Satellite measurements show our quiet sun is cooling the upper thermosphere

The TIMED (Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics) mission

Data from the TIMED (Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics) mission are being used to understand the climate of the upper atmosphere. Credit: NASA

From NASA News. New measurements from a NASA satellite show a dramatic cooling in the upper atmosphere that correlates with the declining phase of the current solar cycle. For the first time, researchers can show a timely link between the Sun and the climate of Earth’s thermosphere, the region above 100 km, an essential step in making accurate predictions of climate change in the high atmosphere.

Scientists from NASA’s Langley Research Center and Hampton University in Hampton, Va., and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., presented these results at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco from Dec. 14 to 18.

Earth’s thermosphere and mesosphere have been the least explored regions of the atmosphere. The NASA Thermosphere-Ionosphere-Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics (TIMED) mission was developed to explore the Earth’s atmosphere above 60 km altitude and was launched in December 2001. One of four instruments on the TIMED mission, the Sounding of the Atmosphere using Broadband Emission Radiometry (SABER) instrument, was specifically designed to measure the energy budget of the mesosphere and lower thermosphere. The SABER dataset now covers eight years of data and has already provided some basic insight into the heat budget of the thermosphere on a variety of timescales.

Energy emitted by the upper atmosphere as infrared (IR) radiation in 2002 (top) and 2008 (bottom) -- In this SABER plot, Nitric Oxide (NO) is the IR emitter. Researchers are building a climate record of the thermosphere using this data. Credit: NASA

The extent of current solar minimum conditions has created a unique situation for recent SABER datasets, explains Stan Solomon, acting director of the High Altitude Observatory, National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. The end of solar cycle 23 has offered an opportunity to study the radiative cooling in the thermosphere under exceptionally quiescent conditions.

“The Sun is in a very unusual period,” said Marty Mlynczak, SABER associate principal investigator and senior research scientist at NASA Langley. “The Earth’s thermosphere is responding remarkably — up to an order of magnitude decrease in infrared emission/radiative cooling by some molecules.”

The TIMED measurements show a decrease in the amount of ultraviolet radiation emitted by the Sun. In addition, the amount of infrared radiation emitted from the upper atmosphere by nitric oxide molecules has decreased by nearly a factor of 10 since early 2002. These observations imply that the upper atmosphere has cooled substantially since then. The research team expects the atmosphere to heat up again as solar activity starts to pick up in the next year.

While this warming has no implications for climate change in the troposphere, a fundamental prediction of climate change theory is that the upper atmosphere will cool in response to increasing carbon dioxide. As the atmosphere cools the density will decrease, which ultimately may impact satellite operations through decreased drag over time.

The SABER dataset is the first global, long-term, and continuous record of the

Nitric oxide (NO) and Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the thermosphere.

“We suggest that the dataset of radiative cooling of the thermosphere by NO and CO2 constitutes a first climate data record for the thermosphere,” says Mlynczak.

The TIMED data provide a climate record for validation of upper atmosphere climate models, which is an essential step in making accurate predictions of climate change in the high atmosphere. SABER provides the first long-term measurements of natural variability in key terms of the upper atmosphere climate.

Energy emitted by the upper atmosphere as infrared (IR) radiation in 2002 (top) and 2008 (bottom) -- In this SABER plot, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is the IR emitter. Researchers are building a climate record of the thermosphere using this data. Credit: NASA

“A fundamental prediction of climate change theory is that upper atmosphere will cool in response to greenhouse gases in the troposphere,” says Mlynczak. “Scientists need to validate that theory. This climate record of the upper atmosphere is our first chance to have the other side of the equation.”

James Russell III, SABER principal investigator and co-director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at Hampton University in Hampton, Va., agrees adding, “The atmosphere is a coupled system. If you pick up one end of the stick, you automatically pick up the other – they’re intrinsically linked. To be as accurate as possible, scientists have to understand global change throughout the atmosphere.”

As the TIMED mission continues, these data derived from SABER will become important in assessing long term atmospheric changes due to the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

TIMED is the first mission in the Solar Terrestrial Probes Program within the Heliophysics Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

TIMED is the terrestrial anchor of the Heliophysics Great Observatory. Learn more of TIMED’s Heliophysics contributions and its role as a bridge to Earth science missions. Link to lessons learned in terrestrial aeronomy.

