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Does the Sun and Space Weather Affect our Earthly Climes?


Does sunspot activity affect earth's climate? In short, not for certain, but there's some interesting correlation: (from NOAA's The Sun and Sunspots)

.... "But the jury is still out on how much sunspots can (or do) affect the Earth's climate.  Times of maximum sunspot activity are associated with a very slight increase in the energy output from the sun.  Ultraviolet radiation increases dramatically during high sunspot activity, which can have a large effect on the Earth's atmosphere.  From the mid 1600s to early 1700s, a period of very low sunspot activity (known as the Maunder Minimum) coincided with a number of long winters and severe cold temperatures in Western Europe, called the Little Ice Age.  It is not known whether the two phenomena are linked or if it was just coincidence.  The reason it is hard to relate maximum and minimum solar activity (sunspots) to the Earth's climate, is due to the complexity of the Earth's climate itself.  For example, how does one sort out whether a long-term weather change was caused by sunspots, or maybe a coinciding El Nino or La Nina?  Increased volcanic eruptions can also affect the Earth's climate by cooling the planet.  And what about the burning of fossil fuels and clear cutting rain forests?  One thing is more certain, sunspot cycles have been correlated in the width of tree ring growth.  More study will be conducted in the future on relating sunspot activity and our Earth's climate."
....
"One interesting aspect of solar cycles is that the sun went through a period of sunspot inactivity from about
1645 to 1715.  This period of sunspot minima is called the Maunder Minimum.  Sunspots were measured during this timeframe, although the more detailed, daily measurements began in 1749.  The "Little Ice Age" occurred over parts of Earth during the Maunder Minimum.  So the question remains, do solar minimums help to create periods of cooler than normal weather, and do solar maximums help to cause drought over sections of Earth?  This question is not easily answered due to the immensely complex interaction between our atmosphere, land and oceans.  In addition, there is evidence that some of the major ice ages Earth has experienced were caused by Earth being deviated from its "average" 23.5 degrees tilt on its axis.  The Earth has tilted anywhere from near 22 degrees to 24.5 degrees on its axis.  The number of sunspots alone do not alter the overall solar emissions much at all.  However, the increased/decreased magnetic activity which accompanies sunspot maxima/minima directly influences the amount of ultraviolet  radiation which moves through the upper atmosphere."  
From: NOAA's The Sun and Sunspots


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Revised: 02 Feb 2009 22:53 -0800 GMT (Pacific)