Climate Change – News and Comments
The global warmists’ dam breaks
A graph they'd prefer you not to notice. Tucked away near the end of online supplementary material, and omitted from the printed CLOUD paper in Nature, it clearly shows how cosmic rays promote the formation of clusters of molecules (“particles”) that in the real atmosphere can grow and seed clouds. In an early-morning experimental run at CERN, starting at 03.45, ultraviolet light began making sulphuric acid molecules in the chamber, while a strong electric field cleansed the air of ions. It also tended to remove molecular clusters made in the neutral environment (n) but some of these accumulated at a low rate. As soon as the electric field was switched off at 04.33, natural cosmic rays (gcr) raining down through the roof of the experimental hall in Geneva helped to build clusters at a higher rate. How do we know they were contributing? Because when, at 04.58, CLOUD simulated stronger cosmic rays with a beam of charged pion particles (ch) from the accelerator, the rate of cluster production became faster still. The various colours are for clusters of different diameters (in nanometres) as recorded by various instruments. The largest (black) took longer to grow than the smallest (blue). This is Fig. S2c from supplementary online material for J. Kirkby et al., Nature, 476, 429-433, © Nature 2011
Long-anticipated results of the CLOUD experiment at CERN in Geneva appear in tomorrow’s issue of the journal Nature (25 August). The Director General of CERN stirred controversy last month, by saying that the CLOUD team’s report should be politically correct about climate change (see my 17 July post below). The implication was that they should on no account endorse the Danish heresy – Henrik Svensmark’s hypothesis that most of the global warming of the 20th Century can be explained by the reduction in cosmic rays due to livelier solar activity, resulting in less low cloud cover and warmer surface temperatures.
Willy-nilly the results speak for themselves, and it’s no wonder the Director General was fretful.
Jasper Kirkby of CERN and his 62 co-authors, from 17 institutes in Europe and the USA, announce big effects of pions from an accelerator, which simulate the cosmic rays and ionize the air in the experimental chamber. The pions strongly promote the formation of clusters of sulphuric acid and water molecules – aerosols of the kind that may grow into cloud condensation nuclei on which cloud droplets form. What’s more, there’s a very important clarification of the chemistry involved.
A breach of etiquette
My interest in CLOUD goes back nearly 14 years, to a lecture I gave at CERN about Svensmark’s discovery of the link between cosmic rays and cloudiness. It piqued Kirkby’s curiosity, and both Svensmark and I were among those who helped him to prepare his proposal for CLOUD.
By an unpleasant irony, the only Svensmark contribution acknowledged in the Nature report is the 1997 paper (Svensmark and Friis-Christensen) on which I based my CERN lecture. There’s no mention of the successful experiments in ion chemistry and molecular cluster formation by the Danish team in Copenhagen, Boulby and latterly in Aarhus where they beat CLOUD to the first results obtained using a particle beam (instead of gamma rays and natural cosmic rays) to ionize the air in the experimental chamber – see https://calderup.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/accelerator-results-on-cloud-nucleation-2/
What will historians of science make of this breach of scientific etiquette? That Kirkby was cross because Svensmark, losing patience with the long delay in getting approval and funding for CLOUD, took matters into his own hands? Or because Svensmark’s candour about cosmic rays casting doubt on catastrophic man-made global warming frightened the national funding agencies? Or was Kirkby simply doing his best (despite the results) to obey his Director General by slighting all things Danish?
Personal rivalries aside, the important question is what the new CLOUD paper means for the Svensmark hypothesis. Pick your way through the cautious prose and you’ll find this:
“Ion-induced nucleation [cosmic ray action] will manifest itself as a steady production of new particles [molecular clusters] that is difficult to isolate in atmospheric observations because of other sources of variability but is nevertheless taking place and could be quite large when averaged globally over the troposphere [the lower atmosphere].”
