A stellar revision of the story of life

Climate Change: News and Comments and The Svensmark Hypothesis

Svensmark’s Cosmic Jackpot

Visible to the naked eye as the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades are the most famous of many surviving clusters of stars that formed together at the same time. The Pleiades were born during the time of the dinosaurs, and the most massive of the siblings would have exploded over a period of 40 million years. Their supernova remnants generated cosmic rays. From the catalogue of known star clusters, Henrik Svensmark has calculated the variation in cosmic rays over the past 500 million years, without needing to know the precise shape of the Milky Way Galaxy. Armed with that astronomical history, he digs deep into the histories of the climate and of life on Earth. Image ESA/NASA/Hubble

Today the Royal Astronomical Society in London publishes (online) Henrik Svensmark’s latest paper entitled “Evidence of nearby supernovae affecting life on Earth”. After years of effort Svensmark shows how the variable frequency of stellar explosions not far from our planet has ruled over the changing fortunes of living things throughout the past half billion years. Appearing in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, It’s a giant of a paper, with 22 figures, 30 equations and about 15,000 words. See the RAS press release athttp://www.ras.org.uk/news-and-press/219-news-2012/2117-did-exploding-stars-help-life-on-earth-to-thrive

By taking me back to when I reported the victory of the pioneers of plate tectonics in their battle against the most eminent geophysicists of the day, it makes me feel 40 years younger. Shredding the textbooks, Tuzo Wilson, Dan McKenzie and Jason Morgan merrily explained earthquakes, volcanoes, mountain-building, and even the varying depth of the ocean, simply by the drift of fragments of the lithosphere in various directions around the globe.

In Svensmark’s new paper an equally concise theory, that cosmic rays from exploded stars cool the world by increasing the cloud cover, leads to amazing explanations, not least for why evolution sometimes was rampant and sometimes faltered. In both senses of the word, this is a stellar revision of the story of life.

Here are the main results:

The long-term diversity of life in the sea depends on the sea-level set by plate tectonics and the local supernova rate set by the astrophysics, and on virtually nothing else.

The long-term primary productivity of life in the sea – the net growth of photosynthetic microbes – depends on the supernova rate, and on virtually nothing else.

Exceptionally close supernovae account for short-lived falls in sea-level during the past 500 million years, long-known to geophysicists but never convincingly explained..

As the geological and astronomical records converge, the match between climate and supernova rates gets better and better, with high rates bringing icy times.

Presented with due caution as well as with consideration for the feelings of experts in several fields of research, a story unfolds in which everything meshes like well-made clockwork. Anyone who wishes to pooh-pooh any piece of it by saying “correlation is not necessarily causality” should offer some other mega-theory that says why several mutually supportive coincidences arise between events in our galactic neighbourhood and living conditions on the Earth.

An amusing point is that Svensmark stands the currently popular carbon dioxide story on its head. Some geoscientists want to blame the drastic alternations of hot and icy conditions during the past 500 million years on increases and decreases in carbon dioxide, which they explain in intricate ways. For Svensmark, the changes driven by the stars govern the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Climate and life control CO2, not the other way around.

By implication, supernovae also determine the amount of oxygen available for animals like you and me to breathe. So the inherently simple cosmic-ray/cloud hypothesis now has far-reaching consequences, which I’ve tried to sum up in this diagram.

Cosmic rays in action. The main findings in the new Svensmark paper concern the uppermost stellar band, the green band of living things and, on the right, atmospheric chemistry. Although solar modulation of galactic cosmic rays is important to us on short timescales, its effects are smaller and briefer than the major long-term changes controlled by the rate of formation of big stars in our vicinity, and their self-destruction as supernovae. Although copyrighted, this figure may be reproduced with due acknowledgement in the context of Henrik Svensmark's work.

By way of explanation

The text of “Evidence of nearby supernovae affecting life on Earth” is available via  ftp://ftp2.space.dtu.dk/pub/Svensmark/MNRAS_Svensmark2012.pdf The paper is highly technical, as befits a professional journal, so to non-expert eyes even the illustrations may be a little puzzling. So I’ve enlisted the aid of Liz Calder to explain the way one of the most striking graphs, Svensmark’s Figure 20, was put together. That graph shows how, over the past 440 million years, the changing rates of supernova explosions relatively close to the Earth have strongly influenced the biodiversity of marine invertebrate animals, from trilobites of ancient times to lobsters of today. Svensmark’s published caption ends: “Evidently marine biodiversity is largely explained by a combination of sea-level and astrophysical activity.” To follow his argument you need to see how Figure 20 draws on information in Figure 19. That tells of the total diversity of the sea creatures in the fossil record, fluctuating between times of rapid evolution and times of recession.

