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Monday, January 24, 2005

Climate change research may be shifting its gaze from the Earth to the Sun.

Is Climate Research Looking Up? - Dec 15, 2004

by David Wojick


An emerging consensus that solar activity may be playing a major role in global warming has led to new interest in adding a solar thrust to the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, or CCSP. In past months two heavy-lifting workshops have been convened on the prospects for increasing solar climate research.

The first workshop is titled ?Solar Variability on Decadal to Millennial Timescales: Influences on Earth Climate Change and Prediction,? hosted by the Universities Space Research Association. USRA includes 95 universities that do space research and has a $90 million annual budget, mostly from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. USRA says it has ?launched an initiative to develop the means to increase understanding and improve prediction of solar variability and its effects on Earth, especially its climate.?

According to USRA, the research issues are broad. They say, ?This multi-disciplinary workshop was designed to open communication and forge collaborations between the disparate realms of policy and science, and to provide a platform for scientists of varied fields (climatology, paleoclimatology, atmospheric chemistry, solar and stellar astrophysics, etc.) to present their measurements and models in an effort to more precisely define problems scientists face when trying to show the causal link of multi-decadal variability of the Sun?s output and Earth?s climate. Uncertainties remain not only regarding the solar measurements, but also on the climate response to solar changes by virtue of the complexities of the climate system.?

Another major workshop is ?Decadal Variability in the Sun and Climate,? the annual meeting of the Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment. SORCE is a NASA-sponsored satellite mission that provides new measurements of incoming x-ray, ultraviolet, visible, near-infrared, and total solar radiation.

SORCE explains the research issue this way: ?Discerning the role of the Sun in climate variations on time scales of decades is a challenging task. That climate forcing is well correlated with variations in the Sun?s energy output is now relatively well established for total and UV irradiance using high-precision, space-based solar measurements spanning more than two decades. When the Sun is near the maximum of its activity cycle, it is about 0.1 percent brighter overall, with much greater changes at UV wavelengths. SORCE measures these variations with unprecedented accuracy, precision, and spectral coverage across the UV, visible, and IR. But the climate response to these measured solar variations presents a major puzzle.?

The $1.8-billion-per-year CCSP currently spends about $110 million a year looking at the carbon cycle and $150 million on the water cycle, but virtually nothing on solar cycles. But if USRA and SORCE are right, the sun, not human carbon emissions, may be the principal driver of global warming. As a result, solar scientists are hoping to get more of the CCSP action.

David Wojick ( is an independent science journalist and policy analyst. This essay was published as Volume 23, Issue 114 of Electricity Daily <> on December 15, 2004.

For more information ...

Both solar research workshops have an online presence:



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