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Should the sun's role in weather and climate be re-assessed?

Paul Hudson | 17:02 UK time, Friday, 11 June 2010

The idea that changes in solar activity can affect our weather and climate has very much fallen out of fashion in recent times. Most climate scientists' efforts have been directed towards the impact of greenhouse gases on global temperatures, and what a warmer planet could mean to weather and climate.

Most, but not all, meteorologists dismiss the idea that the sun could play an important role in determining our weather, and hence climate.

This may, at least in part, be down to the fact that forecasts these days are heavily reliant on powerful supercomputers that can't incorporate the influence of the sun, simply because the precise mechanism of how the sun impacts our weather is either not understood, or impossible to model.

But it wasn't that long ago that eminent climatologists such as Professor Lamb at the University of East Anglia conducted research which showed, amongst other things, a link between low solar activity and pressure patterns over Greenland.

In his day forensic analysis of weather data was the only way to forecast the weather, but sadly much of his work, and work like it, has been mostly forgotton, as the weather industry becomes more and more reliant on computer simulations of the atmosphere.

But it seems that it may becoming a fashionable area of research once more.

In my article 'Could the sun cast a shadow on global temperatures' I featured research by Australian scientist David Archibald, who concluded that the prolonged solar minimum that we have just witnessed would lead to, amongst other things, colder European winters in the next decade.

Interestingly his research was published in 2008 long before the coldest winter in the UK since 1978/79 struck.

So it was with interest in April when I read that Professor Lockwood at Reading University conducted a similar analysis, and came to the same conclusion as Mr Archibald - that colder European winters in the next few years were possible because of the behaviour of the sun. You can see an article based on his research by clicking here.

But I wanted to highlight a fascinating piece of research that has been published in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics. It again shows quite clearly a link between solar activity and temperature and pressure variability across Europe. You can read the research paper by clicking here, but here are some intriguing highlights:

1) A strong correlation is found between wintertime temperatures and pressure disturbances in Europe - which applies up to the most recent past and which, according to the authors, had not been previously reported.

2) The relationship between solar forcing and European climate is not stationary over a year, but strongly depends on the season, so simple averaging over the whole year may obscure the underlying forcing. The solar signature is present all over the 20th century in wintertime European temperature.

3) Solar modulation of temperature disturbances 'are by no means small'.

4) The authors believe they have uncovered a regional (European) expression of a global phenomena.

5) The study shows that the evolution of temperature disturbances remains linked with solar activity up to present.

6) Physical processes and feedbacks possibly linking climate variations to solar variations are not fully understood.

The authors conclude that 'the role of the sun in global and regional climatic change should be re-assessed'.

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