Where Astrophysics meets Climate Science

– Astrophysicists have succeeded in decoding Solar activity and the results show that  climate scientists have some questions to answer.

There is an interesting collision about to take place between astrophysics and climate science. This will probably happen in 2020.  It follows advances in the knowledge of how the Sun works made between 2012 and 2017. In a nutshell this is it:

  • It has been demonstrated that Solar magnetic energy is responsible for sunspots.
  • Solar magnetic energy/sunspot variations are shown to correlate very well to temperature variations over the past 3,000 years accounting for all major warming and cooling events.
  • The Sun has now been ‘decoded’ and formulae produced which show variations in Solar energy over time, both in the past and the future. The nature of the variability means that variations can occur sharply – within a few years.
  • The recent solar maximum which ended in 2015 would have produced ‘Global Warming’ without man’s help.
  • Looking forwards  three different solar cycles shortly coincide to produce a Global minimum between 2020 and 2053. This last occurred between 1645 and 1715 – a longer period than this one – and was part of the little Ice Age.
  • Climate Science takes no account of Solar magnetic energy in its forecasts and modelling, Solar magnetic energy is held to be the prime influence on the Earth’s temperature.
  • Aware that their findings might prove to be possibly contentious in the current political climate, having fully published all their work, the authors of it are waiting the short period till 2020 to see it justified.

Astrophysics may be a difficult subject for the layman to understand, but what Professor Zharkova and her associates have discovered is remarkable. (Professor Valentina Zharkova Ukrainian born professor of Mathematics at  Northumbria University)

The only mistake she made was to publish too early – which was ironic as the paper was all about solar timing. But when you have made an earth shattering discovery the temptation to publish when 70% of the data points unequivocally in the right direction must be extreme. However it enables your professional opponents, your so called colleagues to  post withering critiques as, of course, your discovery means that the work they have been engaged on, perhaps for decades is no longer valid and you may win the  prize not they. It doesn’t help that you are a woman – as is your chief  collaborator and the world of astrophysics is presumably as sexist as any other science discipline.

When Zharkova published her work on the workings of the Sun in 2015 she was met with a large dose of cynicism. She had postulated a theory that the inner workings of the Sun were more complicated than previously assumed and had had her theory validated from solar magnetic observations by the Chinese in 2013. Working with her collaborator Elena Popova she had then produced the mathematics behind the variations in the level of sunspots, which have a sort of elegance to them, and then published the results covering the past 1200 years which showed a remarkable correlation with climatic events over that time.

Some of her fellow astrophysicists (who had competitive theories) were less than impressed.  Usoskin for example found lots of holes in the results and said the work needed 400 years of validation before it  could be verified. Her results had missed some solar minima and others were mistimed.

Her findings were received by the Climate Change community a bit like Galileo’s controversial round Earth theory was by the Roman inquisition and to extend the metaphor it was if Galileo had, for example, omitted comets from his solar system and told therefore that his entire theory was rubbish.

Zharkova continued her work on the remaining 30% of data and discovered a third, minor, source of solar variation and in 2017 published results with what now seems to be almost perfect accuracy.

The science behind this is complicated – it is astrophysics after all, but a hopefully simple explanation is as follows:

It has long been known that the Sun produces a huge amount of magnetic energy and a varying number   of sunspots at different times, also that there was a solar cycle of about 22 years. Sunspots are caused by magnetic energy from the suns internal magnetic fields shearing and swirling caused by the Sun’s rotation disrupting the flux in the solar dynamos. This causes energy to escape as sunspots. Zharkova has in fact identified three dynamos, two dipoles accounting for the 2015  calculations and a third quadrupole toroidal component in 2017 which is included in her latest work.

These dynamos each have different periods  – the time taken to complete a complete cycle of distortions. These periods are very close at 21.41 and 22.62 years for the dipoles and 27.24 years for the quadrupole. At certain times the dynamos working together produce a large number of Sunspots, at others none at all and all phases in between. Zharkova and Popova’s very clever maths provide the formulae which describes this against time. This is not a model using statistical techniques to forecast future behaviour, but the dynamo function formula of the Sun, which has a very constant rhythm.

A good fuller explanation is given by Stephanie Osborn http://tinyurl.com/yyj65c9t All Zharkova’s work is freely available, for example, at Researchgate.net. Her dispute with Usoskin is worth reading as a glorious example of an academic hissy-fit and response.

The formulae have now been run back over 3000 years and shown an extraordinarily consistent correlation between major temperature variations in that time, including the Roman Warm Period, the mediaeval Warm period, and the various cold periods, including the little Ice Age when the Thames froze over. Interestingly it also identifies the Modern Warm period as a period of high solar activity which ended in 2015.

