Climate Physics 101


Climate change: news and comments

Sorry folks, cosmic rays really are in charge


On this blog and others, most comments about my previous post “Yet another trick of cosmic rays” have been friendly. Thank you. But some people still want to dismiss all the meticulous experimental, observational and theoretical work of Henrik Svensmark and his colleagues in the Danish National Space Institute by saying there is simply no link between cosmic rays and the climate.

Having written two books on the subject, and still engaged with it, I could in rebuttal flood this post with evidence of many kinds, on time scales from days to millennia or longer. I’ll content myself with just one pair of graphs spanning 50 years. They’re from a 2007 report by Svensmark and the Institute’s director, Eigil Friis-Christensen, and they’re based on a European Space Agency project called ISAC. The carbon dioxide boys and girls would die for a match of cause and effect of this quality.

Cosmic ray intensity is in red and upside down, so that 1991 was a minimum, not a maximum. Fewer cosmic rays mean a warmer world, and the cosmic rays vary with the solar cycle. The blue curve shows the global mean temperature of the mid-troposphere as measured with balloons and collated by the UK Met Office (HadAT2).

In the upper panel the temperatures roughly follow the solar cycle. The match is much better when well-known effects of other natural disturbances (El Niño, North Atlantic Oscillation, big volcanoes) are removed, together with an upward trend of 0.14 deg. C per decade. The trend may be partly due to man-made greenhouse gases, but the magnitude of their contribution is debatable.

From 2000 to 2011 mid-tropospheric temperatures have remained pretty level, like those of the surface, despite the continuing increase in the gases – in “flat” contradiction to the warming predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Meanwhile the Sun is lazy, cosmic ray counts are high and the oceans are cooling.


Svensmark, H. and Friis-Christensen, E., “Reply to Lockwood and Fröhlich The persistent role of the Sun in climate forcing”, Danish National Space Center Scientific Report 3/2007.


Guided hurricanes


Predictions revisited and Climate Change: News and Comments

Guided hurricanes

When speculating four decades ago about the military uses of geophysics, Gordon J.F. MacDonald of UCLA contemplated the triggering of earthquakes or tsunamis, or melting polar ice with nuclear weapons. And he didn’t overlook the idea of steering hurricanes to ravage the enemy’s coasts. Reminding me of that prediction is a report now in press in Geophysical Research Letters, about how natural variations in the colour of the sea help to guide cyclones in the Pacific. A cyclone, remember, is a loosely used generic term that includes the major storms called hurricanes (Atlantic), typhoons (Pacific) or tropical cyclones (Indian Ocean and Australia).

Contributing to Unless Peace Comes, (1968), in a chapter entitled “How to Wreck the Environment”, MacDonald wrote:

… preliminary experiments have been carried out on the seeding of hurricanes. The dynamics of hurricanes and the mechanism by which energy is transferred from the ocean into the atmosphere supporting the hurricane are poorly understood. Yet various schemes for both dissipation and steering can be imagined. Although hurricanes originate in tropical regions, they can travel into temperate latitudes, as the residents of New England know only too well. A controlled hurricane could be used as a weapon to terrorize opponents over substantial parts of the populated world.

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Silly season for melting ice


Climate Change: News and Comments

The Silly Season Again for Melting Ice

At this time of year, while the Arctic sea ice dwindles under the midnight sun and the wind pushes it around, silly stories are needed to fill the pages of summer newspapers. So it’s party time for the global warming alarmists and their editorial cronies. For example, Nature magazine today laments:

Arctic melting: The Arctic has set another record for losing sea ice. Last month saw the lowest extent of sea ice in the Arctic for any June since satellite records started in 1979.”

[Note added 25 July: The day after I posted this, CNSNews reported Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as saying,  “Instead of waiting until 2030 or whenever it was to have an ice-free Arctic, we’re going to have one in five or 10 years.”]

It’s a replay of the polar stories of 2007, mentioned in a 2008 talk on the Tradecraft of Propaganda that I posted earlier:

Here’s the relevant extract from that talk: Last year [2007] you were told – shock, horror! — that Arctic sea ice was at its lowest extent since satellite measurements began. How that news was trumpeted on television and radio and in all the newspapers! What went completely unreported was that simultaneously, at the other end of the world, Antarctic sea ice was at a record high. Although the big freeze in Antarctica was again plainly announced in a press release from the US weather bureau, NOAA, not a single newspaper in North America or Europe carried this news unfavourable to the global warming brigade.

Let’s check what’s going on this year, around the southern end of the Earth’s axis.

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Next ice age


Climate Change – News and Comments

also Predictions Revisited

Prophet of the Next Ice Age

A hero from the glory days of discovery half a century ago, before the sophistry about man-made global warming invaded climate science, will be speaking at the Fourth International Conference on Climate Change in Chicago, 16-18 May 2010.

Kukla at work in Czechoslovakia, from The Weather Machine (book). Photo by courtesy of G. Kukla.

