From AGU – the cause of Aurora Borealis and TSI questions

Scientists think they have discovered the energy source of auroras borealis and australis, the spectacular upper atmospheric color displays seen in the highest latitudes of the our planet. At the same time, this discovery raises questions about our understanding of Total Solar Irradiance (TSI).

Results were presented Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union  (AGU) meeting. NASA has a press release on their science site

New data from NASA’s Themis mission, a quintet of satellites launched this winter, found the energy comes from a stream of charged particles from the sun flowing like a current through twisted bundles of magnetic fields connecting Earth’s upper atmosphere to the sun. The energy is then abruptly released in the form of a shimmering display of lights.

Estimates of the total energy of a two-hour auroral event they studied are at five hundred thousand billion (5 x 10^14) Joules. That’s approximately equivalent to the energy of a magnitude 5.5 earthquake.

“The satellites have found evidence for magnetic ropes connecting Earth’s upper atmosphere directly to the Sun,” says Dave Sibeck, project scientist for the mission at the Goddard Space Flight Center. “We believe that solar wind particles flow in along these ropes, providing energy for geomagnetic storms and auroras.”

One of the things that has always bothered me about the claims that Total Solar Irradiance (TSI) variance can’t account for climatic changes is that it only considers the visible output of the sun, yet the sun has many mechanisms for transferring energy to the earth. Now we find another, magnetic ropes.

Our planet is bathed in the sun’s ultraviolet, solar wind, and magnetic field variances, yet these are not considered in the most common equations or modeling of earth’s total energy budget from the sun. Given that we’ve just learned something new about how the sun transfers energy to earth, I’d say that the TSI numbers that are commonly tossed about by climate modelers and their proponents are lacking in a total understanding of the sun to earth energy transfer.

To me, the fact that the suns magnetic field is linked more closely to earth now lends credence to theories like that of Henrik Svensmark, which points to an extraterrestrial driver of climate change, cosmic rays which form cloud nuclei in our atmosphere, modulated by solar variance. Given the “magnetic ropes” discovery announcement this week, I believe there are processes that transfer energy to our planet or modulate it’s energy balance that we haven’t yet discovered. In doing measurements in situ of our planets energy balance we need to look beyond just our atmosphere, because that’s the real and total in situ environment.

As Jack Horkheimer always used to say as he ended his astronomy program, “Keep looking up!”.

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20 Responses to From AGU – the cause of Aurora Borealis and TSI questions

  1. Al Fin says:

    Svensmark’s theories are interesting, but are by no means the only theories sketching out a solar–climate connection.

    Theories discussing the link between the solar wind and the global atmospheric electric current introduce more ways solar energy and atmospheric heating might be linked.

    Negative feedbacks to warming and CO2 rise have also received short shrift in climate discussions. It’s as if the “warm-mongers” didn’t actually want to understand what is going on!

  2. It’s entirely possible that we are being whipped by the magnetic ropes of the sun. About those we can do nothing, EXCEPT, with a whole lot more research, attempt to understand the phenomena, so that we can actually quantify it, beyond saying that a 5.5 sunquake equivalent occurred last night.

    About CO2 we can do something.

    Since we don’t know the causes of whatever you wish to call the ice caps melting, we can at least take action against what is potentially causing us negative consequences, in what little ways we can. Assuming that CO2 has nothing to do with the situation, then we will have at least eliminated one variable from the equation, and the effects of the solar whips can be viewed with one less distraction.

  3. papertiger says:

    We don’t know what causes the weather, so naturally it follows we should give up using FIRE, to modify and mitigate weathers effects, just to be on the safe side. What the?
    Douglas that is insanity.

  4. Jeff says:

    Well, Douglas, if the ice caps were actually melting then we might indeed have a problem. There is no catastrophe going on, only catastrophic innuendo form people who stand to gain politically, financially or otherwise. The UN wants to create a new world order by having rich nations support poor nations, that much is obvious. And NGOs want poor nations to stay poor, and to reduce their populations so they don’t become like western countries (i.e. prosperous and healthy).

    So yeah, we should do something, but not about CO2.