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stephen richards

They go from reduced solar output, cooling atmosphere to GHGs being the cause! Can’t these people do any science at all withou blaming GHGs from the word go. I see nothing in this data that proves GHGs are cooling the atmosphere but somehow they have absolute proof, Where?
Is it me? am I being obtuse? or what?

JB

Quite how anybody can deny the Sun’s substantial effect on the Earth’s climate is beyond me. More studies like this, based on sound science, are needed to demolish the ridiculous and over-hyped CO2 link to climactic variations.

AnotherFord

So…is the upper atmosphere being cooled from less solar activity or is it a result of greenhouse gases as AGW theory predicts? Reading the article seems to suggest both.

Richard111

What does this say about the validity of the GCMs that prdicted the “hotspot”?

jmrSudbury

It is great to get all of these satellites up there, but the data is still too new. It only goes back to 2002. In a few decades, these state of the art technologies are going to be quaint as compared to what future scientists will come up with. I just hope that today’s instruments gather enough data that will still be relevant in the coming decades.
The caption under the first set of graphs says that, “Nitric Oxide (NO) is the IR emitter.” Since Nitric Oxide has a high reactivity, how wide spread is it in the upper atmosphere? Has its concentration changed significantly over the study period?
John M Reynolds

Jack Simmons

You’re kidding right?
You mean NASA has discovered the Sun might have something to do with the climate?
Who would have ever thought such a thing…

jamesafalk

Can a climate techie explain if there is any valid inference here to be made about CO2 driven warming? I understand each aspect of what was quoted but not its implications.
Secondly, any link to the paper that was presented?

michel

So what are the implications? Do there now seem to be two mechanisms producing cooling, the solar one and the hypothesized GHG warming one, whereas we only require one mechanism? Or is the conclusion that both are at work, but the GHG warming must be smaller than thought? Or that the solar mechanism must be smaller than thought?

Brady

I wonder how this new story is linked to a similar one almost from almost exactly a year earlier?:
“ScienceDaily (Dec. 16, 2008) — Observations made by NASA instruments onboard an Air Force satellite have shown that the boundary between the Earth’s upper atmosphere and space has moved to extraordinarily low altitudes. These observations were made by the Coupled Ion Neutral Dynamics Investigation (CINDI) instrument suite, which was launched aboard the U.S. Air Force’s Communication/Navigation Outage Forecast System (C/NOFS) satellite on April 16, 2008.”
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081215121601.htm

Al Gore's Holy Hologram

That in line with the second law of thermodynamics means the Earth’s lower atmosphere transfers more heat out into space during solar minima.

Jimmy Haigh

Well blow me down! Who would have thunk it? Maybe that big bright burning ball in the sky does have something to to with it after all?

richb313

Is this sentence correct?
“As the atmosphere cools the density will decrease, which ultimately may impact satellite operations through decreased drag over time.”
Shouldn’t the density increase and as a result the drag increase?
Thanks

Stephen Wilde

Would any such cooling be a result of less energy from the sun or less energy coming up from below the upper atmosphere ?
If the variation in solar output is very small as maintained by Leif and others then presumably reduced solar power output would be insufficient to cause the observed cooling on it’s own.

Another study showing the UV variation greater than TSI over the solar cycle. Perhaps TSI is a small player.

Stephen Wilde

If the observed cooling correlates with changes in solar activity then presumably it would not be correlated with CO2 quantities in the atmosphere.
I read elsewhere that the stratosphere has been warming since the mid 90s as the solar activity declined. Is the temperature of the stratosphere moving in the opposite direction to the temperature of the upper atmosphere and are both trends solar activity induced rather than CO2 induced ?

From NASA News. New measurements from a NASA satellite show a dramatic cooling in the upper atmosphere that correlates with the declining phase of the current solar cycle. For the first time, researchers can show a timely link between the Sun and the climate of Earth’s thermosphere, the region above 100 km, an essential step in making accurate predictions of climate change in the high atmosphere.