The count is by genera, which are groups of similar animals. Here it’s shown freehand by Liz in Sketch A. Sketch B is from another part of Figure 19, telling how the long-term global sea-level changed during the same period. The broad correspondence isn’t surprising because a high sea-level floods continental margins and gives the marine invertebrates more extensive and varied habitats. But it obviously isn’t the whole story. For a start, there’s a conspicuous spike in diversity about 270 million years ago that contradicts the declining sea-level. Svensmark knew that there was a strong peak in the supernova rate around that time. So he looked to see what would happen to the wiggles over the whole 440 million years if he “normalized” the biodiversity to remove the influence of sea-level. That simple operation is shown in Sketch C, where the 270-million-year spike becomes broader and taller. Sketch D shows Svensmark’s reckoning of the changing rates of nearby supernovae during the same period. Let me stress that these are all freehand sketches to explain the operations, not to convey the data. In the published paper, the graphs as in C and D are drawn precisely and superimposed for comparison.

This is Svensmark's Figure 20, with axes re-labelled with simpler words for the RAS press release. Biodiversity (the normalized marine invertebrate genera count) is in blue, with vertical bars indicating possible errors. The supernova rates are in black.

There are many fascinating particulars that I might use to illustrate the significance of Svensmark’s findings. To choose the Gorgon’s story that follows is not entirely arbitrary, because this brings in another of those top results, about supernovae and bio-productivity.

The great dying at the end of the Permian

Out of breath, poor gorgon? Gasping for some supernovae? Named after scary creatures of Greek myth, the Gorgonopsia of the Late Permian Period included this fossil species Sauroctonus progressus, 3 metres long. Like many of its therapsid cousins, near relatives of our own ancestors, it died out during the Permo-Triassic Event. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorgonopsia

Luckiest among our ancestors was a mammal-like reptile, or therapsid, that scraped through the Permo-Triassic Event, the worst catastrophe in the history of animal life. The climax was 251 million years ago at the end of the Permian Period. Nearly all animal species in the sea went extinct, along with most on land. The event ended the era of “old life”, the Palaeozoic, and ushered in the Mesozoic Era, when our ancestors would become small mammals trying to keep clear of the dinosaurs. So what put to death our previously flourishing Gorgon-faced cousins of the Late Permian? According to Henrik Svensmark, the Galaxy let the reptiles down.

Forget old suggestions (by myself included) that the impact of a comet or asteroid was to blame, like the one that did for the dinosaurs at the end of the Mesozoic. The greatest dying was less sudden than that. Similarly the impressive evidence for an eruption 250 million years ago – a flood basalt event that smothered Siberia with noxious volcanic rocks covering an area half the size of Australia – tells of only a belated regional coup de grâce. It’s more to the point that oxygen was in short supply – geologists speak of a “superanoxic ocean”. And there was far more carbon dioxide in the air than there is now.

Well there you go,” some people will say. “We told you CO2 is bad for you.” That, of course, overlooks the fact that the notorious gas keeps us alive. The recently increased CO2 shares with the plant breeders the credit for feeding the growing human population. Plants and photosynthetic microbes covet CO2 to grow. So in the late Permian its high concentration was a symptom of a big shortfall in life’s productivity, due to few supernovae, ice-free conditions, and a lack of weather to circulate the nutrients. And as photosynthesis is also badly needed to turn H2O into O2, the doomed animals were left gasping for oxygen, with little more than half of what we’re lucky to breathe today.

When Svensmark comments briefly on the Permo-Triassic Event in his new paper,Evidence of nearby supernovae affecting life on Earth,” he does so in the context of the finding that high rates of nearby supernovae promote life’s productivity by chilling the planet, and so improving the circulation of nutrients needed by the photosynthetic organisms.Here’s a sketch from Figure 22 in the paper, simplified to make it easier to read. Heavy carbon, 13C, is an indicator of how much photosynthesis was going on. Plumb in the middle is a downward pointing green dagger that marks the Permo-Triassic Event. And in the local supernova rate (black curve) Svensmark notes that the Late Permian saw the largest fall in the local supernova rate seen in the past 500 million years. This was when the Solar System had left the hyperactive Norma Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy behind it and entered the quiet space beyond. “Fatal consequences would ensue for marine life,” Svensmark writes, “if a rapid warming led to nutrient exhaustion … occurring too quickly for species to adapt.”

One size doesn’t fit all, and a fuller story of Late Permian biodiversity becomes subtler and even more persuasive. About 6 million years before the culminating mass extinction of 251 million years ago, a lesser one occurred at the end of the Guadalupian stage. This earlier extinction was linked with a brief resurgence in the supernova rate and a global cooling that interrupted the mid-Permian warming. In contrast with the end of the Permian, bio-productivity was high. The chief victims of this die-off were warm-water creatures including gigantic bivalves and rugose corals.