In the 1960s a respected geologist in his native Czechoslovakia, George Kukla, counted the layers of loess – windblown mineral dust ground by the glaciers and laid down in the region during recent ice ages. They were separated by darker material left over from warm interglacial periods. Kukla found too many layers of loess. Until then, almost everyone thought that there were just four recent glacial ages, with long interglacials between them. An exception was Cesare Emiliani, who in Chicago in 1955 had traced major variations in heavy oxygen in seabed fossils, and counted seven ice ages. Very few experts believed him until Kukla reported at least nine loess layers in the brickyards of Czechoslovakia.

Following the ill-fated bid for democracy in the “Prague Spring” of 1968 Kukla emerged from behind the Iron Curtain and found refuge at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory (now called the Earth Observatory) where he still works.

The observatory perches beside the former glacier valley of the Hudson River. And down at water level Alec Nisbett of BBC-TV filmed Kukla for our multinational TV blockbuster called “The Weather Machine”, broadcast in 1974. By then the count of ice ages had increased still further and the reasons for the comings-and-goings of the ice were better understood. And as you can view here (after a patch of narration read grandly by the actor Eric Porter) Kukla issued a warning.

Added 16 May: The wonders of WordPress feedback tell me that only 10% of visitors to this story follow the YouTube link, so I’ll put in the transcript.

Narrator: Will a new ice age claim our lands and bury our northern cities? It’s buried Manhattan Island before, when great glaciers half a mile thick filled the valley of New York’s Hudson River. That’s what an ice age is all about. George Kukla is from Czechoslovakia, where he discovered signs that ice ages are far more frequent that most experts have supposed. Today he continues his work near New York City. For him, the next ice age is not at all remote.

George Kukla: Well almost all of us have been pretty sure that there were only four ice ages, separated by relatively long warm intervals. But now we know that there were twenty in the last two million years. And the warm periods are much shorter than we believed originally. They are something around 10,000 years long. and I’m sorry to say that the one we are living in now has just passed its 10,000 year birthday. That of course means that the ice age is due now any time.

In this post I’ll summarize what was going on in the mid-1970s, about ice age science and climate policy, before catching up with what Kukla thinks nowadays about the coming ice age.

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Maps of monsoon history


Climate Change – News and Comments

Maps of monsoon history

Brendan Buckley cores a tree in Vietnam. Photo: K. Krajick, Earth Institute, Columbia U.

Asian Monsoon Failure and Megadrought During the Last Millennium” is the dramatic title of a report in Science that introduces a new Monsoon Asia Drought Atlas. Edward R. Cook and his colleagues at the Tree-Ring Laboratory of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have used tree-rings from 300 sites in Asian forests to reconstruct the summer “Palmer Drought Severity Index” (PDSI) across India, China and adjacent regions. PDSI is a fairly complicated reckoning of local deviations from mean conditions, originated in 1965 by Wayne C. Palmer, a climatologist in the US Weather Bureau.

In the following examples, North American data supplement the Asian PDSI, and anomalous sea-surface temperatures (SST) across the Pacific are also reconstructed.

On land, brown is abnormally dry, green is wet. On the oceans, red is abnormally warm, blue is cool. Fig. 4 in E.R. Cook et al, Science, 23 April 2010, distributed by NOAA Paleoclimatology.

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global warming want to bet


Climate Change: News and Comments

Global warming – want to bet?

From the sweepstake's website

The smart money is on global warming,” declared a tipster in the journal Nature, back in 2001. John Whitfield was commenting on a short article in Science about an annual sweepstake on the date and time of springtime melting of river ice at Nenana in central Alaska. As Nature in London and Science in Washington have been the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of climatic alarmism, the prediction was consistent with editorial beliefs.

The tripod on 27 April 2010. From Ice Clasic Website.

Nenana is about 60 km south-west of Fairbanks, Alaska’s biggest inland city, and the townsfolk manage the sweepstake in support of local charities. They call it the Nenana Ice Classic, and this year’s betting closed on 5 April 2010. Every March, they embed a tripod in the ice covering the Tanana River. When the ice melts in late April or early May, the tripod moves, tripping a wire that stops a clock. Public concern about the size of the jackpot ($279,000 in 2010) ensures consistency and supervision worthy of the most meticulous scientific fieldwork.

Supposing you followed Nature’s advice in 2001, and bet on an ever-earlier melt date, would that have helped you to win the sweepstake?

If you knew that El Niño warmings and volcanic coolings influence the Alaskan river ice, you might have prudently started from the ten-year average from 1992 to 2001. Correcting for leap years, the average melting date was May 1. In the subsequent nine years, 2002-2010, the Nenana clock stopped as shown here, with leap years starred. Five times the melt was earlier than in 1992-2001, but three times it was later. The average melting date remained stubbornly at May 1. Nature proclaimed in 2001 that “an Alaskan sweepstake has become a record of global warming.” Now the Nenana ice joins the growing number of indications that global warming has at least paused, since the mid-1990s.

Engineers who were building a bridge over the river at Nenana started the sweepstake in 1917, and an unbroken sequence of records exists. Regarding the event as a proxy for springtime temperatures in central Alaska, I here plot the data with early melts high and late melts low.