Okay, I haven’t had coffee yet (hang on – that’s better), but even if this wasn’t described as being from NASA news, I’d say it was a NASA press release.
What do they mean by a timely link? The only thing untimely about the Skylab space station was that the Space Shuttle arrived too late to boost it to a higher orbit.
Perhaps they mean they can forecast temperature and density? Well, just a few days ago in Tips & Notes a link to http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8408957.stm was posted and that says in part:

Extended mission
The [ESA] mission team also announced at the AGU meeting that Goce is likely to keep flying far longer than anyone had envisaged at launch.
Even at its ultra-low altitude of just 254.9km, Goce requires little effort from its propulsion system to maintain a steady orbit and keep itself from falling out of the sky.
“The air drag that we have experienced on orbit after launching has been very different from what any model was able to predict pre-launch,” said Dr Floberghagen.

Besides the certainty that NASA press releases overstates whatever they’re trying to get attention, perhaps the story is that NASA doesn’t talk with ESA, a story that will never grace the text of a NASA press release.
Hmm, a couple more notes from the press release:

As the atmosphere cools the density will decrease, which ultimately may impact satellite operations through decreased drag over time. [Wow! NASA missed this understated comment. I note it was in the second half, maybe I’ll have read that half first in the future.]
The TIMED data provide a climate record for validation of upper atmosphere climate models, which is an essential step in making accurate predictions of climate change in the high atmosphere. SABER provides the first long-term measurements of natural variability in key terms of the upper atmosphere climate. [Oh dear, now when we talk about global warming, we have to specify which which climate system we’re talking about. This will lead to the dismissive retort, “Yeah, in the Thermosphere!” which will provide a handy exit from being brow-beaten by a hopeless AGW zealot.]

tallbloke

The NASA press release does not mention the effect on the Stratosphere. But there is no strong boundary between the layers of the upper atmosphere as there is between the lower and upper atmosphere at the tropopause. So are NASA being coy here? They don’t want to upset the AGW applecart of co2 caused stratospheric cooling, but need to stay up with the latest results from expensive orbiting hardware.
Caught between a rock and a cold place?

amicus curiae

Scratching my head..
ok so If warm theory says the “pollutants” Co2 nitrous and methane get trapped and do Not? radiate to space, but stay low and heat us up..
so theoretically they hardly make it that far..and Co2 is heavier that air, and its supposed to be falling and making oceans go acid..:-)
aw come on!
and the sun which,
a) sends radiant heat and light, is low..
and b)the earth is cooling in the troposphere.(but it still isn’t anything to do with the sun??) (stupid)
well, how come they say here that its still? co2 etc causing this too?
can we see 8 years of mid and low data to also compare?
I seem to remember some of thats on this site and that! also wasn’t showing that huge red blip that IPCC tell us we should see..
correct me if I am wrong by all means 🙂
PS if mayon volcano keeps dumping 7,000+- tonnes of sulphur dioxide + per day. how long will that take to alter weather patterns for the cooler?
so cool above and below, folks, seriously, am I right in thinking this could be ugly.
stop the world ,I wanna get off:-) ?

ross m

Great stuff. I’m confident satellite data can give us a much better answer to the fundmental question of to what extent CO2 influences climate, than a set of homogenized wandering thermometers.

dave

“A fundamental prediction of climate change theory is that upper atmosphere will cool in response to greenhouse gases in the troposphere,”
So the cooling is proof of AGW?

Still lot to learn about magnetic fields of the solar system.
There is an apparent ‘correlation’ between the intensity of the Earth’s field and the Solar activity.
http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/SSN-GMF.gif
Perhaps an odd coincidence, should it be ignored?

If the upper atmosphere cools, does it follow that the lower atmosphere can also cool, assuming that the level of GCRs remain constant? Hope someone can explain, thanks.

Reader

To the contrary, dynamicists have demonstrated the upper atmosphere is closely linked to the lower atmosphere and troposphere is included.

JonesII

So…my dear copenhagen fiascoed people, here you are again. Forget it, there is no way out !
So you were expecting CO2 to accumulate heat in a piggy bank up there and now that there is cold you say CO2 is to blame too!, come on!

DirkH

So let me get this straight, they have data for the 8 last years. In the last 8 years global warming has failed to happen. But the cooling of the stratosphere is an important prediction of the theory behind climate change – the theory that failed to predict that the earth hasn’t warmed in the last 10 years.
The scientists working in this sector are having to resort to ever more weasely sentences to avoid touching the sensitivities of the climate orthodoxy. Sooner or latter this will lead to a schism and we’ll see the orthodoxy split into two competing churches. From there the fun starts.
Popcorn please.

