Scientists Discover How Events In Space Effect Climate On Earth

Events In Space Effect Earth’s Climate More than Scientists Believed

Our understanding how much the sun and other things occurring in space effect Earth’s climate is still in its infancy.


Because – as NASA explains – interactions between the sun, sources of cosmic radiation and the Earth are very complicated, and takes an interdisciplinary team of solar physicists, chemists and others to quantify what is really going on.

Indeed, scientists have been stunned in recent years by the following  discoveries:

  • Flares from the sun change the rate of radioactive decay of elements on Earth
  • Sounds generated deep inside the Sun cause the Earth to shake and vibrate in sympathy. They have found that Earth’s magnetic field, atmosphere and terrestrial systems, all take part in this cosmic sing-along
  • “Space weather” causes “spacequakes” in Earth’s geomagnetic field

Earth’s Magnetic Field Greatly Effects Climate In Upper Atmosphere

Phys Org reports:

The increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration has been thought to be the main cause of climatic changes at these high altitudes. [But a new study  in the Journal of Space Weather and Space Climate] suggests that magnetic field changes that have taken place over the past century are as important.


Both increasing levels of CO2 and changes in the Earth’s magnetic field affect the upper atmosphere, including its charged portion, also known as the ionosphere. Dr. Ingrid Cnossen from the British Antarctic Survey used computer simulations to compare the effects of these two factors over the past century.

While CO2 causes heat to be trapped in the lower atmosphere, it actually cools the upper atmosphere. The simulations show that the increase in CO2 concentration over the past 100 years has caused the upper atmosphere, at around 300 km altitude, to cool by around 8 degrees. At the same altitude, changes in the Earth’s magnetic field caused a similar amount of cooling over parts of North America, but caused a warming over other parts of the world, with the strongest warming, of up to 12 degrees, located over Antarctica.

Dr. Ingrid Cnossen said: “Computer simulations are a very important tool in understanding the causes of climate change at high altitudes. We still can’t explain all of the long-term trends that have been observed, but it helps that we now know how important the magnetic field is.”

The new simulations also indicate that rising CO2 levels have caused the densest part of the ionosphere to lower by about 5 km globally. Changes in the Earth’s magnetic field can cause much larger changes, but they are very dependent on location and can be either positive or negative; over the southern Atlantic Ocean a decrease in height of up to 50 km was found, while an increase in height of up to 20 km was found over western Africa.

Newly-Discovered Mechanisms: Lightning, NOx and Ozone

It is known that intense solar activity can destroy ozone in the Earth’s atmosphere, thus affecting climactic temperatures. See this, this, this, this and this. Indeed, the effects of solar energy on ozone may be one of the main ways in which the sun influences Earth’s climate.

And this week, scientists discovered another way in which events in space effect the Earth’s climate. As BBC reports:

Scientists have found that when gusts of high-speed solar particles enter our atmosphere, the number of lightning bolts increases.

The research is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.


The scientists found that when the speed and intensity of the solar winds increased, so too did the rate of lightning strikes.

The team said the turbulent weather lasted for more than a month after the particles hit the Earth.


Previous research has shown that cosmic rays from space can boost the rate of lightning, and it had been thought that an increased shielding effect from the solar particles would cause a decrease in the number of strikes.

In other words, bursts of solar output and bursts of cosmic rays from outside of our solar system both increase lightning on Earth.

Lightning, in turn, may effect climate. For example, Colin Price of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences notes:

Lightning is a major source of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the atmosphere, which are a precursor of ozone (O3) production in the troposphere. Since O3 is also a greenhouse gas, changes in lightning activity may result in an additional warming (positive feedback) on the climate system.

And NASA wrote in 2009:

Every year, scientists learn something new about the inner workings of lightning.

With satellites, they have discovered that more than 1.2 billion lightning flashes occur around the world every year.


Each of those billion lightning flashes produces a puff of nitrogen oxide gas (NOx) that reacts with sunlight and other gases in the atmosphere to produce ozone …. higher in the atmosphere, it is a potent greenhouse gas ….


According to a new paper by Ott and Pickering in the Journal of Geophysical Research, each flash of lightning on average in the several mid-latitude and subtropical thunderstorms studied turned 7 kilograms (15.4 pounds) of nitrogen into chemically reactive NOx. “In other words, you could drive a new car across the United States more than 50 times and still produce less than half as much NOx as an average lightning flash,” Ott estimated. The results were published July.

When the researchers multiplied the number of lightning strokes worldwide by 7 kilograms, they found that the total amount of NOx produced by lightning per year is 8.6 terragrams, or 8.6 million metric tons. “That’s somewhat high compared to previous estimates,” said Pickering.


New research suggests that the bulk of NOx produced during lightning storms ends up significantly higher in the atmosphere—and thus has a stronger impact on ozone and the climate—than previously thought.

Cosmic Rays Increase Cloud Formation

One of the world’s most prestigious science labs – CERN – discovered in 2011 that cosmic rays effect cloud formation, which in turn effects the Earth’s climate. Specifically, CERN demonstrated that higher levels of cosmic rays increase cloud formation.

