Nature has a poser of a paper in this week's issue. It's like discovering that when one's strips the ice from the Arctic, the polar bears actually LOVE it. The gist is that when three researchers at Imperial College London and one at the University of Colorado, each an esteemed place in the climate change game, went to document the cooling effect on Earth's surface rendered by the recent low in solar output (and in sunspots and storms), their presumptions hit a brick wall. Data said the result was the opposite. The London team leader told the UK Guardian's Damian Carrington, "When I first saw the results I thought we had done the calculations wrong." At least, I think she told Carrington that directly - I do know that I don't notice that quote anywhere else. It is not in the ICL press release (see Grist). Many other articles in the British daily press use only the somewhat stiff quotes provided in the release.
One must note that the study covers just three recent years. Confounding as the results are, the study's authors fall all over themselves, via the press release statements, declaring two important caveats. First, three years is not enough to nail down the effect of solar activity on Earth temperature. One thinks of, for instance but they don't mention, the documented cool weather that transpired centuries ago during a period, known as the Maunder Minimum, when sunspots were near-absent and implicitly solar activity was low. That would agreeably say, as intuition suggests, that a dimmer sun makes a cooler Earth. Second, they say that no matter which way the effect goes, their data imply the envelope of solar variability is too small to have more than about ten percent the impact on temperature forcings than that caused by CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
Unless reporters get other sources to back up a different conclusion, then one might expect stories to regard this development as curious, but not of much impact on the overall science of climate change. Check the headlines in the roundup - this news is getting interpreted on the big stage in more than one, politically-charged direction. Today, in another post, I link to a Guardian story suggesting that contemporary daily science journalism tends to induce the collective production of essentially identical stories. This bunch is a counter-example. Some samples suggest scientists have thus underestimated the severity of greenhouse forcing, others prefer the idea that this just shows scientists collectively don't know what they're talking about, and other variations.
One must say this news is not easy to explain even without this conundrum implying that maybe a hotter sun = cooler Earth surface. It has do do, at heart, with the varying partition of power delivery to different layers of the atmosphere as things change. As it is, I can follow the logic each time I read it, but then promptly forget why it is that the greenhouse effect may warm Earth's surface but it chills the stratosphere. Now along comes this new switcheroo.
- Register - Lewis Page: Much of recent global warming actually caused by Sun ; Amidst his bofffins and boffinry refs, usually a mask at the Register for some fairly sharp reporting, Page fails to back up the sensational hed and lede. In fact, as one goes along, the story accurately notes the authors' feeling their work is interesting, maybe important, but not yet conclusive of anything. It's impossible to find in his story backing for his assertion on top that the work "downplays the influence of human-driven carbon emission" to a degree worth enunciating with emphatic tone.
- Independent (UK) Steve Connor: Ozone study dims Sun's global warming role ; Not bad at all. Connor bravely dives into the complex atmospheric chemical, dynamic, and radiative reactions to solar input and spectral shifts. At least, a reader might get the sense that such things occur, but there's not enough here to leave a feeling of understanding them. More important is his upshot remark: "..the findings do not undermine theidea that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the main cause of global warming..."
- Vancouver Sun - Richard Alleyne : Stronger Sun makes Earth cool, not hot: Experts ; Alleyne actually works at the UK's Telegraph, but it's more fun to link to the version in a paper called The Sun. Other than the excess confidence implied by the hed that this case is made, it's a decent, short job. It says climate science is complicated but, overall, this study provides more comfort to the scientific mainstream worriers than to the skeptics who say mankind is not moving the thermostat enough to mean squat. (direct Telegraph link here).
- Financial Times - Fiona Harvey: Sun throws new light on global warming ;
- CBC (Canada): Sun's role in global warming questioned ;
- Nature.com - Quirin Schiermeier: Declining solar activity linked to recent warming / The Sun may have caused as much warming as carbon dioxide over three years ; Solid job, which is exactly what one hopes and expects to get from the journal's own in-house journalists.
- Reuters - Gerard Wynn: Satellite data sheds new light on solar cycle ; Really, sheds light? It should say shed, plural form, but that's not the point and neither is the cliche of shedding light. This is kind of like the F.Times hed three bullets up - no hint of meaning. The story's solid, marching through the main points with a couple of asides to note specific weather lately.
- Carrentals.co - Hannah Westfield: Solar Activity Linked to Recent Rising Temperatures ; I've been noticing this Carrentals outlet popping up on news search routines recently. Usually ignore it. It's in the UK. I've no idea how it works or whether Ms. Westfield is a paid or unpaid blogger or what. But it is a car hire rating agency, and does run science items regularly. This particular one is written a bit cheekily, not badly but apparently entirely off press release. Still, it's an odd outlet to find carrying science reporting, and while not outstanding in this instance, it is science journalism. Times are changing.
- Discovery News - John Cox: WHEN THE SUN HEATS UP, EARTH...COOLS? ; My question exactly. A skilled weather writer, Cox (who was, for several years, a back up vacation replacement tracker at this site) tackles this just right. We have a puzzle, it's answer is not yet in, the data should spark no grandiose pronouncements on general climate change theory or policy, but it might be very important and at the least is a puzzle of the first water. Then he stops. Short piece, right on. I filched the picture he used, too, up top right.
- Space.com - Denise Chow: Sun's Surprise: Even As It Relaxes, It May Heat Earth's Climate ;
- BBC - Richard Black: Solar Surprise for Climate Issue ; Longer than most, ergo more complete, and sporting considerable outside opinion.
- National Geographic - Ker Than: Sun's Impact on Climate Change Overestimated ;
- Charlie Petit