We must begin to bring pressure on Congress to rescind the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), H.R. 2454. This measure was passed on or about 26, June 2009 and involved votes by both Democrats and Republicans.
Clearly, Congress enacted this legislation based on the fake, fraudulent and false data of those leading scientists and researchers (?) who were supporting the AGW (man-made global warming) theory. We know the data they used to support their theory was ‘cheery picked’ and false. Indeed, there is new information supporting the fact that our climate is influenced by the Sun and other solar activity. We are not all going to fry or be swept away by rising seas. .
Those who still support the AGW theory and those who wish to profit from the sale of junk bonds (carbon credits) or gain control of industry will continue to beat their AGW dead horse down the road. They must be challenged. Thanks to the brave folks at WUWT and other blogs we have the ammunition to provide our elected representatives with this true information.
We must make members of the House and Senate aware of the new scientific information concerning global warming and global cooling, something that humans must deal with but have little or not control over.
Congress must repeal the Clean Energy and Security Act.
TComa

Kevin

“A fundamental prediction of climate change theory is that upper atmosphere will cool in response to greenhouse gases in the troposphere”
I would appreciate some extra words around this counter-intuitive statement.
On the one hand, the greenhouse reduces radation re-radiated. On the other hand, heat conduction and convection should increase if the greenhouse does its job as a warmer.
I would expect that laying in the sun on the roof of a hot greenhouse would feel warmer than laying in the sun on top of an ambient sheet of glass.
Is there a scientist out there with more words on this?

Joel

Doesn’t it appear that this news release contains a non sequitur in its description of the study results? The first few paragraphs discuss the lower radiative balance due to changes in solar radiation, then the next few paragraphs talk about how climate models predict the same changes due to increases in CO2 predicted in climate models.

Don Shaw

I just had to look this up FYI
“The thermosphere is a layer of Earth’s atmosphere. The thermosphere is directly above the mesosphere and below the exosphere. It extends from about 90 km (56 miles) to between 500 and 1,000 km (311 to 621 miles) above our planet.
Temperatures climb sharply in the lower thermosphere (below 200 to 300 km altitude), then level off and hold fairly steady with increasing altitude above that height. Solar activity strongly influences temperature in the thermosphere. The thermosphere is typically about 200° C (360° F) hotter in the daytime than at night, and roughly 500° C (900° F) hotter when the Sun is very active than at other times. Temperatures in the upper thermosphere can range from about 500° C (932° F) to 2,000° C (3,632° F) or higher.
The boundary between the thermosphere and the exosphere above it is called the thermopause. At the bottom of the thermosphere is the mesopause, the boundary between the thermosphere and the mesosphere below.”
Above From
http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/earth/Atmosphere/thermosphere.html

pyromancer76

With my terrestrial appetites sated from the feasts (multiple) of Christmas, my upper atmospheric (intellectual) hunger is being fed as usual by WUWT. Thanks, Anthony, for the variety of scientific information you offer your international readers. I thoroughly enjoy following each and every link.
Question. Since TIMED is a NASA product, does it operate in the realm of scientific method and truthful raw data? How reliable is the Hampton, Va research center? It seems to me that the Boulder, CO center (NCAR) leaves something to be desired as a “scientific” facility???
Since TIMED was launched in 2001, that period coincides with the worst of the ClimateGate conspiracy activities. What about TIMED as a co-conspirator? (The SABER dataset now covers eight years of data….”)
And Stan Solomon of Colorado, “acting director” — is he a pseudo-scientist? How about Marty Mlynczak? Is he a brainwashed “assoc. principle investigator”? The ClimateGate Conspiracy has done great damage to all scientists’ reputations. Until they clear themselves of “cooked books” or “fellow traveling”, aren’t they all under suspicion?

nofate

Is there a simple explanation for this: “A fundamental prediction of climate change theory is that upper atmosphere will cool in response to greenhouse gases in the troposphere,”.
That does not make sense, to me. I must be missing something.

Gary

“While this warming has no implications for climate change in the troposphere,…”
“The atmosphere is a coupled system. If you pick up one end of the stick, you automatically pick up the other – they’re intrinsically linked. To be as accurate as possible, scientists have to understand global change throughout the atmosphere.”
– These two contradictory statements in the article mean either these guys don’t know what they’re talking about or the press release writer is terribly confused. Why can’t an editor pick up on this and make it sensible?