Why it’s tagged as “astrobiology”

So what, you may wonder, is the most life-enhancing supernova rate? Without wanting to sound like Voltaire’s Dr Pangloss, it’s probably not very far from the average rate for the past few hundred million years, nor very different from what we have now. Biodiversity and bio-productivity are both generous at present.

Svensmark has commented (not in the paper itself) on a closely related question – where’s the best place to live in the Galaxy?

Too many supernovae can threaten life with extinction. Although they came before the time range of the present paper, very severe episodes called Snowball Earth have been blamed on bursts of rapid star formation. I’ve tagged the paper as ‘Astrobiology’ because we may be very lucky in our location in the Galaxy. Other regions may be inhospitable for advanced forms of life because of too many supernovae or too few.”

Astronomers searching for life elsewhere speak of a Goldilocks Zone in planetary systems. A planet fit for life should be neither too near to nor too far from the parent star. We’re there in the Solar System, sure enough. We may also be in a similar Goldilocks Zone of the Milky Way, and other galaxies with too many or too few supernovae may be unfit for life. Add to that the huge planetary collision that created the Earth’s disproportionately large Moon and provided the orbital stability and active geology on which life relies, and you may suspect that, astronomically at least, Dr Pangloss was right — “Everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”

Don’t fret about the diehards

If this blog has sometimes seemed too cocky about the Svensmark hypothesis, it’s because I’ve known what was in the pipeline, from theories, observations and experiments, long before publication. Since 1996 the hypothesis has brought new successes year by year and has resisted umpteen attempts to falsify it.

New additions at the level of microphysics include a previously unknown reaction of sulphuric acid, as in a recent preprint. On a vastly different scale, Svensmark’s present supernova paper gives us better knowledge of the shape of the Milky Way Galaxy.

A mark of a good hypothesis is that it looks better and better as time passes. With the triumph of plate tectonics, diehard opponents were left redfaced and blustering. In 1960 you’d not get a job in an American geology department if you believed in continental drift, but by 1970 you’d not get the job if you didn’t. That’s what a paradigm shift means in practice and it will happen sometime soon with cosmic rays in climate physics.

Plate tectonics was never much of a political issue, except in the Communist bloc. There, the immobility of continents was doctrinally imposed by the Soviet Academy of Sciences. An analagous diehard doctrine in climate physics went global two decades ago, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was conceived to insist that natural causes of climate change are minor compared with human impacts.

Don’t fret about the diehards. The glory of empirical science is this: no matter how many years, decades, or sometimes centuries it may take, in the end the story will come out right.

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99 Responses to A stellar revision of the story of life

  1. Bengt A says:

    Amazing!

    • omanuel says:

      Yes, this is an amazing return to sanity by the Royal Society !

      Toronto’s Oye Times also reports today the Japanese Hinode team of scientists has concluded that in about one month (in May 2012):

      “Magnetic field polarity at the solar poles will reverse and become quadrupolar in May, meaning positive fields will emerge in the North and South poles and negative fields will emerge on the equator, according to the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and other institutes. When a similar phenomenon occurred about 300 years ago, the Earth’s average temperature fell slightly. ”

      http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/features/science/T120420005829.htm

      Abrupt changes in solar magnetic arise from the Sun’s pulsar core or the iron-rich mantle that surrounds it ["Superfluidity in the solar interior: Implications for solar eruptions and climate," J. Fusion Energy 21, 193-198 (2002)] and probably induced past changes in Earth’s magnetic poles.

      http://arxiv.org/ftp/astro-ph/papers/0501/0501441.pdf

      Ignorance (Lack of information) has been used by opposing political forces in their battle to control people, at least since the time Hiroshima was consumed by “nuclear fires” on 6 Aug 1945:

      The scientist that would become my research mentor fifteen years later was a faculty member at the Imperial University of Tokyo in 1945: Dr. Kazuo Kuroda was sent to Hiroshima to figure out the nature of “nuclear fires.” His findings were published eighteen years (18 yr = 1983-1945):

      P. K. Kuroda, ”The Oklo phenomenon,” Naturwissenschaften 70, 536-539 (1983):

      http://www.springerlink.com/content/n556224311414604/

      With kind regards,
      -Oliver K. Manuel
      Former Student of P. K. Kuroda
      Former NASA Principal
      Investigator for Apollo

      http://www.omatumr.com/

      http://omanuel.wordpress.com/about/

    • theNatSci says:

      Interesting post, i will check out the paper, however you say”Climate and life control CO2, not the other way around.”,

      So what about volcanoes? They porduce huge amounts of C02 and have other effects on local and sometimes global climate (during times of high volcanic activity). Volcanoes are caused by plate tectonics not climate and life.

      Any also are you saying that the supernova effect influences plate tectonics, or mabye I have not read this correctly?