In fact the revised formulae answer all  Usoskin’s complaints except one, the Spörer minimum, and Zharkova has presented a convincing alternative explanation of this which raises interesting questions for climate scientists. The Spörer minimum, a period of low temperatures from 1460-1550 was caused by a Supernova (Vella Junior) in the Southern hemisphere emitting a large amount of Cosmic Rays which cooled the atmosphere. Cosmic rays are always present from background radiation and provide a cooling influence on the atmosphere.

Zharkova postulates that there are two ways, other than solar irradiation which is more or less constant (although subject to minor, though measurable, variations), the Sun influences the Earth’s temperature:

  • by waves in the Ultra Violet Spectrum which  heat the upper layers of the atmosphere and whose energy is directly proportional to Solar Magnetic energy as produced by Sunspots.
  • by the blocking of Cosmic Rays by Solar Magnetic energy as produced by Sunspots.

Since 2015 the upper layers of the atmosphere have cooled and the amount of Cosmic rays have increased. The only forward forecast so far from Zharkova’s formulae has been for Sunspot activity in Solar cycle 24 when her prediction was one of only two that were accurate out of a field of about 150 sunspot modellers. (Zharkova’s formula is the only one which is accurate for more than two solar cycles.)

This poses some serious questions for climate scientists:

  • What is their response to the predicted solar minimum 2020-2053 ? The IPCC predicts temperature rises of about 2º C during that period. A solar minimum would assume a considerable fall in temperature.
  • Rays in the UV spectrum vary with sunspot activity. UV Rays affect the temperature of the upper layers of the atmosphere. Presumably the upper layers of the atmosphere connect in some way to lower layers. How does Climate Science deal with this?
  • The Spörer minimum was caused by Cosmic Rays lowering the Earth’s temperature. Variations in Cosmic Ray numbers are inversely proportional to Sunspot activity. How does climate science deal with this ?

Assuming that Zharkova is correct, what next? Her work is not complete, there appears to be no serious funding for it. There may be modifications to it, but these are very unlikely to make any difference other than to perhaps vary the dates of the next solar minimum slightly. It may be that the cold snap in North America last winter was a precursor of solar minimum, or may have been just weather. A sensible government would verify her results, but sensible governments seem to be in short supply.  She seems to have a shortage of computing power (running a 1000 year sequence apparently takes several weeks on a Desktop PC) the Met Office (Hadley Centre of  UK Climate Research) could probably run them in seconds. Perhaps they are already in touch.

This is not to deny man has had an effect on the atmosphere, nor that CO has increased but is to say the effects on Climate are probably much less have been thought. A major difficulty is what has been described as Groupthink which seems to prevent rational individuals from having a different opinion from the majority view.

Politics and Climate Science have always sat uneasily together, there are some who see it as a post modernist conspiracy to gain popular control and redistribute world income. One of the founders of the movement was Maurice Strong, a Canadian multi millionaire, who believed strongly that the UN should be a World governing body, financed the early part of the Climate Change movement and who led the Rio Earth summit.  He was later able to ‘hole up’ in China after apparently illegal involvement in the Iraq oil for food programme.

It is difficult to know where the science ends and politics begin. The BBC, for example, has briefed staff on the editorial position on Climate Change Science. It says “Climate change IS happening” and calls people who disagree ‘deniers’. This is the science end of the argument. Later in the briefing it says that part of the Paris Agreement is ‘for  rich countries to help poorer nations by providing “climate finance” to adapt to climate change.’  Redistribution of resources is politics.

The EU was an early adopter of Climate change and gained control of all climate related activity and has used it with zeal on behalf of member states. These include Building Regulations, Car emissions and  ‘Green’ energy and COtargets. These led to UK building regulations which prevented the government imposing mandatory regulations on fire risks on Tower Block cladding, and Car emissions regulations so severe that German manufacturers could not meet them without deceit.

Again assuming Zharkova is correct a Solar Minimum may not necessarily be disastrous.  Although it seems that the Northern hemisphere will suffer, especially with cold winters, Africa, for example, may well thrive with lower temperatures and more rainfall. Climate Science could help in predicting this. This means the  migration forecast being facilitated by the Marrakesh declaration, would not be necessary and may even be reversed. Predicted climate change was a key part in the efforts of moving populations out of vulnerable areas before man made disaster happened.

Once the effects of Solar activity have properly been built into climate modelling there really is scope for future forecasts of the Earth’s climate, all based on science, leaving any political aspects to politicians.

A final note. The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced recently that, presumably “because of climate change”, gas central heating is to be banned for new builds from the mid 2020’s. Treasury forecasts over recent years has been an excellent contra-indicator of events. Wrap up warm!

© Hot Potato 2019

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file – currently unavailable