Do Solar Flares Cause Global Warming?

We’ve all seen the diagrams showing how a substantial increase in C02 emissions has, since the industrial era, correlated with a significant increase in Earth’s temperature… therefore proving that C02 causes global warming!

Alright, hold your horses Al Gore, this isn’t exactly foolproof. Don’t get me wrong, the greenhouse effect is a fact; and we should be very thankful for it. For if it didn’t exist, then, in all likelihood, neither would we.

That being said, there are a number of observations that are leading skeptics to claim that C02 is not the main driving force behind global warming. The documented warming on Mars, Jupiter, Triton and Pluto have cast the shadow of a doubt on anthropogenic global warming; and seems to indicate that the Sun is the driving force in global warming… who would have thought?

For what it’s worth, scientist have found independent causes as to why these celestial bodies are experiencing simultaneous global warming. And not much credibility is given to this as evidence of what I like to call ”solar warming”. But never mind that, since the only truly reliable way to obtain data of the Sun’s energy emissions would be… well, to measure the Sun’s energy emissions.

Unfortunately, satellite measurements only cover an extremely small portion of time and simply do not provide enough data to tackle this question. Thus, we must rely on other methods which, although allow for a higher margin of error, can provide us with long-term information and thus, more informed conclusions.

One record of solar activity observation goes back four centuries, with consistent data collection: sunspot activity. Increases in sunspot activity mean an increase in solar radiance as, apart from emanating more UV radiation than normal, these are usually accompanied by solar flares and/or coronal mass ejections. The record, courtesy of enthusiastic astronomers who have dully noted sunspot activity since the invention of the telescope, clearly shows that not only have there been more and more sightings since the onset of the industrial era, but also that there were almost none to be found during the period known as the little ice age (1600-1750).

Another method for analyzing solar activity involves changes in Carbon-14 concentration in the atmosphere, which serves as a long term proxy for solar activity. If anything, the results are almost the same where the time frames overlap, though these readings show more sharply marked variations. It also clearly indicates that the solar activity we experience today is similar to that of the medieval warm period at about 1000 A.D., and is not entirely out of the ordinary, were it not for the fact that it appears to have been on a much steeper rise in recent history.
Cabon-14 with activity labelsPhoto: United States Geological Survey; United States Department of the Interior

A different study from NASA also inferred solar activity for the last 11,400 years using carbon-14 dating of organic material. It concluded that the Sun’s activity during the last 70 years is ”exceptional”, that activity has not been this high for more than 10% of the time in 11,400 years, and never has it been as prolonged as it is now. Though the study warns against assuming that this alone could explain the temperature increases in the past three decades, saying that it is unlikely that this was the dominant cause.
Instrumental Temperature RecordPhoto: Robert A. Rohde, Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA.

And so we have come full circle, parting from the established consensus, getting a look at the alternative view and finally returning to the middle ground. Like mentioned in the beginning, the greenhouse effect is a fact and it being the inevitable consequence of the physical properties of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases should alert the reader to the reality that, even if you can find a thousand arguments as to why anthropogenic climate change is nothing but a myth, you still can’t turn carbon into gold. It is what it is, and it does what it does.

That being said, the single-minded focus on carbon emissions seems to have distracted from true understanding. The Earth’s meteorological system is far more complex than is currently understood, and not to include variations in solar output in our calculations is criminal as far as this author concerned; not to mention the potentially dozens of other variables that are misrepresented, exaggerated, undiscovered and/or simply ignored.

As we mature, we come to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around us and that not everything has to do with us. Unfortunately, we are still a very young species, and some of us still wish to cling on to that notion… Some people even got killed for suggesting otherwise and I can only hope we are a little wiser for it today.

In closing, a long-term proxy analysis of temperature and solar activity:

What do you make of it?

Solanki, S. K., I. G. Usoskin, B. Kromer, M. Schüssler, and J. Beer. “Unusual activity of the Sun during recent decades compared to the previous 11,000 years.” Nature 28 Oct. 2004: 1084-1087. Letters to Nature. Web. 14 June 2010.