Thanks for the article. It’s funny how they have to (1) tie the research into global warming; and (2) imply that they are NOT trying to undermine the “consensus.”

Steve

Very interesting.
By convention, the TOA (Top Of the Atmosphere) is taken to be the tropopause.
But this indicates significant radiative variation ( ~ 10 W / m^2 )
much higher up!
What does this say about radiative forcing if the TOA is taken
as the THERMOPAUSE instead of the TROPOPAUSE?

mark in austin

this is fascinating…but i need some of you who understand this better to try to unpack it for us. will this cause any cooling at our levels in the next couple of years or with the sun starting to act up a little (verdict is still out, but the last few weeks have been the most active weeks of cycle 24 to date.

igloowhite

There is little need of these facts, AGW, is Constitutional Democrat Party Law now.

wws

Happy Boxing Day!

P Solar

While this **warming** has no implications for climate change in the troposphere, a fundamental prediction of climate change theory is that the upper atmosphere will cool in response to increasing carbon dioxide.
Shouldn’t this be “cooling” ?

Robert of Ottawa
Al Gore's Holy Hologram

Michael Crichton vindicated. Listen at 24:00 minutes in

Layne Blanchard

Of course, they hope to spin this 10 fold drop in radiative emission to a 7ppm (less than 2%) increase in C02.

Galen Haugh

The article above said:
“While this warming has no implications for climate change in the troposphere, a fundamental prediction of climate change theory is that the upper atmosphere will cool in response to increasing carbon dioxide. ”
Yet a less active Sun will cause that–can someone explain how additional CO2 will cause it?
Then they stated:
“As the atmosphere cools the density will decrease,…”
Generally, as things get colder they contract (density INCREASES); as they warm up they expand==it’s called a positive coefficient of thermal expansion.
I know of only a few things that get less dense with colder temperature (water ice is less dense that it’s liquid counterpart; bismuth metal expands as it cools from a molten liquid to a solid), so what are they talking about?
And the last sentence exposes their error by stating the obvious:
“…which ultimately may impact satellite operations through decreased drag over time.”
This means the atmosphere will get smaller by contracting as it gets cooler; it DOESN’T expand (“decrease in density”! With less atmosphere on the outer edges of the atmosphere, satellites have less to run into, thereby preserving their orbits.
Obviously the writer doesn’t understand what the word “density” means.

edward

By my reading of the article it confirms current global warming theory. I portends heating as the sun becomes more active.

Randy

It will be interesting to see data from a full cycle of sunspot activity.

JonesII

Climatologists rely on astrophysicists for the basic assumptions they employ in their climate models. In particular, it is assumed that the Sun is a steady source of radiant energy and that the Earth and its atmosphere have been a closed, undisturbed system for longer than man has walked the Earth. However, the theory of how the Sun works is of Victorian vintage. It was formulated in the gaslight and horse and buggy era, long before the space age showed that space is not empty.
http://www.holoscience.com/news.php?article=8pjd9xpp

J.Peden

From NASA News. New measurements from a NASA satellite show a dramatic cooling in the upper atmosphere that correlates with the declining phase of the current solar cycle….[cooling there only “correlates”]…
“We suggest that the dataset of radiative cooling of the thermosphere by NO and CO2 constitutes a first climate data record for the thermosphere,” says Mlynczak.

I suggest they’ve just proven that they don’t need CO2 to explain upper atmospheric cooling, especially since it’s been increasing – or even to explain anything at all about atmospheric temperatures.
Someone help me out here. The article reads like nonsense to me regarding what it says about CO2 concentrations as a factor in significantly controlling any atmospheric temperatures, except that in the “upper atmosphere” it helps to register a temperature there by its electromagnetic emissions. Or something!

KeithGuy

Sun 1… Co2 O

Mike Ramsey

It’s the sun! No, it’s increasing CO2, just as are models predict!
They seem to want to have it both ways.
Mike Ramsey

Frank

“The research team expects the atmosphere to heat up again as solar activity starts to pick up in the next year.”
I’ve heard this one before.

Dave

Interesting, but also depressing that CO2 is dragged in yet again as a rationale. I don’t see how atmospheric science is going to make much progress without keeping an open mind. Well, I did slug my way through Kuhn when I was a student, so may be I protest too much.