      • calderup says:

        A pertinent point from “a Cambridge natural scientist”.
        Yes, volcanoes are essential in the CO2 story, for continually recovering carbon rich material that could disappear forever down the ocean trenches. And yes, gigantic eruptions can occur. And no, plate motions are obviously not influenced by supernovae and cosmic rays.
        But photosynthesis rivals volcanic output. Net primary productivity, strongly influenced by climate, can either outpace the volcanoes, causing CO2 to diminish in the atmosphere and ocean, or lag behind, allowing CO2 to accumulate.
        So far, Svensmark’s broad brush strokes show CO2 obeying the stars. Some day, when the geological data are better, I would hope that additional variations due to variable volcanic activity might become discernable. I mean of course the long-term downs and ups associated with the formation and break-up of supercontinents, or with the “superplumes” that some geoscientists favour. Short-term climatic effects of individual eruptions (e.g. Pinatubo in the 1990s) last only a few years and are completely lost in Svensmark’s present multi-million-year analysis.
        Nigel

      • theNatSci says:

        thank you, (I only managed to skim read the article so clearly missed a key point!)
        Will certainly put this to my lecturers. Zac

      • omanuel says:

        theNatSci, an abrupt U-turn in the story of stellar evolution occurred without fanfare by the publication of these two papers 1946:

        [1] Fred Hoyle, “The chemical composition of the stars,” Monthly Notices Royal Astronomical Society 106, 255-59 (1946)

        [2] Fred Hoyle, “The synthesis of the elements from hydrogen,” Monthly Notices Royal Astronomical Society 106, 343-83 (1946)

        Here’s the rest of the story:

        http://omanuel.wordpress.com/about/#comment-105

  2. Keith Battye says:

    Well I’ll be . . . what an interesting, and arresting, hypothesis. I am going to try and read the paper itself but it does look rather daunting.

  3. fjpickett says:

    Very encouraging – I can almost hear the gnashing of AGW supporters’ teeth already. BTW, don’t you mean ‘Goldilocks zone’..?

  4. fjpickett says:

    Very encouraging – I can almost hear the gnashing of AGW supporters’ teeth already.

    BTW, don’t you mean ‘Goldilocks zone’..?

  5. [...] Calder’s Updates Share this:PrintEmailMoreStumbleUponTwitterFacebookDiggRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Climate Change and tagged cosmic rays, intergalactic cosmic rays, svensmark, svensmark effect. Bookmark the permalink. ← UK: David Cameron Cancels Hyped Green Speech [...]

  6. [...] Nigel Calder asks us to republish this post for maximum exposure. He writes: [...]

  7. Richard J says:

    Bold and fascinating. Look forward to the reception and debate. Excuse my reservations about the marine invertebate genera count though, seems very low- What phyla and classes? Macrofauna only or microfauna included? Are generic distinctions consistent enough to be quantitively indicative of Phanerozoic relative biodiversity?

    • calderup says:

      Richard — The data are from a huge enterprise involving millions of fossils, the most thorough for any Phanerozoic biodiversity study, and a big improvement on Sepkowski’s famous efforts. Published as Alroy J. et al., 2008, Science, 321, 97.
      The abstract reads: It has previously been thought that there was a steep Cretaceous and Cenozoic radiation of marine invertebrates. This pattern can be replicated with a new data set of fossil occurrences representing 3.5 million specimens, but only when older analytical protocols are used. Moreover, analyses that employ sampling standardization and more robust counting methods show a modest rise in diversity with no clear trend after the mid-Cretaceous. Globally, locally, and at both high and low latitudes, diversity was less than twice as high in the Neogene as in the mid-Paleozoic. The ratio of global to local richness has changed little, and a latitudinal diversity gradient was present in the early Paleozoic.
      Nigel

  8. Our 259 trillion cubic mile molten rock planet has 310 million cubic miles of ocean, along with 700,000 cubic miles of fissionable Uranium and 1.2 million cubic miles of fissionable Thorium. When these heavy elements decay the by-products are ‘elemental atoms’ under high heat and high pressure that form ‘elemental’ molecules and atoms. These are in direct relation to the cosmic rays. The Universe controls our complete environment, independent of human activity and CO2 is one of these fission by-products. Svensmark’s work is missing this most important relationship, but he is creating a new paradigm. For more on the related science changes see “Becoming a TOTAL Earth Science Skeptic”. Find and Share Truth.

  9. Pointman says:

    In the light of this paper, there’s going to be a lot of the standard textbooks entering the paper recycling loop, and not just in climate science.

    Pointman

  10. [...] Svensmark’s Cosmic Jackpot [...]

  11. Reblogged this on contrary2belief and commented:
    “Don’t fret about the diehards. The glory of empirical science is this: no matter how many years, decades, or sometimes centuries it may take, in the end the story will come out right.”