  5. dscott says:

    Anthony, I suggest you read this paper, especially see the chart on page 15. We need to run the Moon temperature series. http://www.geo.lsa.umich.edu/~shaopeng/Huang07ASR.pdf

    http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/experimentDisplay.do?id=1971-063C-06

  6. Evan Jones says:

    Douglas Keachie:

    If getting rid of CO2 came without cost, fine. But it doesn’t. Not only are huge amounts of money spent (mostly on advertising) but even greater amounts of wealth are never created.

    I am a bleeding-heart liberal. And bleeding-heart liberalism is VERY EXPENSIVE. When wealth is destroyed or lost, the world’s poor starve. In that spirit, I say, “No Blood for Carbon Credits!”

  7. Evan Jones says:

    “if the ice caps were actually melting then we might indeed have a problem. ”

    You did hear about the new volcanic “hot spot” discovered right under Greenland, announced a coupe of days ago?

    Guess not. (I wonder why THAT would be!)

    Did you also know that the Monck claims that the IPCC has (O, so quietly) reduced it’s 100-year sea level rise projections from Arctic effects to UNDER SEVEN CENTIMETERS?

    Guess not. (I wonder why THAT would be!)

    Yes, that’s a “centa” in front of the “meters”. Not one of my usual typos.

  8. Jeff says:

    Yes, I’ve heard about all that stuff, Evan, which is why I used a qualifying “might”. I live on an island (Whidbey Island), and any significant sea level rise will affect me. Which is why I’m not buying all the hype. The island has been as it is for over 100 years. we haven’t seen 12 inches of rise, else some roads here would be underwater.

  9. Layer Seven says:

    Scientific data clearly show that temperature does not follow CO2.

    This is true in the recent past (including the last 10 years) and also paleoclimatologically.

    Not only is a meaningful reduction in anthropogenic CO2 impossible (China, Indonesia, Europe, Russia, the Mideast, and India would have to participate) but to attempt it would be economically toxic.

    The real problems will come with solar shut-down, which is absolutely going to happen (again). And it won’t be warm.

    Greenhouse warming due to anthropogenic CO2 is a myth, so far; and eminently likely to remain so.

  10. billadams says:

    As the enormity of lies told by these modern Babylonians become obvious, all of us at catholicfundamentalism.com want to remind you to pray for them. Their own guardian angels are disgusted with the sea of falsehoods they’ve chosen to baptize themselves in, and our prayers (spiritual versions of the magnetic ropes from the sun) may help open their minds to the truth. Thanks for the great work you are doing in the interests of truth.

  11. Bobo says:

    How do we know that eliminating CO2 from the equation is good for us? If a second Dalton Minimum is underway we might be going to beg for some CO2 – even if it is of no help and just hoping that it may help a little bit.

    The only way: get science straight and don’t give false alarms on unsound science.

  12. Mike M. says:

    Interesting that you would bring up religion, Bill. I do a Google blog search for global warming on a daily basis. The most zealous supporters of the AGW hypothesis are routinely angry atheists. I’m astounded at how often skeptical comments are met by accusations of the skeptic being a knuckle-dragging Creationist. In their eyes, belief in God disqualifies you from any scientific debate. Misanthropy seems to underly all their beliefs.
    I believe as most here do that this is all natural warming and cooling. The real story to be written is the alarming quality of thought that led to this state of mind amongst the zealots. The willingness to believe the most absurd hype and to equate skepticism with Holocaust denial. The contempt and, dare I say, hatred for the normal economic and reproductive behavior of mankind. The ease with which almost the entire world’s media and governments were made to toe the line. This is the canary in the coal mine right here. It does not hold well for the future as this is exactly the mindset needed by totalitarians to prosper.

  13. Jeff says:

    I’m one of the angry atheists, but I don’t believe the hype. I like to think if myself as a healthy skeptic, which means I don’t believe religion has any room in the debate, since there’s less proof of god than there is of CO2 driving climate.

    I don’t see Bill’s posts as contributing to the conversation at all, I tend to roll my eyes at them.

  14. I sometimes wonder why it is assumed that one of the solar-climate link theories must be right and the other wrong. It is quite possible that all (or most) of the proposed links actually contributes to climate warming, as do carbon dioxide.

