back to article Boffins confirm sunspot-weather link

A group of scientists led by German researcher Frank Sirocko of the Johannes Gutenberg University at Mainz has provided a long-term statistical study relating weather to the Sun’s 11-year cycle. The study, carried out in conjunction with the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich, Switzerland, used records of …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    This could get messy... Lewis Page's head implodes.

  2. PatrickE

    Odd. "record-setting cold winters in 2010 and 2011" compared with " colder “low-sunspot” winters are growing warmer". So the winters are warmer and set record setting cold at the same time, thus the Rhine doesn't know WTF to do. Maybe some other factor such as flow, traffic, whatever has stopped the Rhine from freezing despite the record setting cold/warm winters?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You missed...

      It seems you missed the difference between averages, modes and medians. The "highs" and "lows" to each is different, yet the same data set. Same goes for long term or short term. It could be "a record cold" for this decade, but "much warmer" than the last 5 decades. Not sure which applies here, but if you apply your brain you can do the math.

      1. DJ Smiley

        Re: You missed...

        That depends - was the temp recorded each time the rhine froze in the past, or just that it was frozen.

        If its the prior then they can compare the temps, however I find it more likely that it just shows "was frozen, no ships today".

      2. SalemTheRat

        Re: You missed...

        You missed the fact that surely the freezing of the Rhine has no truck with statistics - if the winters were record breaking, why did the Rhine not freeze - because on average it's warmer? I didn't realise water had a heat memory.

    2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Rhine freezing

      I was going to say it must have something to do with diethylene glycol from the wine industry until I remembered that the Rhine does not flow through Austria........

      1. Mips

        Re: Rhine freezing

        Of course it could also have something to do with all those barges churning up and down day and night. There are a lot more of them than there used to be.

        How about doing a correlation with that?

    3. The last doughnut

      Rhine less likely to freeze

      Because of all the power stations located along it. Power stations either use sea water, river water or cooling towers to raise their thermodynamic efficiency. They can and do raise the river water temperature by small amounts.

      Because of increased agricultural run-off. More stuff dissolved in the water will lower the freezing point, again by small amounts.

      Because of bigger ships using it.

      I could go on ...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Rhine less likely to freeze

        Because of urban heat islands along the Rhine becoming significantly larger?

  3. Curly4

    Modern times

    The same study also suggests that even the colder “low-sunspot” winters are growing warmer, with the researchers pointing out that the Rhine hasn’t frozen over since 1963 (in spite of record-setting cold winters in 2010 and 2011).

    Could that not be explained by population and housing and auto and more concrete being used in the modern times?

  4. Poor Coco
    Thumb Down

    “Either there’s ice or there’s no ice”

    Well, what if there is a tiny bit of ice? Where exactly do they draw the line? It ain’t as Boolean as they claim. Even, say 10% ice cover is a drastically different situation from solidly frozen over, in thermodynamic terms.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: “Either there’s ice or there’s no ice”

      The Rhine is both large and fast so I suspect that either coherent icing remains quite minimal along the sides or progresses to a complete freeze-over, without stable states between these extremes. That was certainly the case with the Oder in the cold winter of 2005/2006 - although visible floating ice appeared in the river long before it froze over it remained navigable.

  5. Martin Budden

    "Sunspots still don’t account for climate change" orly?

    Let me ftfy:

    "We still don't know for sure if sunspots do/don’t account for some/all of climate change"

    1. John Hughes

      Re: "Sunspots still don’t account for climate change" orly?

      No the fix is:

      "We have absolutely no reason to imagine that sunspots account for any climate change since there is no trend in sunspot activity".

  6. Chris Miller

    Sunspot cycle

    “does not impact hemispherically averaged temperatures, but only leads to regional temperature anomalies”. I find it hard to understand how changes on the sun could have anything other than a global impact. The immediate effects of this would differ locally, of course.

    On an unrelated point - isn't Sirocko a wonderful example of nominative determinism?

  7. frank ly

    Correlation and Causation?

    Are there any theories about why low sunspot activity should cause cold weather in Europe (or affect it anywhere else)?

    1. Refugee from Windows

      Re: Correlation and Causation?

