Cosmic meddling with the clouds by seven-day magic

Aug 01, 2009

Billions of tonnes of water droplets vanish from the atmosphere, as if by magic, in events that reveal in detail how the Sun and the stars control our everyday clouds. Researchers of the National Space Institute in the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) have traced the consequences of eruptions on the Sun that screen the Earth from some of the cosmic rays - the energetic particles raining down on our planet from exploded stars.

"The Sun makes fantastic natural experiments that allow us to test our ideas about its effects on the climate," says Prof. Henrik Svensmark, lead author of a report newly published in Geophysical Research Letters. When solar explosions interfere with the cosmic rays there is a temporary shortage of small aerosols, chemical specks in the air that normally grow until water vapour can condense on them, so seeding the liquid water droplets of low-level clouds. Because of the shortage, clouds over the ocean can lose as much as 7 per cent of their liquid water within seven or eight days of the cosmic-ray minimum.

"A link between the Sun, cosmic rays, aerosols, and liquid-water clouds appears to exist on a global scale," the report concludes. This research, to which Torsten Bondo and Jacob Svensmark contributed, validates 13 years of discoveries that point to a key role for cosmic rays in . In particular, it connects observable variations in the world's cloudiness to laboratory experiments in Copenhagen showing how cosmic rays help to make the all-important aerosols.

Other investigators have reported difficulty in finding significant effects of the solar eruptions on clouds, and Henrik Svensmark understands their problem. "It's like trying to see tigers hidden in the jungle, because clouds change a lot from day to day whatever the cosmic rays are doing," he says. The first task for a successful hunt was to work out when "tigers" were most likely to show themselves, by identifying the most promising instances of sudden drops in the count of cosmic rays, called Forbush decreases. Previous research in Copenhagen predicted that the effects should be most notice-able in the lowest 3000 metres of the atmosphere. The team identified 26 Forbush decreases since 1987 that caused the biggest reductions in cosmic rays at low altitudes, and set about looking for the consequences.

Forgetting to sow the seeds

The first global impact of the shortage of cosmic rays is a subtle change in the colour of sunlight, as seen by ground stations of the aerosol robotic network AERONET. By analysing its records during and after the reductions in cosmic rays, the DTU team found that violet light from the Sun looked brighter than usual. A shortage of small aerosols, which normally scatter violet light as it passes through the air, was the most likely reason. The colour change was greatest about five days after the minimum counts of cosmic rays.

Why the delay? Henrik Svensmark and his team were not surprised by it, because the immediate ac-tion of cosmic rays, seen in laboratory experiments, creates micro-clusters of sulphuric acid and water molecules that are too small to affect the AERONET observations. Only when they have spent a few days growing in size should they begin to show up, or else be noticeable by their absence. The evidence from the aftermath of the Forbush decreases, as scrutinized by the Danish team, gives aerosol experts valuable information about the formation and fate of small aerosols in the Earth's atmosphere.

Although capable of affecting sunlight after five days, the growing aerosols would not yet be large enough to collect . The full impact on clouds only becomes evident two or three days later. It takes the form of a loss of low-altitude clouds, because of the earlier loss of small aerosols that would normally have grown into "cloud condensation nuclei" capable of seeding the clouds. "Then it's like noticing bare patches in a field, where a farmer forgot to sow the seeds," Svensmark explains. "Three independent sets of satellite observations all tell a similar story of clouds disappearing, about a week after the minimum of cosmic rays."

Huge effects on cloudiness

Averaging satellite data on the liquid-water content of clouds over the oceans, for the five strongest Forbush decreases from 2001 to 2005, the DTU team found a 7 per cent decrease, as mentioned earlier. That translates into 3 billion tonnes of liquid water vanishing from the sky. The water remains the-re in vapour form, but unlike cloud droplets it does not get in the way of sunlight trying to warm the ocean. After the same five Forbush decreases, satellites measuring the extent of liquid-water clouds revealed an average reduction of 4 per cent. Other satellites showed a similar 5 per cent reduction in clouds below 3200 metres over the ocean.

"The effect of the solar explosions on the Earth's cloudiness is huge," Henrik Svensmark comments. "A loss of clouds of 4 or 5 per cent may not sound very much, but it briefly increases the sunlight rea-ching the oceans by about 2 watt per square metre, and that's equivalent to all the global warming dur-ing the 20th Century."

The Forbush decreases are too short-lived to have a lasting effect on the climate, but they dramatize the mechanism that works more patiently during the 11-year solar cycle. When the Sun becomes more active, the decline in low-altitude cosmic radiation is greater than that seen in most Forbush events, and the loss of low cloud cover persists for long enough to warm the world. That explains, according to the DTU team, the alternations of warming and cooling seen in the lower atmosphere and in the oceans during solar cycles.