  12. [...] I explained the basics of the cosmoclimatology theory before as part of my list of reasons “Why I Question the CO2-driven Global Warming “Scientific Consensus”“.  On that fascinating science topic, the British science writer Nigel Calder has an incredibly interesting story on his blog today (my emphasis): http://calderup.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/a-stellar-revision-of-the-story-of-life/ [...]

  13. I like this because for me the relationship between stars and humanity and the evolution of both is an interesting one… being that earth is where humanity places their feet ..an interesting view, theory, place for empirical science. A new paradigm is needed !!!

  14. Michael Zimmerman says:

    About four years ago, when I decided finally to get grounded in climate change theory, Svensmark’s book, THE CHILLING STARS, was one of the first that I read. It was a very powerful read. Svensmark offers us a cosmic ecology, a way of making sense of terrestrial events–including climate change–as shaped by our place in the Milky Way. This is an enormously important contribution to understanding terrestrial evolution and the possible future of life on Earth. What possible perturbations lie ahead for our little solar system as we journey through the Milky Way?

  15. The Boston Struggler says:

    I would be interested to know what Piers Corbyn has to say about this theory. The Boston Struggler.

    • calderup says:

      Piers usually scoffs at Henrik’s theory, but I don’t think Piers knows very much about what happened on a geological time scale.
      Nigel

      • Derek says:

        It seems that Oliver Manuel, Joe Olsen, Piers Corbyn, Henrik Svensmark, Nigel Calder, and one or two others are all along a similar line or direction of thought, yet, they are so different in some respects.
        My hunch is that somewhere within lies a better understanding of the truth.
        So, my suggestion is that we should lock them in a room untill they agree…. LOL.

        Only joking, they all have already agreed an overall approach, it is called science Science that is not dependent upon state funding obviously.

      • omanuel says:

        Good idea, Derek, although probably impossible to accomplish.

        Our ideas survived because of individual stubbornness, but society would benefit if we worked together to show the source of energy that powers the Sun, sustains life, and controls Earth’s climate.

        Commonality might be recognized if Henrik Svensmark or Nigel Calder commented on what fraction of Earth’s cosmic rays might come from the Sun’s pulsar core http://tinyurl.com/7t5ojrn rather than from distant supernova remnants.

        Perhaps Nigel Calder has the talents to start such a dialogue?

  16. alexjc38 says:

    An excellent and thoughtful article; it would also be interesting to hear Nir Shaviv’s comments – would this not be consistent with his ideas about ice age episodes and the Solar System passing through the Galaxy’s spiral arms?

    • Peter Salonius says:

      As you read the paper you will see considerable reference to Shaviv’s ideas. Svensmark’s paper specifically invokes the passage of the Solar System IN and OUT the Galaxy’s spiral arms as primary determinants of Earth climate.

  17. John Blackader says:

    It would be useful to speculate on Solar climate impacts. Strong cosmic rays would cause some reaction

  18. Bengt A says:

    The result seems to build upon a model of our galaxy with four spiral arms (histogram in fig 11d) where the arms have somewhat different velocity. That seems a little odd and I am trying to figure out if this is a new invention of Svensmark or if there are any other researcher stating the same thing? I think I have seen a comment where Nir Shaviv suggests that our galaxy consists of two sets of spiralarms, one with 4 arms and one with 2 arms. Isn´t that more plausible?

    • calderup says:

      Bengt – The large astronomical part of Svensmark’s paper makes no initial assumptions about the shape of the Galaxy but works from star clusters, presumably formed in the spiral arms. In the process he finds that the shape is different inside and outside the “solar circle” – the orbit of the Sun and planets around the centre of the Galaxy.
      Nigel

  19. [...] can download the paper here [PDF, 2.8MB], read the society’s announcement here, and find a lucid layman’s explanation here, written by former BBC science editor Nigel Calder who also co-authored the book The Chilling Stars [...]

  20. Ray says:

    “In Svensmark’s new paper an equally concise theory, that cosmic rays from exploded stars cool the world by increasing the cloud cover, leads to amazing explanations, not least for why evolution sometimes was rampant and sometimes faltered. ”

    I hope that’s not what Svensmark’s paper argues, for supernovae don’t emit cosmic rays– they *accelerate* cosmic rays produced elsewhere (where, we don’t know).

  21. Mike Jonas says:

    Nigel, you say “we may be very lucky in our location in the Galaxy”. May I suggest that you could equally have put it the other way round – we are here now because of our location in the Galaxy.

    —–

    omanuel – it was the Rotal Astronomical Society, not the Royal Society. But the RS will turn too.

  22. [...] can download the paper here [PDF, 2.8MB], read the society’s announcement here, and find a lucid layman’s explanation here, written by former BBC science editor Nigel Calder who also co-authored the book The Chilling Stars [...]