This confirmed the findings of a Danish team of scientists earlier that year, who discovered the mechanism for this effect:

[Danish scientists] have directly demonstrated in a new experiment that cosmic radiation can create small floating particles – so-called aerosols – in the atmosphere. By doing so, they substantiate the connection between the Sun’s magnetic activity and the Earth’s climate.


Electrically charged particles coming from space and hitting the atmosphere at high speed contribute to creating the aerosols that are the prerequisites for cloud formation. The more cloud cover occurring around the world, the lower the global temperature – and vice versa when there are fewer clouds.

There is – in turn – a relationship between solar activity and the amount of cosmic rays hitting the Earth.  As the news magazine for the prestigious science journal Nature notes:

The number of cosmic rays that reach Earth depends on the Sun. When the Sun is emitting lots of radiation, its magnetic field shields the planet from cosmic rays. During periods of low solar activity, more cosmic rays reach Earth.

Other scientists have found correlations between the amount of cosmic rays coming from beyond our solar system hitting the Earth and clouds and climate on Earth, and their findings have been discussed in the journal Geology, the American Geophysical Union (Fall Meeting 2006), and other forums.

Therefore, during periods of low solar output, more cosmic rays hit the Earth, more clouds are formed, and the Earth’s climate cools down.

In 2008, NASA announced that the solar wind hit a 50-year low.   In November, New Scientist reported that solar activity was heading towards its lowest level in 400 years.

Therefore, an unusually high level of cosmic rays may be hitting the Earth.

Our Own Magnetic Field Effects Climate

Similarly, when Earth’s magnetic field is weak, more cosmic rays from beyond our solar system hit the Earth, thereby effecting climate.  Agence France-Presse reported in 2009:

The earth’s climate has been significantly affected by the planet’s magnetic field, according to a Danish study published Monday ….

“Our results show a strong correlation between the strength of the earth’s magnetic field and the amount of precipitation in the tropics,” one of the two Danish geophysicists behind the study, Mads Faurschou Knudsen of the geology department at Aarhus University in western Denmark, told the Videnskab journal.

He and his colleague Peter Riisager, of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), compared a reconstruction of the prehistoric magnetic field 5,000 years ago based on data drawn from stalagmites and stalactites found in China and Oman.

The results of the study, which has also been published in US scientific journal Geology, lend support to a controversial theory published a decade ago by Danish astrophysicist Henrik Svensmark, who claimed the climate was highly influenced by galactic cosmic ray (GCR) particles penetrating the earth’s atmosphere.

And see this.

The Earth’s magnetic field has, in fact, been weakening. PBS noted in November:

Three European satellites launched Friday on a mission to study why the magnetic field surrounding Earth appears to be weakening.

The four-year study by the European Space Agency will collect data and map the field, which protects the planet (and us) from solar radiation. Scientists say the field’s strength has weakened by about 15 percent in the last 200 years.

Interestingly, a huge hole was also found in the Earth’s magnetic field in 2008.  The Telegraph reported:

Large hole in magnetic field that protects Earth from sun’s rays … Recent satellite observations have revealed the largest breach yet seen in the magnetic field that protects Earth from most of the sun’s violent blasts.

And see these reports from NASA and USA Today.   The same year, NASA discovered a “mysterious source of high-energy cosmic radiation”:

Scientists announced Wednesday the discovery of a previously unidentified nearby source of high-energy cosmic rays.


Researchers … published the results in the Nov. 20 issue of the journal Nature. The new results show an unexpected surplus of cosmic ray electrons at very high energy — 300-800 billion electron volts — that must come from a previously unidentified source or from the annihilation of very exotic theoretical particles used to explain dark matter.

“This electron excess cannot be explained by the standard model of cosmic ray origin,” said John P. Wefel, ATIC project principal investigator and a professor at Louisiana State. “There must be another source relatively near us that is producing these additional particles.”

According to the research, this source would need to be within about 3,000 light years of the sun.

We are not certain whether the hole in Earth’s magnetic field has closed up  since 2008, or whether the high-energy source had stopped pumping out so many cosmic rays.  We are only noting both events as an interesting example of the type of conditions which can – at least for brief periods – lead to extraordinary amounts of cosmic rays bombarding the Earth.

Events In Space Effect the Severity of Droughts and El Niño and La Niña Conditions

Solar activity may also effect the severity of droughts and El Niño conditions. As National Geographic reported in 2008:

The sun’s fluctuations can help predict extreme climatic events on Earth decades ahead of time, new research suggests.


The cycles, which are driven by the sun’s magnetic turbulence, may influence weather systems on Earth, particularly the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, a periodic climatic system associated with floods and droughts mostly in the Southern Hemisphere.


The Southern Oscillation Index, which measures the El Niño-Southern Oscillation system, seems to correspond with a 90-year sun cycle, Baker found.


Periods of greater solar disturbances are associated with rainy periods, whereas a calmer sun dovetailed with times of drought in Australia, Baker said.


El Niño and La Niña, which creates opposite climatic effects from El Niño, also affect North America.

That means long-range forecasting is possible for water availability in Mexico and the western United States, where droughts are often severe, Baker said.

How solar cycles may influence Earth’s weather systems is not well understood, but Baker speculated that cosmic radiation is a factor.

For instance, Baker’s research shows that periods of high cosmic radiation coincide with particularly long La Niñas, Baker said.

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