Did CLOUD Just Rain on the Global Warming Parade?

Today in Forbes, I have an article bringing the layman up to speed on Henrik Svensmark and this theory of cosmic ray cloud seeding.  Since his theory helped explain some 20th century warming via natural effects rather than anthropogenic ones, he and fellow researchers have face an uphill climb even getting funding to test his hypothesis.  But today, CERN in Geneva has released study results confirming most of Svensmark’s hypothesis, though crucially, it is impossible to infer from this work how much of 20th century temperature changes can be traced to the effect (this is the same problem global warming alarmists face — CO2 greenhouse warming can be demonstrated in a lab, but its hard to figure out its actual effect in a complex climate system).

From the article:

Much of the debate revolves around the  role of the sun, and though holding opposing positions, both skeptics and alarmists have had good points in the debate.  Skeptics have argued that it is absurd to downplay the role of the sun, as it is the energy source driving the entire climate system.  Michael Mann notwithstanding, there is good evidence that unusually cold periods have been recorded in times of reduced solar activity, and that the warming of the second half of the 20th century has coincided with a series of unusually strong solar cycles.

Global warming advocates have responded, in turn, that while the sun has indeed been more active in the last half of the century, the actual percentage change in solar irradiance is tiny, and hardly seems large enough to explain measured increases in temperatures and ocean heat content.

And thus the debate stood, until a Danish scientist named Henrik Svensmark suggested something outrageous — that cosmic rays might seed cloud formation.  The implications, if true, had potentially enormous implications for the debate about natural causes of warming.

When the sun is very active, it can be thought of as pushing away cosmic rays from the Earth, reducing their incidence.  When the sun is less active, we see more cosmic rays.  This is fairly well understood.  But if Svensmark was correct, it would mean that periods of high solar output should coincide with reduced cloud formation (due to reduced cosmic race incidence), which in turn would have a warming effect on the Earth, since less sunlight would be reflected back into space before hitting the Earth.

Here was a theory, then, that would increase the theoretical impact on climate of an active sun, and better explain why solar irradiance changes might be underestimating the effect of solar output changes on climate and temperatures.

I go on to discuss the recent CERN CLOUD study and what it has apparently found.

  • Great article, Warren
    I would dispute only one point, your assertion that the effects only exist in a lab.

    When the results in the lab are being generated by the same forces in the real world, namely cosmic rays, then that would be a pretty good indicator that it is a global factor.

    Secondly, when the theory can be used in context to explain all the major climate change over the existence of the earth by the proximity to high cosmic ray generation areas then it is pretty much a slam dunk.

    With the slowdown in solar magnetic activity now predicted for the next cycle, the proof will be in the pudding.
    For now, a moratorium on carbon taxation and carbon sequestration schemes is certainly in order.

  • papertiger

    We can test the Svensmark theory directly by making artificial cosmic ray induced clouds in the atmosphere. We just need a stable, offshore platform to host the apparatus, off a coast with a regularly occurring fog bank.

    Catalina Islands would be my pick, because building a particle accelerator to make rain clouds for LA would be cheaper than building desalination plants.

  • ADiff

    Dan, you’re beating a straw horse. The argument wasn’t that a CO2 contribution to general warming “only exists in a lab”, only that it has proved impossible to reliably determine the significance of such in the real world as one component of a complex and only partially understood system, of real world climate.

    This similar to the same error catastrophists make repeatedly, misrepresentation of criticism in attempt to avoid it.

    It’s similar for this effect. It’s not directly measurable, and the things affected (cloud formation) are also subject to numerous known (and possibly other unknown) factors, so isolating the impact of this one has been (along with C02 warming effects) practically impossible in the real system.

  • sundevil

    It just goes to show how much of the ‘unknown’ is supposedly accounted for by the climate models, but yet clearly isn’t. Of course, it’s hard to tell anything since the models are closely guarded, but I have seen climate scientists of all sorts admit that clouds are hard to model and their effect on temperatures is hard to quantify. In other words, they model them to allow CO2 to be the primary driver, because that’s where the money is.

  • If any part of the weather could be modelled perfectly there would be a lot of weathermen out of a job. The fact that it seems impossible, at least at this stage keeps them in a job.

  • netdr

    There is no doubt that if a container of 100 % CO2 and a similar container of air are exposed to sunlight that the one with CO2 gets warmer. That experiment has been replicated countless times.

    That said, would an earth with 390/1,000,000 parts CO2 get measurably warmer than one without any ? How much warmer ?

    These questions have never been answered and without a spare earth to experiment with they may take hundreds of years to answer.

    The CERN experiments will be equally hard to “scale up” to determine the effect over the whole earth.

    To me it seems obvious that warming started occurring as soon as records were kept because we were coming out of a Little Ice Age and solar influences were increasing. Since the human produced CO2 was minimal CO2 had little to do with it.

    Sunspots are an indicator.


    Since the effects for CO2 induced warming are supposed to last for hundreds of years according to Dr Hanson it is reasonable to believe the same applies for any source of warming including more active solar processes. [sunspots]

    The temperatures since records have been kept mirrored the PDO cycle very closely with a 1/2 ° C warming superimposed due to increased solar processes summed over time and feedbacks.

    The cooling from 1940 to 1978 which the alarmists like to ignore coincided with a negative cycle of the PDO.


    The accelerated warming in the last 1/2 of the 20th century was entirely caused by a positive PDO cycle which lasted from 1978 to 1998[The warming was confined to this narrow time too.], but the PDO has gone + and – since then.

    The temperature has followed the same trend cooling from 1940 to 1978 warming from 1978 to 1998 and flat from 1998 to the present.

    Quite a coincidence isn’t it ?

    The fairy story that natural warming switched off just as CO2 warming switched on is ridiculous.

  • jimbeaux

    So if some of the speculation is right – that solar activity plays a key role in the earth’s temperature – and if we are indeed approaching a cooling trend, then what? If we enter into another “little ice age”, will the climate change fanatics and scientists begin clamoring that we need to take steps to warm the environment? Will there be a barrage of questionable proposals for altering our environment to induce warming? Will there be new “low carbon” taxes on corporations that aren’t doing their part to help keep our environment warm?

    I say yes. Considering that a new ice age stands a much greater chance of causing massive starvation of all life forms on earth, the same alarmists now who rabidly promote immediate and costly reforms across the board to limit climate change will do the same when a different threat is determined.

    And some opportunist will create an award winning documentary.

    And many politicians will jump on the bandwagon to enhance their name recognition.

    And many scientists will gladly accept funding to prove that the threat is real.

    Some things never change. The climate, however, is not one of those things.

  • pyeatte

    netdr: You seem to be a bit delusional yourself. Perhaps you are a “grant puppy”?