  23. [...] Nigel Calder (Svensmarks medförfattare till boken The Chilling Stars) har också ett långt inlägg om detta på sin blogg. [...]

  24. [...] il papero vero e proprio La notizia arriva da Nigel Calder. Quelli di seguito sono gli [...]

  25. jedibeeftrix says:

    “In 1960 you’d not get a job in an American geology department if you believed in continental drift, but by 1970 you’d not get the job if you didn’t.”

    thank you nigel, an excellent article, and the quote above is particularly dear to my heart.

  26. Thank you very much Nigel for this update on Henrik Svensmark’s work. I have written sometimes about his theories in my blog so now there is time for an update there!

    Best regards
    Agust Bjarnason, Iceland

    ( http://agbjarn.blog.is/blog/agbjarn/entry/1186627 )

  27. Pascvaks says:

    Life on Earth has been evolving and trying to ‘understand’ the Universe since it (Life) first began. People, of various kinds and sorts, have been leading the herd for 4 to 6 million of those years on this particular speck of dust in the middle on nowhere. Most conservative estimates would surely agree, I think, that we (Life) have only just begun to scratch the surface of the mystery. Would seem that one of us, named Svensmark, has hit on something new and meaningful. Let’s hope so.

  28. sam says:

    Wow. This is real nobel prize-winning work, not crap like IPPC and Al Gore.

  29. deepred says:

    Betelgeuse is approx. 600 light years away. It could have exploded yesterday and we won’t know for 600 years. In cosmic terms that’s like your next door neighbors house blowing up. It would be interesting to see how that plays out in the far future.

  30. Pascvaks says:

    Nigel –
    Sent the link “See the RAS press release” above and a brief note to DrudgeReport. It’s certainly BIG and NEWS.

  31. Peter Stockdale says:

    Taking nothing away from this magnificent achievement of Svensmark the present implosion of biodiversity is anthropogenic and the fault lies in our selves not in our stars.

  32. John T says:

    “For Svensmark, the changes driven by the stars govern…”

    So our fate really is written in the stars. Just not in the way that’s normally meant.

  33. Richard J says:

    Congratulations on being honoured in the acknowledgements!

  34. Adam Crowl says:

    It’s an amazing insight into our seemingly fragile place in the cosmos. The sea-level explanation is welcome. Those Vail Curves are a mystery begging for a decent hypothesis, which sudden stochastic events like SNs fit rather well.

  35. [...] löytyy Nigel Calderin blogikirjoitus Like this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  36. [...] can download the paper here [PDF, 2.8MB], read the society’s announcement here, and find a lucid layman’s explanation here, written by former BBC science editor Nigel Calder who also co-authored the book The Chilling Stars [...]

  37. [...] του Calder απόδοση Βίκυ Χρυσού  Σήμερα, η Βασιλική Αστρονομική [...]

  38. Yooper Logic says:

    This will never fly… simply makes too much sense AND there is no money to be made or gov’t regulations that can be issued.

    Here’s a question… what is the Earth’s temperature supposed to be?

  39. John says:

    Just read the original paper…one word …magnificent. Simplification is ‘beauty’ in science.

  40. John says:

    One other thought… has this been reported by the BBC yet ?

  41. tallbloke says:

    I’ve just finished re-reading this paper carefully. It’s a superb piece of work which the detractors on WUWT could never emulate the quality of in a thousand years. Henrik Svensmark has produced the best ‘big picture’ to date of climate, the biosphere, its evolution and their relationship with the local cosmos through which the solar system has percolated for the last 1/2 billion years.

    This paper offers interdisciplinary vision and balance, with strong contributions towards an improvement in d18O paleoproxies, a better understanding of the causes of sudden sealevel regressions and a clearer idea of the role of externally forced environmental change leading to biodiversity shifts.

    Beyond this, at the philosophical level, Henrik lifts our minds to broader horizons, and helps to cut a swathe through the blinkered obsession with the terrestrial atmosphere shown by climatologists. It is important, but can now be seen in the context of bigger driving forces:- The passage of the solar system through the galactic spiral arms, the planetary forces shaping the Milankovitch cycles and resonating with solar variation, and the nearby supernovae which can cause deep and rapid cooling of the climate.

    Congratulations to Henrik Svensmark on the publication of this tour de force in a prestigious journal. We owe him a debt of gratitude for his insight, perseverance against the vicious and petty minded opposition he has endured, and for the quality of his work freely shared.

  42. Tom Bane says:

    This is an amazing article, I think everybody should know about Svensmark, I think he is a modern genius, on a scientific level he has married together a lot of misunderstand phenomena and disparate topics into a coherent and logical framework, which Calder makes it easy to understand. On a spiritual level, I think it is fascinating to understand that life on Earth can be affected by events in the distant cosmos. I love Svensmark’s hypothesis so much I wrote a novel about it! but I’m not plugging my book on here as I think that would be impolite.

