Solar Activity and Human Activity, Settling Their Environmental Liability. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla PhD)
Pdf available at ResearchGate DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.36702.33606
Once again, scientific matters involving the state of our climate make the news. This time it is about Settling The Environmental Liability of Solar Activity and Human Activity.
‘Mini ice age’ coming in next fifteen years, new model of the sun’s cycle shows. (independent.co.uk) Sunday 12 July 2015.
No, Earth is not heading toward a ‘mini ice age’ (washingtonpost.com) Tuesday 14
This week, warnings of an impending “mini ice age,” set to hit in the 2030s, have been circulating in the media. It’s a story that has caused shivers among the public, but there’s one problem: Climate scientists aren’t buying it.
It’s a dramatic idea, but it isn’t being embraced by many climate scientists, who argue that anthropogenic global warming — brought on by a human outpouring of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere — will far outweigh any climate effects that might be caused by the sun. As far as the solar variations go, “The effect is a drop in the bucket, a barely detectable blip, on the overall warming trajectory we can expect over the next several decades from greenhouse warming,” said Michael Mann, distinguished professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, in an e-mail to The Washington Post.
However, the issue isn’t so simple for Zharkova, who is openly skeptical about the strength of anthropogenic greenhouse gases when compared to the influence of the sun.
On the one hand, Zharkova maintains that her research was not intended to make assumptions about the effects of solar variation on climate — only to lay out predictions about the solar activity itself. “What will happen in the modern Maunder Minimum we do not know yet and can only speculate,” she says. On the other hand, she adds, her gut assumption is that temperatures will drop as they did 370 years ago.
The reason, she says, is her belief that the sun is a bigger influence on earthly climate than the effects of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. “I am not convinced with the arguments of the group promoting global warming of an anthropogenic nature,” Zharkova says, adding that she would need to examine more research before she could take a clear stance on anthropogenic climate change. Given the right evidence, she says she might accept that human-caused climate change is a bigger factor — but her belief for the time being is that changes in solar radiation are likely to have a bigger influence on temperature changes on Earth, not just during times of solar minimum, but throughout history.
However, this belief is in direct contrast with much literature on the topic. Georg Feulner, deputy chair of the Earth system analysis research domain at the Potsdam Institute on Climate Change Research, co-authored a paper in 2011 specifically examining the effect a solar minimum might have on Earth’s climate. His paper, and subsequent related research has concluded that any solar-related temperature drops would be far outweighed by human-caused global warming. In the case of a solar minimum, such as the one predicted by Zharkova and colleagues, “The expected decrease in global temperature would be 0.1°C at most, compared to about 1.3°C warming since pre-industrial times by the year 2030,” Feulner wrote in an e-mail to the Post.
In 2012 a new report issued by the National Research Council (NRC), “The Effects of Solar Variability on Earth’s Climate,” lays out some of the surprisingly complex ways that solar activity can make itself felt on our planet. The blog from Nasa covered this release at science.nasa.gov/science-news and, the full report, “The Effects of Solar Variability on Earth’s Climate”, is available from the National Academies Press at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13519.
Here I present some extracts that I consider relevant:
In the galactic scheme of things, the Sun is a remarkably constant star. While some stars exhibit dramatic pulsations, wildly yo-yoing in size and brightness, and sometimes even exploding, the luminosity of our own sun varies a measly 0.1% over the course of the 11-year solar cycle.
There is, however, a dawning realization among researchers that even these apparently tiny variations can have a significant effect on terrestrial climate.
To make progress, the NRC had to assemble dozens of experts from many fields at a single workshop. The report summarizes their combined efforts to frame the problem in a truly multi-disciplinary context.
Several researchers discussed how changes in the upper atmosphere can trickle down to Earth’s surface. Of particular importance is the sun’s extreme ultraviolet (EUV) radiation, which peaks during the years around solar maximum. Within the relatively narrow band of EUV wavelengths, the sun’s output varies not by a minuscule 0.1%, but by whopping factors of 10 or more. This can strongly affect the chemistry and thermal structure of the upper atmosphere.