      There has been research into the interaction of the solar wind onto the upper atmosphere, that it tends to warm it up by causing the atmosphere to be more turbulent. Look at the Maunder Minimum, and although solar output may vary it's not by much, there's still a lot of research going on. It seems awfully coincidental that a lot of the coldest winters have occurred at sunspot minimums, and that we had a long cold spell, as mentioned, when the spots dried up. Spots may be good for us!

    2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

      Re: Correlation and Causation?

      Yes there are: low sunspot activity means a weaker solar magnetic field, which leads to more cosmic rays penetrating the atmosphere, which leads to more ionized particles, which leads to more clouds (as ionized particles are condensation kernels which seed clouds), which leads to higher reflectance of the earth, which leads to lower temperatures. Quite a series of steps, but there is supporting evidence.

      Statistically there have been many studies linking the Maunder Minimum to a "little ice age". I read a paper by Danish astronomers in about 1990, showing a 98% correlation between sunspot activity and temperature on earth over a period of about 150 years. Of course, this is correlation, not causation, but it is a very strong correlation indeed. Besides, I would hesitate yo suggest that temperatures on earth cause an increase in solar activity ;-).

      Assuming the changes on the sun do not affect climate in any way is saying the main energy source of all earthly weather has no effect on the weather. However, saying the sun is the only cause behind climate change, and pollution has no effect at all is over-simplification as well.

      1. NomNomNom

        Re: Correlation and Causation?

    3. Gary Moran

      Re: Correlation and Causation?

      Yes, low solar activity means less UV radiation, which leads to stratospheric cooling. This in turn creates northern blocking patterns in winter and an associated shrinking of the polar vortex: warping the jetstream and reducing cyclogenesis. Basically the negative Arctic Oscillation pattern we saw in winter 2010.

  8. Graham Marsden

    Appropriate name...

    Weather... Sirocko...

  9. resoldab

    So the forecast?

    I must of missed it in the report, are we having a cold one this year?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: So the forecast?

      I'm planning on having more than one cold one. Preferably every Friday rather than just once per year!!

  10. Julian 3

    Sunspot Tax

    Clearly what is needed here is a Sunspot Tax.

    Problem solved!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sunspot Tax

      Tough on Sunspots - Tough on the causes of Sunspots....

  11. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. itzman

    The year is 2027.

    The temperature of the earth has fallen 3 degrees overall as a new ice age dawns. With te demise of the UN, the IPCC has gone the way of all things, but one figures is shambling up a snow bound street dresses in old sacks with plastic bags on his feet.

    We pan in, its the ext director of the IPCC James Hansen.. A few cars whine slowly past, with blacked our windows and motorcycle escorst down the Zlin lanes of Washington. James stumbles up to a McRoboCafe and reaching a grubby hand into his pocket slaps a $500 coin on the counter "Gimme a coffeee, bitch" he growls to the android "And a fondlehat: I wanna check the noos".

    Dragging his luke-warm synthetic beverage over to the warmest booth in the joint, he slips the headset over his eyes and rapidly pages to what he has been looking for, the results of the latest computer ruin of the international academic charities global distributed climate model that runs on everyone's computer cores in any thing they have. that clocks a flop..

    "Global Climate scientists manage to predict the present" screams the headline..he reads on 'After 27 years of trying, models are now accurate enough that we can predict what today's climate is like from the historical data we now have" gushes the worlds top climatologist, "Our model is the most sophisticated ever, incorporating no less then 37,268 independent variables and 4.2billion partial differential equations that link them, I mean I think we are really getting close to a model that really does map to the real climate".

    "Gosh" says the interviewer "That's friggin far out, man! So what does that tell us about the climate in the next ten years?" "Well it tells us tow things, tow really important things that we thing justifies the whole project, firstly that we will be able to tell you what the climate will be like in ten years in.." and he grabs am ancient fondleslab "exactly nine point two three five oh seven years time! This is the first time we ave been able to bring the prediction of climate change AHEAD of the actual change. At the current rate of progress in another fifty years time by using a computer slightly larger than the entire earth we hope to be able to swing that out to as much as ten year in the future, with only a one sigma uncertainty" "Wow, that's SO COOL" gushes the pneumatic blonde android on Faux News, "and what is the second thing?" "Well we have identified the absolute sensitivity to the whole climate to random singular data points: like its really chaotic, innit? so something as simple as some old tramp spilling a cup of synthocoffee in a booth in a Washington RoboCafe could make the difference between Snowball Earth and Desert Earth, y'now" .