    I do feel sorry that Svensmark’s work is not more clearly recognised by the general public, all the inflamed rhetoric about “global warming deniers” is really preventing his work from being promulgated more widely, although eventually I believe it will be become one of the outstanding theories of modern science.

  43. Cody says:

    What a fantastic read!

  44. Ron says:

    I wonder if you could comment on the temperature aspect of this. Svensmark is saying that glacial conditions are good for life. That seems to be the opposite of the last few million years, when the ice ages killed life and the interglacials promoted it. And many warm eras such as the cretacious had vast amounts of life. Ian Plimer and others also say warmth is good. Any thoughts?

    • calderup says:

      Very cold or very hot can be nasty for life, Ron, but the planet is best fertilized with some ice at the poles. The temperature contrast with the tropics provides the motor for the wind and weather that keep the nutrients circulating.
      The idea that warmer should usually be better is an example of the basic misconceptions that Svensmark challenges. Superficially impressive though the Cretaceous was at times (e.g. the vast chalk deposits) the net global primary productivity was on average less than it is now.
      Nigel

  45. Cody says:

    What a fascinating and eye opening article!

  46. nobbi says:

    I’ve been following Svensmark’s theory for 10 years now. Great to see how things come together.
    Not only is it an extraordinary piece of intellectual work, but it also taught me a valuable lesson on critical thinking and positive skepticism as a student about to finish high school at that time.

    “The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widely spread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”
    ― Bertrand Russell

  47. gallopingcamel says:

    From recent history (last 5,000) years it is clear that “warmer is better” as measured by the rise and fall of empires. However, let us not forget that even though we are in an “Interglacial” it is still part of an “Ice Age”.

    Svensmark sees “Warm” as much hotter than today. For example the PETM:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleocene%E2%80%93Eocene_Thermal_Maximum

    The average global temperature during the PETM (~ 65 million years ago) appears to have been at least 10 Kelvin higher than today. According to Svensmark bio-diversity was lower than at present. Surely warm weather would expand the viable range for fauna and flora so that hippos could be found in London and alligators in Spitzbergen.

    Given that the poles warm much more rapidly than the low latitudes the temperatures gradients in the atmosphere during the PETM must have been small compared to today so storms would have been weaker. Would this have had an adverse effect on bio-diversity or bio-productivity?

  48. Don B says:

    Nigel, I suppose you have read the leaked IPCC AR5 draft concedes a solar-climate link? Does that prompt you to return to blogging? Your posts are missed.

    • calderup says:

      I’m afraid it’s the usual thing — they mention the Svensmark hypothesis only to conclude it’s unimportant.

      But thanks for your kind words, Don. I’ve neglected my blog since May because my wife (and agent) Liz has been ill. She’s on the mend, though, and I’ll try to be more active in the New Year.

      Meanwhile I’m content to leave the “stellar revision* prominent, because it’s one of Svensmark’s finest pieces of work.

      Nigel

  49. orson2 says:

    Dear Nigel-

    Thank you for the update. We have supposed that personal health might be at stake in your family. Your thoughts here are indeed missed.

    I grew up on your books, and became the youngest founder of my American state’s (Minnesota) astronomical society. I followed my uni-mates into and out of science (they are all academics).

    We admire your indefatigable spirit, even as compromises must be made in time – the rarest of all gifts we can share.

    Thank you for your “ride” here, online!

  50. John says:

    Having followed the saga of global warming since reading Nigel’s beautifully produced book, “The Manic Sun” in 1997,I think it is criminal that the Svensmark theory has not received equal publicity to the now discredited IPCC publication “Climate Change 1995″.

    This is partly due to political pressure but mainly due to the obscene sums of money (astronomical, one might say) being spent on so called sustainable sources of energy.

    It must surely be time that the scientific community was allowed to bring all the evidence out into the open and come up with a proper scientific theory of climate change on which governments of the world could base their future energy strategy.

    John

    • Oliver K. Manuel says:

      World leaders and their advisors are not yet willing to admit reality.

      The sun is like the Hindu Trinity: The creator, sustainer and destroyer of lives and worlds.

      Oliver K. Manuel

  51. Don B says:

    Nigel, have you seen this?

