Could the sun halt climate change?

Former ABC News Science Editor Dr. Michael Gullen has published a fascinating opinion piece at Fox News‘ website.

In his essay, Dr. Gullen makes the case that sunspot activity is at its lowest point in over 9,000 years. The result is increased cosmic ray activity that bombard the Earth. This, in turn, results in more cloud creation and can help usher in global cooling since cloud activity shields Earth from the sun. From the op-ed:

Using computer simulations, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, estimate that “a grand solar minimum in the middle of the 21st century would slow down human-caused global warming and reduce the relative increase of surface temperatures by several tenths of a degree [Celsius, equal to about 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit].” But at the end of the grand minimum, they say, the warming would simply pick up where it left off. “Therefore … a grand solar minimum would slow down and somewhat delay, but not stop, human-caused global warming.”

But the sun’s dramatic quiescence comes with a surprising complication: cosmic rays. They are subatomic particles – mainly protons and helium nuclei – that originate from somewhere deep within our galaxy. Their source is still a mystery.

Usually, the sun’s powerful magnetic field and radioactive winds keep cosmic rays away from our neighborhood. But when the sun weakens, the cosmic rays are freer to move in and bombard Earth. New research shows that upon striking the atmosphere, cosmic rays produce showers of particles and ions that seed clouds with extraordinary efficiency. The increased cloudiness shades Earth from the sun.

Recently, a team of Russian scientists compared the cosmic-ray cooling mechanism to two other well-known drivers of climate change – the sun’s inconstant brightness and greenhouse gases. Publishing in the “Bulletin of the Russian Academy of Sciences: Physics,” they maintain the cosmic-ray cooling phenomenon will dominate everything else in the coming decades and actually force a period of global cooling.

Last year, the Global Warming Policy Foundation posted a video highlighting the research of and interviewing Professor Valentina Zharkova (Northumbria University). The work of she and her colleagues has helped shed new light on the inner workings of the Sun and the implications of reduced solar activity affecting global temperatures.