Many of the mechanisms proposed at the workshop had a Rube Goldberg-like quality. They relied on multi-step interactions between multiple layers of atmosphere and ocean, some relying on chemistry to get their work done, others leaning on thermodynamics or fluid physics. But just because something is complicated doesn’t mean it’s not real.
In recent years, researchers have considered the possibility that the sun plays a role in global warming. After all, the sun is the main source of heat for our planet. The NRC report suggests, however, that the influence of solar variability is more regional than global. The Pacific region is only one example.
Solar cycle signals presented by some scientists pointed to that not only “top-down” but also “bottom-up” mechanisms involving atmosphere-ocean interactions are required to amplify solar forcing at the surface of the Pacific. However, other scientists defended that “If there is indeed a solar effect on climate, it is manifested by changes in general circulation rather than in a direct temperature signal.”
Hal Maring, a climate scientist at NASA headquarters who has studied the report, notes that “lots of interesting possibilities were suggested by the panelists. However, few, if any, have been quantified to the point that we can definitively assess their impact on climate.” Hardening the possibilities into concrete, physically-complete models is a key challenge for the researchers.
Finally, many participants noted the difficulty in deciphering the sun-climate link from paleoclimate records such as tree rings and ice cores. Variations in Earth’s magnetic field and atmospheric circulation can affect the deposition of radioisotopes far more than actual solar activity.
Ongoing Solar Cycle 24 is the weakest in more than 50 years.
(Updated 23 Sept 2016 12:09 GMT+2. Following image added with the extended PMOD composite TSI )
My point of view
The debate is open and complex. Understanding the sun-climate connection requires a breadth of expertise in fields such as plasma physics, solar activity, atmospheric chemistry and fluid dynamics, energetic particle physics, and even terrestrial history. No single researcher has the full range of knowledge required to solve the problem, neither is my intention or the scope of this post.
And yet, there is a point which has taken my attention in the approach followed in the debate which generated the report “The Effects of Solar Variability on Earth’s Climate”. A point which I believe it is shared by the majority of the community.
It has been claimed that changes in the activity of the Sun can interact with the thermodynamics of the atmosphere by altering the state of the molecules exposed to variations in solar radiation of different wavelengths. However, there is no approach looking at how this influence can be modified (amplified or minimized) by changes in the type and concentration of different molecules in the environment.
When it is compared the effect of past Solar minimum periods in the climate with actual times, there is no consideration on how same variations of solar radiation will encounter major differences in the composition and structure of “compounds” in our environment.
So I feel that there is a gap in the approach applied to define where the focus of attention should be. And here is my input:
- Is the activity of our Sun relevant in the global system of our Planet?
Of course. In simplified terms, the activity of our Sun makes a difference as strong as day and night, literally.
- Does it make the strength of the Solar activity “irrelevant” the impact generated by the activities carried out by human through greenhouse emissions and land transformation?
Of course not. Earth rotates but never stays away from Solar radiation (like a roasting chicken spinning in a barbecue). The mechanisms working in our environment to release the pressure from the constant exposure of Earth to Sun’s radiation is directly dependent on the “configuration” and “composition” of those mechanisms and all the parts interconnected at global scale. Those mechanisms create the cooling system of our Planet that keep us from being roasted by the Sun.
The amount of energy being radiated into the global earth system is more than the system can absorb and there is an excess which is released into space (energy budget). The amount of heat radiated from the atmosphere to the surface (sometimes called “back radiation”) is equivalent to 100 percent of the incoming solar energy. The Earth’s surface responds to the “extra” (on top of direct solar heating) energy by raising its temperature. Even at times of Solar minimum, the amount of radiation reaching Earth’s orbit is more than the system can absorb.
So shortage of quantity of energy from a solar minimum should not be an issue, but quality it might. In the last case, variations in Solar activity could affect the performance of the global system throughout the interaction of wavelengths with the Earth system at molecular level. Accordingly, it seems just logical to think that human activities become relevant since those alter the physical structure and molecular composition of those systems where the cooling mechanisms are in place, Atmosphere, Soil and Oceans.
- Are both factors, “Solar activity” and “Human transformation” exerting forces upon the global system independently one from another?
