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Read the sunspots

Financial Post – June 20, 2007

As those who read this site regularly know, I am firm believer in more research in the sciences of the global climate. It is important to understand, though, that scientists are people and generally have a position to defend or promote.

This particular study is interesting in that it re-confirms other studies that show an approximate 11 year cycle of climate change. This cycle is similar to the solar sunspot cycle however this does not mean that there is a causality here or is this simply a correlation. The author then adds to the argument by referencing another popular theory of cosmic radiation.

My problem in all of this is that the author has progressed from observation of events and the reporting to trying to draw conclusions to fit the observations. Going from mud core analysis to sunspot activity to cosmic ray activity and cloud formation takes a lot of steps. The author should have simply stopped at the correlation to sun spots and let others try to correlate the cosmic rays.

My skepticism though starts at the final paragraphs.  The author references a study by Bray and Storch. This study was non-scientific and many people believe that it was tainted by over-zealous extremism.  To the best of my knowledge, the study was never accepted in a scientific work even though it was published and has been referenced multiple times. There does not seem to be any valid conclusion that can be drawn from the study. Citing this study does nothing to support the original research.

Mr. Patterson may have done very good scientific work but he should have stayed on that safe ground and refrained from quoting non-scientific references as it diminishes his reputation, in my opinion.

Climate stability has never been a feature of planet Earth. The only constant about climate is change; it changes continually and, at times, quite rapidly. Many times in the past, temperatures were far higher than today, and occasionally, temperatures were colder. As recently as 6,000 years ago, it was about 3C warmer than now.


Climate-change research is now literally exploding with new findings. Since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the field has had more research than in all previous years combined and the discoveries are completely shattering the myths.


Using various coring technologies, we have been able to collect more than 5,000 years’ worth of mud in these basins, with the oldest layers coming from a depth of about 11 meters below the fjord floor.


Using computers to conduct what is referred to as a “time series analysis” on the coloration and thickness of the annual layers, we have discovered repeated cycles in marine productivity in this, a region larger than Europe. Specifically, we find a very strong and consistent 11-year cycle throughout the whole record in the sediments and diatom remains. This correlates closely to the well-known 11-year “Schwabe” sunspot cycle, during which the output of the sun varies by about 0.1%


Our finding of a direct correlation between variations in the brightness of the sun and earthly climate indicators (called “proxies”) is not unique. Hundreds of other studies, using proxies from tree rings in Russia’s Kola Peninsula to water levels of the Nile, show exactly the same thing: The sun appears to drive climate change.


However, there was a problem. Despite this clear and repeated correlation, the measured variations in incoming solar energy were, on their own, not sufficient to cause the climate changes we have observed in our proxies. In addition, even though the sun is brighter now than at any time in the past 8,000 years, the increase in direct solar input is not calculated to be sufficient to cause the past century’s modest warming on its own. There had to be an amplifier of some sort for the sun to be a primary driver of climate change.


In a 2003 poll conducted by German environmental researchers Dennis Bray and Hans von Storch, two-thirds of more than 530 climate scientists from 27 countries surveyed did not believe that “the current state of scientific knowledge is developed well enough to allow for a reasonable assessment of the effects of greenhouse gases.” About half of those polled stated that the science of climate change was not sufficiently settled to pass the issue over to policymakers at all.

I invite you to read the entire article and come to your own conclusions.

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One Response to “Read the sunspots”

  1. There is a 22 year main solar cycle above the better known 11 year cycle. It’s 22 years because sunspots are magnets. At one peak the north pole of these suspot magnets points outward from the sun. 11 years late their north pole points inward towards the sun’s core. So it takes 22 years for a complete sunspot cycle , not 11 years.