It’s so transparently favourable to what the Danes have said all along that I’m surprised the warmists’ house magazine Nature is able to publish it, even omitting the telltale graph shown at the start of this post. Added to the already favourable Danish experimental findings, the more detailed CERN result is excellent. Thanks a million, Jasper.
And in friendlier times we’d be sharing champagne for a fine discovery with CLOUD, that traces of ammonia can increase the production of the sulphuric clusters a thousandfold. It’s highlighted in the report’s title: “Role of sulphuric acid, ammonia and galactic cosmic rays in atmospheric aerosol nucleation” and it was made possible by the more elaborate chemical analysis in the big-team set-up in Geneva. In essence, the ammonia helps to stabilize the molecular clusters.
Although not saying it openly, the CLOUD team implies a put-down for the Danes with this result, repeatedly declaring that without ammonia there’d be little cluster production at low altitudes. But although the Aarhus experimenters did indeed assume the simpler reaction (H2SO4 + H2O), differing results in successive experimental runs made them suspect that varying amounts of trace impurities were present in the air cylinders used to fill their chamber. Now it looks as if a key impurity may have been ammonia. But some members of the CLOUD consortium also favoured (H2SO4 + H2O) and early runs in Geneva used no intentional ammonia. So they’ve little reason to scoff.
In any case, whether the basic chemistry is (H2SO4 + H2O) or (H2SO4 + H2O + NH3) is an academic rather than a practical point. There are always traces of ammonia in the real air, and according to the CLOUD report you need only one molecule in 30 billion. If that helps to oil Svensmark’s climatic motor, it’s good to know, but it calls for no apologies and alters the climatic implications not a jot.
The experiment's logo. The acronym “Cosmics Leaving Outdoor Droplets” always implied strong interest in Svensmark's hypothesis. And the roles of the Galaxy and the Sun are acknowledged.
Technically, CLOUD is a welcome advance on the Danish experiments. Not only is the chemistry wider ranging but molecular clusters as small as 1.7 nanometres in diameter are detectable, compared with 4 nm in Denmark. And the set-up enables the scientists to study the ion chemistry at lower temperatures, corresponding to increasing altitudes in the atmosphere. Cluster production soars as the temperature goes down, until “almost every negative ion gives rise to a new particle” [i.e. molecular cluster]. The lowest temperature reported in the paper is -25 oC. That corresponds to an altitude of 6000 metres, so unless you wish to visualize a rain of cloud-seeding aerosols from on high, it’s not very relevant to Svensmark’s interest in the lowest 3000 metres.
How the warmists built their dam
Shifting from my insider’s perspective on the CLOUD experiment, to see it on the broader canvas of the politicized climate science of the early 21st Century, the chief reaction becomes a weary sigh of relief. Although they never said so, the High Priests of the Inconvenient Truth – in such temples as NASA-GISS, Penn State and the University of East Anglia – always knew that Svensmark’s cosmic ray hypothesis was the principal threat to their sketchy and poorly modelled notions of self-amplifying action of greenhouse gases.
In telling how the obviously large influences of the Sun in previous centuries and millennia could be explained, and in applying the same mechanism to the 20th warming, Svensmark put the alarmist predictions at risk – and with them the billions of dollars flowing from anxious governments into the global warming enterprise.
For the dam that was meant to ward off a growing stream of discoveries coming from the spring in Copenhagen, the foundation was laid on the day after the Danes first announced the link between cosmic rays and clouds at a space conference in Birmingham, England, in 1996. “Scientifically extremely naïve and irresponsible,” Bert Bolin declared, as Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
As several journalists misbehaved by reporting the story from Birmingham, the top priority was to tame the media. The first courses of masonry ensured that anything that Svensmark and his colleagues might say would be ignored or, failing that, be promptly rubbished by a warmist scientist. Posh papers like The Times of London and the New York Times, and posh TV channels like the BBC’s, readily fell into line. Enthusiastically warmist magazines like New Scientist and Scientific American needed no coaching.