    James is startled - Jesus this context sensitive tailored syntho broadcasting has gotten better than he thought. his trembling hand knocks over the cup of coffee.."Some old Tramp, huh" he mutters "BITCH. I INVENTED Climate modelling " But then his attention goes back to the screen "And what about that old Retro Chestnut, Carbon Dyed Oxhide, we were told back when you could still sunbathe naked in Florida" (Cheers from the synthetic audioambience as the 'droid slips a shoulder strap temptingly) "that that was going to make us all live in an eternal warm climate where plants and stuff still grew right? " Well, and indeed of course that's in the model, and of course it makes a real difference! We calculate" - his fingers fly over his antique fondleslab, "that without Carbon Dyed Oxhide at its current level of twice what it was in 2000, the tundra would extend as far south as Chicago, instead of stopping at Milwaukee! All other things being equal, which of course they aren't - which is why we have so many variables."

    James gets up and slams his fist on the table, spilling yet more coffee," There Bitch!" he screams, spittle flying out of his mouth "I told ya that CO2 was the thing, I was right ALL ALONG" and he shambles out towards the last remaining nuclear powerplant on the Potomac, hoping to find a warm place under a cooling outflow to catch forty winks in the pale August sunshine, before he begins the long trek back to CanCun to overwinter ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The year is 2027.

      Shouldn't you be at work? Or is it the summer holidays?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ah yes, fiction.

      Because you don't have any facts to argue from. That weakened your argument, not supported it.

  13. cosymart

    Local variables

    Could it be that the Rhine now has more warm water flowing into it (power stations, industrial plants, sewage etc.) than it did in the past which is why it has not frozen recently?

    1. James 100

      Re: Local variables

      I doubt the temperature of outflow would make that much of a difference - power stations put most of the heat into the air through cooling towers anyway, and compared to the volume of water involved, the thermal energy would be minute.

      The volume and flow rate could be a factor, though: apparently much better upstream drainage increases the peak flow substantially on our bigger rivers (one reason for floods being more common now: previously, a major downpour would saturate fields then drain into the river over the course of days). In very cold weather, you often get little clumps of ice forming around bridge supports and along the edges; with slower water, it's easier for the ice to expand rather than getting washed downstream.

  14. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "However, the research doesn’t invalidate carbon-driven warming"

    Conversely, it is not implicit that this research validates carbon-driven warming either. Why oh why does almost every paper on solar forcing feel the need to mention anthropogenic forcing? Just stick to the facts, present your data/conclusions and don't give us any political flim-flam about anthropogenic forcing. If a paper is not about anthropogenic forcing - which clearly solar forcing is not - just present the data and be done with it.

    "the researchers pointing out that the Rhine hasn’t frozen over since 1963 (in spite of record-setting cold winters in 2010 and 2011)."

    Do the authors factor in pollution levels? Probably not - but I'm guessing here. The Rhine has been quite polluted during these years.

    All in all, not what I would call a conclusive or particularly useful paper - more a waste of time and money.

    NonNomNom, care to give me a verbal backhander? :)

    1. NomNomNom

      No I agree with your post today, and sorry about yesterday i was in a bad mood :O

    2. Wilco 1

      The reason the authers have to mention AGW is because otherwise deniers will use the paper as "proof" that solar spots are solely responsible for any warming. It's sad that we are in this situation despite proof to the contrary (someone already posted the graph), but that's the way it is.

      You're right to bring up pollution levels - salinity, waste heat from power stations and industrial pollution might have changed. However with much stricter environmental controls the quality of the water has likely improved markely in 50 years - after all, downstream countries use it for drinking water.

  16. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    A few points

    There statistical tests on the data indicate the timing between sunspot minima & the freezes is *statistically* significant. IE the *level* of sunspot activity is implicated in the freezing events.