No. Both are closely interconnected. Solar activity supplies energy into the Earth System. The Earth system manage this energy. Since the actions from human development are transforming the structure and composition of the Earth System, human actions are becoming increasingly attached to the performance of those systems which manage the distribution and impact of that Energy.
How far human transformation really goes?
This is a question which is still under study. However, there are some forms of transformation of the earth system due to human activities which we can see already, and those reach at different levels.
Natural energy flow
One level involves interfering with the natural energy flow which used to be dominated by biological processes. Through millennia photosynthesis has represented the only mechanism in our system absorbing part of the constant energy received from the Sun. This process creates biomass and fixes energy in inert forms through carbon chains. The constant transformation of land use and cover, alteration of water cycles and chemistry of the soil has, in some cases, substituted populations of plants and, in others, just eradicated entire ecosystems. These transformations are inducing an increasing dependence in the performance of biotic systems from human care. Which in turn, it is generating an increasing pressure over wild natural systems since they get affected by the activity created to attend the demands and resources required to keep the performance of those domesticated parts of the ecosystem.
I believe that the implications for the whole ecosystem have to be considered beyond the magnitude that such energy being accumulated by biomass represents in the Energy balance of the system (0.01%). This represents the inability for the only natural mechanism reducing entropy in the system to perform. Apart from losing its functionality in the thermodynamic behaviour of our planet, the absence of active (live) and passive (dead) biomass interact with the chemistry of the soils due to lack of material in decomposition. From there, regeneration of ecosystems, albedo, CO2 management and water cycles. Ultimately, affecting weather and climatic interactions.
But, not only the energy flowing towards natural forms of storage has been disrupted. Simultaneously, the energy previously stored through millions of years in fossil forms is being activated and introduced in the already saturated system.
For Earth’s temperature to be stable over long periods of time, incoming energy and outgoing energy have to be equal. In other words, the energy budget at the top of the atmosphere must balance. This state of balance is called radiative equilibrium.
Surface albedo, the fraction of sunlight reflected off of earth’s surfaces, varies with land cover type. Changes in reflectance resulting from alterations in land cover (for example, from forest to cropland or savanna to grassland) can cause the earth’s temperature to rise or fall, contributing to climate change.
Several factors determine how strongly a particular greenhouse gas will affect the Earth’s climate. One factor is the length of time that the gas remains in the atmosphere. A second factor is each gas’s unique ability to absorb energy. By considering both of these factors, scientists calculate a gas’s global warming potential, as compared to an equivalent mass of carbon dioxide (which is defined by a global warming potential equal to 1).
Many of the major greenhouse gases can remain in the atmosphere for tens to hundreds of years after being released. They become globally mixed in the lower atmosphere, reflecting contributions from emissions sources worldwide.
Because many of the major greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for tens to hundreds of years after being released, their warming effects on the climate persist over a long time and can therefore affect both present and future generations.
Ecosystem effects of increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 will depend on the nutrient status of specific forests. Increased forest production will occur where soils contain adequate nitrogen. In areas where nitrogen is limiting, elevated CO2 levels will not increase the growth of trees — even though photosynthesis may increase. Without sufficient nitrogen, the trees cannot use the additional CO2 for growth. The additional carbon is used by soil organisms and respired to the atmosphere. In addition to contributing to CO2 buildup in the atmosphere such changes in the soil foodweb, which controls nutrient availability for plants, could have long-term effects on ecosystem functioning.
- Which one, Solar Activity or Human activity, drives the climate of our global system?
Energy from our Sun is what fuels our global system. And the state of our system is what it is related with the management of such energy.
So the quantity and quality of this energy are major factors influencing the performance of our environment. And yet, once the energy has arrived into our system, it is the condition of the system handling this energy what dictates its right functionality and performance.
Solar Activity and Human Activity, Settling Their Environmental Liability
If we want to Settle the Environmental Liabilities between Solar Activity and Human Activity, I would say that each element has its own responsibilities. Solar activity can be analysed and make responsible for its variations in Energy Supply. At the same time, human activities are driving the constant transformation of those systems responsible for the Management of the Energy arriving from the Sun. And that can not be denied.