Similarly the journals Nature and Science, which in my youth prided themselves on reports that challenged prevailing paradigms, gladly provided cement for higher masonry, to hold the wicked hypothesis in check at the scientific level. Starve Svensmark of funding. Reject his scientific papers but give free rein to anyone who criticizes him. Trivialize the findings in the Holy Writ of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. None of this is paranoia on my part, but a matter of close personal observation since 1996.
“It’s the Sun, stupid!” The story isn’t really about a bunch of naughty Danish physicists. They are just spokesmen for the most luminous agent of climate change. As the Sun was what the warmists really wanted to tame with their dam, they couldn’t do it. And coming to the Danes’ aid, by briefly blasting away many cosmic rays with great puffs of gas, the Sun enabled the team to trace in detail the consequent reduction in cloud seeding and liquid water in clouds. See my post https://calderup.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/do-clouds-disappear/ By the way, that research also disposes of a morsel of doubt in the new CLOUD paper, about whether the small specks made by cosmic rays really grow sufficiently to seed cloud droplets.
As knowledge accumulated behind their dam and threatened to overtop it, the warmists had one last course to lay. Paradoxically it was CLOUD. Long delays with this experiment to explore the microchemical mechanism of the Svensmark effect became the chief excuse for deferring any re-evaluation of the Sun’s role in climate change. When the microchemical mechanism was revealed prematurely by the SKY experiment in Copenhagen and published in 2006, the warmists said, “No particle accelerator? That won’t do! Wait for CLOUD.” When the experiment in Aarhus confirmed the mechanism using a particle accelerator they said, “Oh that’s just the Danes again! Wait for CLOUD.”
Well they’ve waited and their dam has failed them.
Hall of Shame
Retracing those 14 years, what if physics had functioned as it is supposed to do? What if CLOUD, quickly approved and funded, had verified the Svensmark effect with all the authority of CERN, in the early 2000s. What if the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had done a responsible job, acknowledging the role of the Sun and curtailing the prophecies of catastrophic warming?
For a start there would have no surprise about the “travesty” that global warming has stopped since the mid-1990s, with the Sun becoming sulky. Vast sums might have been saved on misdirected research and technology, and on climate change fests and wheezes of every kind. The world’s poor and their fragile living environment could have had far more useful help than precautions against warming.
And there would have been less time for so many eminent folk from science, politics, industry, finance, the media and the arts to be taken in by man-made climate catastrophe. (In London, for example, from the Royal Society to the National Theatre.) Sadly for them, in the past ten years they’ve crowded with their warmist badges into a Hall of Shame, like bankers before the crash.
J. Kirkby et al., Nature, 476, 429-433, 2011. The authors list and abstract are available at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v476/n7361/full/nature10343.html
H. Svensmark & E. Friis-Christensen, E., J. Atmos. Sol. Terr. Phys., 59, 1225–1232, 1997
Relevant Danish experimental reports since 2006, not cited in the new CLOUD paper
Henrik Svensmark, Jens Olaf Pepke Pedersen, Nigel Marsh, Martin Enghoff and Ulrik Uggerhøj, ‘Experimental Evidence for the Role of Ions in Particle Nucleation under Atmospheric Conditions’, Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Vol. 463, pp. 385–96, 2007 (online release 2006). This was the SKY experiment in a basement in Copenhagen.
Martin Andreas Bødker Enghoff; Jens Olaf Pepke Pedersen; Torsten Bondo, Matthew S. Johnson, Sean Paling and Henrik Svensmark, ‘Evidence for the Role of Ions in Aerosol Nucleation’, Journal of Physical Chemistry A, Vol: 112, pp. 10305-10309, 2008. Experiment in the Boulby deep mine in England.
M.B. Enghoff, J. O. Pepke Pedersen, U. I. Uggerhøj, S. M. Paling, and H. Svensmark, “Aerosol nucleation induced by a high energy particle beam,” Geophysical Research Letters, 38, L09805, 2011. Experiment with an accelerator in Aarhus.
A stellar revision of the story of life24/04/2012
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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