    A mechanism is described that links that activity to the activity on a *regional* basis (solar UV level -> North Atlantic Oscillation -> lower Central Europe temperatures)

    The mechanism *also* accounts for why some areas (Iceland) have become *periodically* warmer at the same time.

    Note the Rhine has not frozen *since* 1963 (close to half a century) and as others have pointed out being a big fast flowing river it takes a degree of sub cooling before it ices over. This indicates the *trend* in average temperature is upward. However like the improved flow on the Thames when one of the bridges was removed eliminated the Thames freezes there are a number of possible explanations.

    I would suggest the "does not disprove AGW" line seems to have become endemic in this area as a disclaimer to protect the authors both from being used as ammunition by disbelievers and believers alike.

    BTW It's interesting that the UV forcing of the NA Oscillation by differing solar activity levels seems accepted by climate researches but their influence on cosmic ray seeding of still seems controversial.

    Not quite a thumbs up as it's data study, not a field data collection, but it adds credence that their should be a "solar activity profile" knob to be twiddled on climate models.

  17. Dr Dan Holdsworth

    Still missing the huge unvoiced assumption

    As my PhD tutors always taught, when proposing any hypothesis you must always list the assumptions you have made before starting on the hypothesis. In climate change "science", this is almost never done. So, to help out the climate change wonks a little, here goes:

    1) The radiation output and heating effects of the sun have remained constant over the last few million years.

    2) The varying strength, composition and density of the solar wind does not affect global climate.

    3) The amount and composition of cosmic rays either doesn't change, or is irrelevent.

    4) The CPU-saving hacks done in climate models only simplify the models and do not completely compromise their accuracy.

    5) The re-normalising "fiddle factors" used to allow for urban heat-island effects and similar things when applied to raw data are better than 99.9% accurate (remember, these fiddle factors are as much as 10 degree shifts to take the raw data to assumed-accurate output; the warming that is supposed to be detected is a few tenths of a degree).

    These are all factors that need taking into account, or explaining. Given that many people reading this will have at least skimmed parts of the HARRY_README climategate leak file, you will appreciate just how shonky, unreliable and downright crap the coding skills were with at least one climate research group's software; this particular group was apparently highly respected in the field of climate science.

    This leads me to suspect that both the East Anglia bunch were highly accomplished liars and the standards of coding throughout the field are abysmally low, even when compared to the stultifying depths of Microsoft's worst ever efforts. I remain highly unconvinced of the standards of research done by virtually all climate change researchers; the refusal of all of these groups to submit to impartial code reviews similarly does not inspire confidence.

    1. Wilco 1

      Re: Still missing the huge unvoiced assumption

      I fail to see how you get from "shoddy coding" (nothing unusual at all across the whole IT industry) to concluding that climate researchers are all "highly accomplished liars".

      I presume you would call the skeptics who did the BEST studies which confirmed all the previous work (including the results from the "East Anglia bunch") also complete liars? And dispute their conclusion that the heat island effect has actually very little influence on the final results?

      It seems to me that your assumptions are:

      1. All climate scientists are liars

      2. All the raw data is incorrect

      3. All the models are incorrect

      4. All the results are incorrect

      I wonder whether you also believe CO2 is not a greenhouse gas?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Assumptions indeed.

      >"The radiation output and heating effects of the sun have remained constant over the last few million years"

      What are you babbling about? Their assumption is only that the output and heating effects of the sun have remained constant over the past hundred-and-fifty-ish years since the sudden global temperature rise began.

      The other things you mention are mainly irrelevant attempts to conflate possible problems in the UEA data with this entirely unrelated research. You forgot to state *your* assumption that "If one climate scientist could possibly be wrong about something they must all be wrong about everything".

  18. -tim

    Its a good start

    Now all they need to do is extended this to who the edges of the low sunspot activity relates to the world wide El Nino and La Nina cycles which are tried to seasonal tipping points. We also need better data on how the solar output of the sun changes through the cycle since its total output is nearly identical, the frequencies of visible vs IR light do shift around a bit yet there is hardly any documented evidence of any change that causes at ground level let along at high altitude.

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