The director of the Danish National Space Institute, DTU, Eigil Friis-Christensen, was co-author with Svensmark of an early report on the effect of cosmic rays on cloud cover, back in 1996. Commenting on the latest paper he says, "The evidence has piled up, first for the link between and low-level clouds and then, by experiment and observation, for the mechanism involving aerosols. All these consistent scientific results illustrate that the current climate models used to predict future climate are lacking important parts of the physics".

More information: The full reference to the new paper is: Henrik Svensmark, Torsten Bondo, and Jacob Svensmark, "Cosmic ray decreases affect atmospheric and ," , doi:10.1029/2009GL038429, Vol. 36, L15101, 2009.

Provided by Technical University of Denmark (news : web)

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User comments : 9

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3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 01, 2009
I hope this work stands up to further scrutiny. It opens a can of worms...

Okay, now gotta back-cast for link between 'perverse' storm tracks and solar activity...
2.2 / 5 (10) Aug 02, 2009

Thank you, Henrik, for having the courage to speak out.

Earth moves through the outer layer of the Sun - the heliosphere - and is intimately linked to this heat source. It is no coincidence that our four seasons follow the cyclic pattern of Earth's annual journey around the Sun.

Earth and the Sun are mistakenly perceived as separate entities because visible light from the photosphere - two solar layers deeper - produces the illusion of a solar surface between the Earth and the Sun.

The core of the Sun is a compact, highly energetic neutron star, but the outer part that we see is Hydrogen (91%) and Helium (9%) - the two most lightweight elements!

Al Gore and the UN's IPCC consensus climatologists have only a superficial, childish grasp of the Sun - even less comprehensive than that of a child who knows that the red peel of an apple is no assurance that the interior of the apple is red!

Between the Sun's fluid photosphere of lightweight elements (H and He) and the compact core of highly energized neutrons are rigid iron-rich structures that open to release the solar flare material shown in this video recording of images that the TRACE satellite caught of a solar flare event:

I am grateful to Professor Henrik Svensmark and to Technical University of Denmark for having the courage to challenge the fear-mongering tactics of those promoting anthropological global warming.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
1 / 5 (1) Aug 02, 2009
Posted a comment to Nik 2213 ... Was my post received,
or did the Cyberspace "Eat My Homework"?
Roy Stewart,
Phoenix AZ
3 / 5 (3) Aug 02, 2009
If the ionospheric layers of the atmosphere were depleted of electrons they might affect lower layers by lowering the amount of energy available to ionize the atmosphere and nucleate raindrops.

In the early years of the twentieth century Tesla floated the idea of discharging the ionosphere with giant ultraviolet beacons. The military has a patent on using laser beams to accomplish the same goal. On first approximation it looks like it might be possible to lower rainfall in hurricane alley in the gulf waters, and prevent another new Orleans disaster.
3 / 5 (2) Aug 03, 2009
While evidence for CR interactions with low altitude clouds seems to be gaining momentum, independent confirmation of this particular hypothesis would be most welcome. As for Tesla's proposition for discharging the ionosphere with giant UV beacons, wouldn't this effect be observed in high altitude atmospheric detonations of atomic/nuclear weapons in the 60's ? I realize that the atmospheric tests only involved relatively short periods of UV (and x-ray and gamma-ray) exposure, might some effect in support of this hypothesis be possible? Obviously, this has become a hot topic (pun intended) among astrophysicists and climatologists, and for good reason. The implication , if proven, would certainly affect current models of the Earth's climate.
2.5 / 5 (2) Aug 04, 2009
Actually I doubt this work will have any very significant effect on present model predictions. All models presently accunt for an 11 year cycle of greater and lesser input to earth's climate from the sun. This research simply proposes a variation in the mechanism.
not rated yet Aug 04, 2009
The Day After Tomorrow involved the sudden condensation of suspended vapour triggered by an incremental decrease in ocean salinty and temperature. Are we looking at a mechanism that suspends more water vapour in the atmosphere than previously modelled?

Oliver ... easy. Breath first. Make us all happy that you were right ;-)
2.5 / 5 (2) Aug 05, 2009
SEE: "THE SUN KINGS: . . . . " by Stuart Clark

Oliver ... easy. Breath first. Make us all happy that you were right ;-)

Thanks Ray Cherry.

The historical record of the close link between the stormy Sun and events on planet Earth is unambiguous - very clear.

See: "The Sun Kings: The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began" by
Stuart Clark, 211 pages (Princeton University Press, 2007). or

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
not rated yet Aug 19, 2009
A seemingly contradictory study at
differed from this method in that the Danes studied only the STRONGEST Forbush events, while the other study included ALL such events. Not surprisingly, the earlier study found no significant correlations. Conclusion appears to be that very strong solar events DO have a perceptible impact on cloud formation, but average events do not.