    “For decades, scientists have argued over whether there is a link between cosmic rays and cloud cover, which in turn could affect climate. Now two atmospheric physicists in the UK have discovered that global atmospheric electricity – which itself is altered by cosmic rays, space weather and El Niño – affects the base height of certain types of clouds.

    and
    “The realization that the electrical heartbeat of the planet plays a role in the formation of layer clouds indicates that existing models for clouds and climate are still missing potentially important components,” adds Ambaum. “Understanding these missing elements is crucial to improve the accuracy of our weather forecasts and predicting changes to our climate.”

    http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2013/mar/06/atmospheric-electricity-affects-cloud-height

  52. calderup says:

    Thanks, Don. This is the “other” cosmic-ray/cloud story used here as another way of poohpoohing the Svensmark hypothesis.

    Nigel

    • orson2 says:

      With summer over, and the next IPCC “report” shortly upon us – your readers wish you and yours well, Nigel!

      To us, your lifetime of service to country and the world of science education are worthy of high honors. (OM) or (CH) at least.

      Instead, you join those whose farsightedness will come in due time – perhaps not soon enough. But those who know better need to add our loud THANKS to you, now.

      THANK YOU, Nigel Calder, (OM) [as recognized by this independent-minded Yank].

  53. genemachine says:

    The relationship between thunderstorm and solar activity for Brazil from 1951 to 2009(Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, 21 March 2013)

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364682613000862

    “Wavelet analysis of TD1 indicates that six out seven cities investigated exhibit periodicities near 11 years, three of them significant at a 1% significance level (p<0.01). Furthermore, wavelet coherence analysis demonstrated that the 11-year periodicity of TD1 and solar activity are correlated with an anti-phase behavior, three of them (the same cities with periodicities with 1% significance level) significant at a 5% significance level (p<0.05)".."The existence of periodicities around 11 years in six out of seven cities and their anti-phase behavior with respect to 11-year solar cycle suggest a global mechanism probably related to a solar magnetic shielding effect acting on galactic cosmic rays as an explanation for the relationship of thunderstorm and solar activity"

    (via the hockey schtick blog)

  54. Allan says:

    Graph “C” units are confusing, now they look like A=C, which is true only when k or B is 0.

    • calderup says:

      Don’t understand your problem, Allan. C is not equal to A but is modified to take account of the variation in genera counts due to changes in sea level. It’s only like saying, “this would have been the change in the human population if we take out the effect of wars.”
      Nigel

      • Allan says:

        Yes, I understand the modification, but the numbers on the left side of graph C are too similar to graph A, this can not be correct (or is correct only if there’s no correction applied at all).
        This is a minor problem, indeed.

      • calderup says:

        Not a minor problem, Allan – not a problem at all. Sea level changes produce ups and downs, and changes in the supernova rate do the same. The difference remains in the spread of genera counts. I need not have done so, but it did.
        Nigel

  55. […] courtesy of Nigel Calder, this is an altered version emphasizing the solar modulation, as added to the first […]

  56. JWDougherty says:

    I was a geology student when plate tectonics first began to really take off. Nothing was in the texts and the information we did get was all mimeographed. There was an enormous figurative sigh of relief from many students because we no longer had talk baout mountains using a theory, for which the reductio ad absurdum was, almost biblically, that over time “high places became low, and the low high.”

    A point worth noting in terms of plant productivity is that at present we live quite close to the lower safe limit of O2 concentration at 20.947%. When O2 concentration locally drops to 19.5% that is a dangerously low level, hazardous to life and health, so the mean O2 we normally experience is barely one per cent into the “green zone.”

  57. omanuel says:

    Fred Hoyle was extremely clever at getting information past Big Brother’s censors. On pages 153-154 of his autobiography, Home Is Where the Wind Blows, he destroys the very foundation of:

    1. SSM (Standard Solar Model) of hydrogen-filled stars heated by H-fusion, and

    2. BBM (Big Bang Model) of first-cause creation of H from nothing at time, t = 0

    It was published on April Fools Day 1994 (University Science Books, 441 pages, published on April 1, 1994):

    http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2013/05/14/dear-a-p-encrypt-your-telephones/#comment-52117

  58. Reinder van Til says:

    In 1054 AC a star exploded in the constellation Taurus. The remnants were discovered in the 18th century as M1 or Crab Nebula. Is there any correlation with the Medieval Warm Period?

    • calderup says:

      No link, Reinder. A supernova remnant does not generate a brief pulse of cosmic rays, but becomes increasingly active over thousands of years. In any case, increased cosmic rays would not warm the Earth but cool it, by the Svensmark effect of increased low cloud cover.
      Nigel

      • Philip Neal says:

        It is good to see you are still there, NIgel. I hope you will be continuing this blog as there seems to be plenty happening which could do with your commentary.

      • calderup says:

        Thanks, Philip. But I’m nursing a sick wife and I’m not sure when I’ll get back to the Updates. I do keep an eye on what’s going on.
        Nigel

  59. omanuel says:

    Thank you, Nigel, for this blog. Best wishes to you and your wife

  60. Peter Maddock says:

    Thanks Nigel, and farewell.

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