Shock! It’s the sun!

Well, here is the shocking news. Further support has been found for Henrik Svensmark’s thesis that cloud formation is influenced by the big glowing hot thing in the sky and cosmic rays. The video below explains:

This from Nature News:

The number of cosmic rays that reach Earth depends on the Sun. When the Sun is emitting lots of radiation, its magnetic field shields the planet from cosmic rays. During periods of low solar activity, more cosmic rays reach Earth.

Scientists agree on these basic facts, but there is far less agreement on whether cosmic rays can have a large role in cloud formation and climate change. Since the late 1990s, some have suggested that when high solar activity lowers levels of cosmic rays, that in turn reduces cloud cover and warms the planet. Others say that there is no statistical evidence for such an effect.

Understanding of cloud formation is, of course, one of the keys to understanding the earth’s climate. CERN have devised the so-called CLOUD (Cosmics Leaving Outdoor Droplets) experiment to test whether cosmic rays might influence cloud formation (see the Economist article here for another  video that explains the principles). The initial results have proven to be very supportive of Henrik’s thesis:

Early results seem to indicate that cosmic rays do cause a change. The high-energy protons seemed to enhance the production of nanometre-sized particles from the gaseous atmosphere by more than a factor of ten. But, Kirkby adds, those particles are far too small to serve as seeds for clouds. “At the moment, it actually says nothing about a possible cosmic-ray effect on clouds and climate, but it’s a very important first step,” he says.

Scientists on both sides of the debate welcome the findings, although they draw differing conclusions. “Of course there are many things to explore, but I think the cosmic-ray/cloud-seeding hypothesis is converging with reality,” says Henrik Svensmark, a physicist at the Technical University of Denmark in Copenhagen, who claims a link between climate change and cosmic rays.

Despite findings that are supportive of Henrik’s thesis, it will come as no surprise to find that ‘warmist’ scientists and publications are already seeking to minimise the findings. For example, the New Scientist leads with the extraordinary headline of ‘Cloud-Making: Another human effect on the climate’, which is just odd. The article suggests that:

Some physicists think galactic cosmic rays – high-energy particles originating from faraway stars – might affect cloud formation. To test their effect on aerosol nucleation, Kirkby’s team fired beams similar to cosmic rays through the chamber and found it increased nucleation between 2 and 10 times. But he points out that an increase in 1 nanometre particles does not necessarily translate into the 50 nanometre CCNs needed for cloud formation.

Other evidence shows that even if cosmic rays do affect the climate, the effect must be small. Changes in the number of cosmic rays hitting the atmosphere due to changes in solar activity cannot explain global warming, as average cosmic ray intensities have been increasing since 1985 even as the world has warmed – the opposite of what should happen if cosmic rays produce climate-cooling clouds.

It will also come as no surprise to see that the BBC seeks to minimise the story, and the potential impact upon climate science, as in the following:

Some climate change “sceptics” claim that this process, rather than the burning of fossil fuels, can explain much of the Earth’s recent rise in temperature.

Climate scientists point out that there is evidence to show that the sustained rise in global temperatures over the past 15 years cannot be explained by cosmic ray activity. They also point to a vast body of research pointing to rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels to be the cause. According to Professor Lockwood, it is very unlikely that variations in cosmic rays have played a significant role in recent warming.

“The result that will get climate change sceptics excited is that they have found that through the influence of sulphuric acid, ionisation can enhance the rate of water droplet growth. Does this mean that cosmic rays can produce cloud? No,” he told BBC News.

On the other hand,  an article in Forbes seems to grasp and accept the implications of the research:

About a month ago, before the study results had been made public, the skeptic camp experienced a “dog that didn’t bark” moment when the director of CERN asked that his scientists (incredibly) refrain from drawing any public conclusions from the study, saying “I have asked the colleagues to present the results clearly, but not to interpret them.”   Skeptics, including me, guessed that this meant the data was tending to support the Svensmark hypothesis.  After all, the climate community has no problem drawing alarmist conclusions from the thinnest of data.  Every climate scientist seems to have his or her own full-time PR agent.  If they were explicitly avoiding public comment, and in fact telling scientists to effectively not do their job and draw no conclusions from the data, then the results must be threatening to the mainstream global warming community.

And indeed they appear to be just that. In a paper to be released today in Nature, the data tells a clear story.  Scientists found that when shielding was removed and natural cosmic rays allowed to hit the chamber, cloud seeding increased dramatically, and it increased substantially again when additional artificial cosmic rays were added.  Svensmark appears to have gotten it right.

But let’s be careful.  We are basically now in the exact same place with Svensmark that we are with CO2 greenhouse warming.  We know the relevant effects exist in a lab, and are fairly certain they exist in nature, but we are uncertain how sensitive the actual climate is to these effects.  We skeptics criticize alarmists for exaggerating feedbacks and real-world sensitivities to CO2.  We should avoid the same mistake.

But for now, I am going to forget about the climate debate for a moment and just experience the joy that comes from finding out something new and surprising about how the world works.  Here’s to unknown men who come up with crazy, counter-intuitive notions at the faculty lunch table … and turn out to be right.

As you may notice from the Forbes story, the findings from the CLOUD experiment, as well as being very interesting in their own right, also point to the problematic politicisation of climate science. It is perfectly normal for scientists to draw conclusions from a study, even if they are labelled as tentative, or needing further research. Had the research worked against Henrik’s thesis, would such a request for no conclusions to be drawn have been made? I think that it is highly unlikely. However, as the National Post reports, the leader of the project had already been ‘bitten’ once:

Jasper Kirkby is a superb scientist, but he has been a lousy politician. In 1998, anticipating he’d be leading a path-breaking experiment into the sun’s role in global warming, he made the mistake of stating that the sun and cosmic rays “will probably be able to account for somewhere between a half and the whole of the increase in the Earth’s temperature that we have seen in the last century.” Global warming, he theorized, may be part of a natural cycle in the Earth’s temperature.

Dr. Kirkby was immediately condemned by climate scientists for minimizing the role of human beings in global warming. Stories in the media disparaged Dr. Kirkby by citing scientists who feared oil-industry lobbyists would use his statements to discredit the greenhouse effect. And the funding approval for Dr. Kirkby’s path-breaking experiment — seemingly a sure thing when he first announced his proposal– was put on ice.

Dr. Kirkby was stunned, and not just because the experiment he was about to run had support within his scientific institute, and was widely expected to have profound significance. Dr. Kirkby was also stunned because his institute is CERN, and science performed at CERN had never before seemed so vulnerable to whims of government funders.

You may note the diplomatic way in which Dr. Kirkby deals with this in the video at the top of the page. Bearing in mind that cloud formation is one of the most important elements in understanding the climate, it seems extraordinary that this research was not supported from the outset. However, in a ‘win’ for science, we now have a better understanding of this critical topic, and one which presents some challenges to the anthropogenic global warming thesis. However, as the article in Forbes points out, the findings are not of themselves enough to discredit man-made global warming, albeit that they are very supportive of Henrik’s thesis, and the findings are therefore a major step forwards for those that question the man-made global warming thesis.

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