The black line is a mathematical curve fitted to the data (5th order polynomial). It has no special statistical warranty but it gives a fair impression of ever-changing trends in the Alaskan climate. Only from 1975 to 1995 was a trend towards earlier ice melts fully consistent with the theory of man-made global warming. By contrast, most of the ups and downs match nicely with long-term decreases or increases in cosmic rays reaching the Earth, as the Sun’s magnetic activity varied. The dip since 2000 coincides with increasing cosmic radiation during a time of weakened solar activity.

Should you have therefore bet on the Nenana ice breakup being later in 2010? Not necessarily, because the smart money is on El Niño. The earliest melts in the Nenana record were on April 20 1940 (April 21 if not a leap year) and on April 20 1998. Both followed strong El Niño warmings in the eastern Pacific. So anyone aware of the major El Niño in progress in recent months might well have wagered on an April melt. In any case, you have to predict the time of day of the breakup – by hour and minutes – which leaves the most thoughtful analyst with little advantage over the general public in Alaska, who may just guess.

Simpler and surer bets about the climate take a long time. Ten years ago, mirth and outrage followed my suggestion on German television that global warming had stopped. That led to a written wager with the TV producer.

My expectation was a little premature and in 2006, because the satellite data did not go my way, I handed over the € 500. Much more important than that was my growing confidence that I had not misled the German TV viewers about global warming having stopped. Henrik Svensmark and Eigil Friis-Christensen in Copenhagen confirmed it in 2007, using tropospheric and oceanic temperature data. Others did so with officially publicized surface temperatures, so that by 2009 Kevin Trenberth, a prominent global warmer at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, was admitting in a leaked “Climategate” e-mail that “we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t”.

Do we see just a hesitation in global warming, or the start of a prolonged cooling? In the second edition of The Chilling Stars (2008), Svensmark and I said “enjoy the global warming while it lasts”, and Svensmark repeated the remark in a Danish newspaper in 2009. Words, you might say, come cheap, but two Russian physicists have serous money riding on an expected decline in temperatures.

Vladimir Bashkirtsev and Galina Mashnich at the Institute of Solar-Terrestrial Physics in Irkutsk published in 2003 a paper entitled “Will we face global warming in the nearest future?” They answered the question with a determined “No”. To account for what they called “the cooling that has already started” Bashkirtsev and Mashnich traced the clear link between sunspot counts and temperatures, in Irkutsk and globally, over the period 1882-2000, and they went on to endorse a prediction that sunspot cycles would weaken over the coming decades.

In 2005, the Russian pair agreed to a $10,000 bet about it with James Annan, a British pro-warming climate modeller working in Yokohama. As reported by Jim Giles in Nature, Mashnich and Bashkirtsev said that the average global surface temperature in 2012-17 would be lower than in 1998-2003, using data from the US National Climatic Data Center. Solar activity certainly seems to have declined in the Russians’ favour. But like the gamblers themselves, onlookers must now wait until 2018 to know the outcome. A merit of the Nenana Ice Classic is that it demands only a few weeks’ patience from the punters .


J. Whitfield, “Warm favourite”, Nature News, published online, 26 October 2001 doi:10.1038/news011101-2

R. Sagarin & F. Micheli, “Climate Change in Nontraditional Data Sets”, Science, Vol. 294, p. 811 2001

Nenana Ice Classic

Nenana melt records are available from the University of Colorado at

H. Svensmark and E. Friis-Christensen, ‘Reply to Lockwood and Fröhlich – The Persistent Role of the Sun in Climate Forcing’, Danish National Space Center Scientific Report, 3/2007

K. Trenberth, “Re: BBC U-turn on climate”, email to Michael Mann et al. 12 Oct 2009

J. Giles, “Climate sceptics place bets on world cooling down”, Nature, Vol. 436, p. 897, 2005

V.S. Bashkirtsev & G.P. Mashnich, G.P., “Will we face global warming in the nearest future?” Geomagnetism and Aeronomy, Vol. 43, pp. 124-127.2003.

Monsoons and the Sun


Climate Change: Updating The Chilling Stars

Monsoons and the Sun

Late rains saved most of the 2009 harvest of India, despite a shortfall of 21% in the summer’s rainfall that led to a ban on rice exports, after a 17% loss of production in West Bengal. But 2009 saw the worst deficit in India’s summer monsoon since 1972, while Burma (Myanmar) had its the shortest monsoon season since 1979.

It is chastening to recall that, in April 2009, Reuters reported the Indian Meteorological Department as saying, “IMD’s long range forecast for the 2009 south-west monsoon season (June to September) is that the rainfall for the country as a whole is likely to be near normal.” Even an updated forecast in June expected only a small rainfall deficit. Clearly, the unpredictable monsoons remain a problem for meteorology and climate physics.

Is there a link between reduced monsoon rains and the Sun’s recent sluggish behaviour, shown by the scarcity of sunspots? Probably. But to clarify the solar link well enough to make better regional forecasts, for even a few months ahead, remains an urgent task. Read the rest of this entry »