    The bottom line is that we know based on past changes of solar intensity and cosmic rays that solar intensity and cosmic rays affect the radiative budget. We also know that CO2 has a warming effect. We know from data that the models being driven primarily by CO2 is wrong; we suspect that climate sensitivity is on the low side, and we know with reasonable certainty that there is not much of heating “in the pipeline” as the current radiative imbalance is low (or even negative!).

    Hence scaremongering is wrong and we should go back to the more reasonable approach to reduce use of fossile fuel – since it comes at an environmental cost, geopolitical cost, and with a risk for depletion, an economical cost associated with the risk of dependence – with new technologies becoming available through the human endeavor of innovation.

    What is at issue is TIME. There is absolutely no need to crash stop the world economy to reduce CO2. We can be confident that the current trends and human inventiveness will lead us to replace fossile fuel in due time. Reductions of 25% AD 2020 is a ridiculous goal and even more ridiculous as a hard mandate. Even if the technology needed was invented in the next 5 years we would still not be able to roll it out in such a short timeframe. Especially since there is no imminent threat.

  15. Tom Davidson says:

    It is no surprise that the solar wind provides the energy to power the aurorae, not that the charged particles follow the magnetic fields to the regions of the magnetic poles. What IS interesting is the determination of the sheer amount of energy involved. As the new solar cycle unfolds: http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2007/14dec_excitement.htm
    it will be interesting to watch for correlations between the sunspot activity and the particle flux associated with it versus the fortunes of the AGW activists. I foresee decreased “warming rates” if Cycle 24 is (as many expect) weaker than Cycle 23, CO2 levels notwithstanding.

  16. Peter Warlow says:

    There’s nothing new under the Sun, is there. Birkeland figured out the Sun-Earth electrical connection a hundred years ago. Magnetic fields cannot exist in space without an electric current to produce them. The Birkeland currents are the ‘stream of charged particles’ that NASA has found and these currents are the things that produce the magnetic fields. The twisted rope effect is well-known to plasma physicists. NASA will eventually find similar connections to the other planets, and to their satellites.
    Anthony Peratt’s finding that petroglyphs are representations of extreme plasma discharge patterns indicates that auroral displays around the time of the Bronze Age warm period were very prominent – i.e. the Sun was very active during that very warm period.

  17. Dan Evens says:

    Can somebody check my arithmetic here please. 5E14 Joules over 2 hours is about 6.94E10 Watts. (Which is round about the output of 70 large-ish nuclear reactors, assuming 1000 MW per reactor. )

    Ok, it would not be prudent to mess around with such. But the power from the sun is round about 1E17 Watts. (6371 km in radius, about 1kW per sq meter)

    I’m thinking that something that is more than six orders of magnitude smaller is not going to directly affect the climate to any great extent. Maybe if there is some such thing as an affect on cloud formation or something. But directly, you’d likely be hard pressed to detect an effect.

  18. Evan Jones says:

    I am an atheist, but a non-angry one. I actually fit the profile of a true denier. I don’t think “the increase is natural”: From what I can put together so far, I believe there has been a–very–modest temperature rise grossly amplified by microsite heat sinks (plus waste heat).

    P.S., Jeff–So noted. How come more hasn’t been made out of the IPCC cave-in on sea level? Where are the headlines? Where is the outrage? WHERE? (If not where, why? If not why, how? If not how, who? If not who, what? If not what, where?)

  19. fFreddy says:

    “… One of the things that has always bothered me about the claims that Total Solar Irradiance (TSI) variance can’t account for climatic changes is that it only considers the visible output of the sun, …”

    Anthony, are you sure about that ?
    http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/stp/SOLAR/IRRADIANCE/irrad.html (first hit on Google) doesn’t seem to agree.

    reply from Anthony: Where do you see measurements beyond watts/m^2 (visible) that account for UV, solar wind, magnetic flux and other assorted energy transfers from the sun?

  20. fFreddy says:

    I meant the non-visible electromagnetic spectrum; the link refers to “radiant energy emitted by the sun over all wavelengths”, which I assumed would include visible, plus UV and up, plus IR and down.

    I’m not sure what proportion (by total energy) of solar em radiation is visible, or how total em energy varies by comparison with visible em energy.

    You are correct on all the non-em items, of course.

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