All natural processes interacting with the Earth system, from outside (Solar, tilt, etc) or from inside, are following patterns of oscillations. All of those processes have a pivoting point which they recover after reaching a high or low position. All processes but one. And that it is human transformation, which only moves in one direction, and increasing in magnitude.
When comparing the behaviour of our global ecosystem in time with Paleoclimatic records, I believe that there is not enough emphasis put into contrasting the potential differences in response capabilities against external forces between now and those periods of time as a result of the transformations in composition and structure of the old-to-new natural system.
Most discussions about Solar activity look into identifying the interactions which drive those mechanisms managing our climate. And those might have not changed throughout time. However, identifying the mechanisms will not be enough if we do not identify changes in the performance of those over time. Because that is what it is going to make a difference.
I don’t think that there is any doubt on how human activities are going to have an impact over the system at global scale. It will be a coalescence of micro changes from multiple locations. The only question remaining is when are we going to detect it and how are we going to agree on those symptoms proving it.
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(This post is part of a more complex piece of independent research. I don´t have founding, political agenda or publishing revenues from visits. Any scientist working in disciplines related with the topics that I treat in my blog knows how to judge the contribution that my work could potentially add to the state of knowledge. Since I am in transition looking for a position in research, if you are one of those scientists, by just acknowledging any value you might see from my contribution, would not only make justice to my effort as independent researcher, but ultimately, it will help me to enhance my chances to find a position with resources to further develop my work.
I believe that the hypothesis that I have presented in previous posts in this blog (here,here and here) could help to understand present and possible future scenarios in atmospheric circulation. However, this is an assessment based on observation which needs to be validated throughout open discussion and data gathering. So please feel free to incorporate your thoughts and comments in a constructive manner.
If you feel like sharing this post I would appreciate to have a reference about the place or platform, by private or public message, in order for me to have the opportunity to join the debate and be aware of the repercussion which might generate d.fdezsevilla(at)gmail.com)
For anybody interested in the posts related with this discussion here I leave you those more relevant in chronological order (there are comments bellow some of them. Please check them out):
- New theory proposal to assess possible changes in Atmospheric Circulation (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on October 21, 2014. http://wp.me/p403AM-k3
- Why there is no need for the Polar Vortex to break in order to have a wobbling Jet Stream and polar weather? (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on November 14, 2014. http://wp.me/p403AM-mt
- Gathering data to make visible the invisible (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on December 22, 2014. http://wp.me/p403AM-pN
- State of the Polar Vortex. Broken? From 29 Nov 2014 to 5th Jan 2015 (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla). Posted on November 29, 2014. http://wp.me/p403AM-o7
- Probability in the atmospheric circulation dictating the Weather (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on January 15, 2015. http://wp.me/p403AM-rm
- Meteorological Outlook Feb 2015 (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on February 7, 2015. http://wp.me/p403AM-sU
- Revisiting the theory of “Facing a decrease in the differential gradients of energy in atmospheric circulation” by Diego Fdez-Sevilla. Posted on February 10, 2015. http://wp.me/p403AM-to
- Matching Features Between Land Surface and Atmospheric Circulation (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)April 23, 2015
- Drops of Weather. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)March 7, 2015
- Steering climate´s course (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)March 27, 2015
- Climate. Looking at the forest for the trees (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)April 9, 2015
- Matching Features Between Land Surface and Atmospheric Circulation (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)April 23, 2015
- Domesticating Nature. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)May 7, 2015
- A roller-coaster of temperatures in South Europe. Spain (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) May 14, 2015
- Talking about climate (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) May 12, 2015
- News from an Ecosystem (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) May 20, 2015
- In climate it is becoming Less probable to not have a High probability. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) May 29, 2015
- Drinking from the source (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) June 5, 2015
- Communication takes more than just publishing thoughts. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) June 9, 2015
- Extreme climatic events, implications for projections of species distributions and ecosystem structure (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) June 18, 2015
- The scope of Environmental Science and scientific thought. From Thought-driven to Data-driven, from Critical Thinking to Data Management. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) June 26, 2015
- Atmospheric Circulation and Climate Drift. Are we there yet? (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) July 2, 2015
- Lateral thinking. From Micro to Macro (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) July 4, 2015