing? Answer: statistically: yes. The question was NOT: Does the solar cycle determine global climate? No scientist in their right mind would claim the solar activity does not have an affect on the planet. The question is HOW MUCH and in what way, for how long (etc). This study is not about AGW. This study is not [directly] about GLOBAL climate. (T- 43 min!)
Vendicar_Decarian
2.6 / 5 (5) Aug 24, 2012
Correct.

"Everyone with any sense knows that human activities control climate change." - RodTard
Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (3) Aug 24, 2012
You are childishly conflating local weather and global climate.

Don't you know the difference?

"Clearly if it causes cooling in one area, which in turn changes the weather in another area.." - CantThink85
Vendicar_Decarian
2.6 / 5 (5) Aug 24, 2012
The subtext of this article is that the REGIONAL cooling in Germany seen with a reduction in sunspots is a model for the REGIONAL cooling seen in the Little Ice Age that is associated with a comparatively long term reduction in sunspot numbers.
Vendicar_Decarian
3 / 5 (8) Aug 24, 2012
Yet there is virtually no evidence to support your assertion.

"It's the Sun stupid!" - CantThink85

Maybe you also believe in UFO's, Bigfoot and the nonsense found in the Christian bible.
Vendicar_Decarian
2.6 / 5 (5) Aug 24, 2012
Not all intellectual inferiors are Global Warming denialists.

"not all Europeans support AGW." - RyggTard
rubberman
5 / 5 (2) Aug 24, 2012
@Duck - When you say the collapse of the thermosphere, what are you implying has taken place? In the thermosphere the gases are ionized and they stratify into layers based on atomic weight...I am having trouble envisioning their "collapse".
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) Aug 24, 2012
I sometimes wonder whether those who deny global warming also deny that humans have affected the ozone layer (and if they don't: why the deny the one and affirm the other)
R2Bacca
4.1 / 5 (9) Aug 24, 2012
Vendicar -

I don't disagree with a lot of the factual information that you post. However, can you do us all a favor and knock it off with the insults and name calling already? It takes away from your point and quite frankly, it's childish.

Sincerely,
Everyone who reads PhysOrg
packrat
1 / 5 (2) Aug 26, 2012
"Climate is not ruled by one variable," said Sirocko. "In fact, it has [at least] five or six variables. Carbon dioxide is certainly one, but solar activity is also one."

I would think it would be more like 5-6000 variables at least....
jamesrm
3 / 5 (2) Aug 26, 2012
"I sometimes wonder whether those who deny global warming also deny that humans have affected the ozone layer"

Fauxlord Monckton loves to blame whomever his paymasters point to, volcanoes don't seem to have the money to pay for this whores mouth.

Monckton claims volcanoes emit CFCs
http://scienceblo...es-emit/

http://www.guardi...se-lords
"The House of Lords has taken the unprecedented step of publishing a "cease and desist" letter on its website demanding that Lord Christopher Monckton, a prominent climate sceptic and the UK Independence party's head of research, should stop claiming to be a member of the upper house."

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