July 18, 2004
Sun Energy Output At Over 1,000 Year Peak

Sami Solanki, Professor at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich Switzerland, says the Sun has been burning more brightly over the last 60 years than over the previous 1090 years.

“We have to acknowledge that the Sun is in a changed state. It is brighter than it was a few hundred years ago, and this brightening started relatively recently – in the last 100 to 150 years. We expect it to have an impact on global warming,” he told swissinfo.

The sun's brightness hasn't changed much over the last 20 years. But it has been brighter for the last 60 years than it has been at any time in the last 1,150 years.

According to scientists, the Sun’s radiance has changed little during this period. But looking back over 1,150 years, Solanki found the Sun had never been as bright as in the past 60 years.

The team studied sunspot data going back several hundred years. They found that a dearth of sunspots signalled a cold period - which could last up to 50 years - but that over the past century their numbers had increased as the Earth's climate grew steadily warmer. The scientists also compared data from ice samples collected during an expedition to Greenland in 1991. The most recent samples contained the lowest recorded levels of beryllium 10 for more than 1,000 years. Beryllium 10 is a particle created by cosmic rays that decreases in the Earth's atmosphere as the magnetic energy from the Sun increases. Scientists can currently trace beryllium 10 levels back 1,150 years.

Sunspots have been increasing in number as the Earth has been getting warmer.

Over the past few hundred years, there has been a steady increase in the numbers of sunspots, a trend that has accelerated in the past century, just at the time when the Earth has been getting warmer.

Variations in sunspot activity are probably behind the increases and decreases in solar radiation and consequence changes in Earth's climate.

During the Medieval maximum of 1000-1300 there was an extremely large Sunspot which is believed to have warmed the Earth higher than normal. There were no accurate measurements of the weather to call upon during this time but the discovery and colonization of Greenland by Eric the Red supports this hypothesis. Eric was exiled from Iceland for manslaughter and sailed west discovering Greenland. He then led many ships, filled with people who wanted to make a fresh start, to this new land. For 300 years Greenland flourished, new communities settled, trade with other countries grew, and the population increased. Around 1325 the climate cooled down considerably, people started to abandon the northern settlements. By 1350 glaciers covered the northern settlements, and the southern most settlements were dying out as well.

The Sporer minimum of 1400-1510 and the Maunder minimum of 1645-1715 were each known as a "little ice age." They were both droughts in Sunspot activity, and a link to a time of abnormally cold weather on Earth. In addition to finishing off the Greenland colonies, the Sporer minimum showed increased rates of famine in the world, and the Baltic Sea froze solid in the winter of 1422-23. Some of the more notable effects of the Maunder minimum included the appearance of glaciers in the Alps advancing farther southward, the north sea froze, and in London there was the famous year without a summer where it remained cold for 21 consecutive months.

The evidence supports the effect of Sunspot activity on the Earth's climate, but that is only one of many areas that effects us on Earth. On March 13,1989 a large Sunspot ignited powerful flares that tripped the circuit breakers a generator station. The started the collapse of the Quebec power system and left people without power for hours to days. These same flares damaged several man made satellites, and caused smaller outages all over the U.S and Canada. There are countless other times when large Sunspots have effected similar damage to various electrical systems on Earth.

The Sun could start going through a down trend in sunspot activity at any time. We could find ourselves back in a state similar to the Maunder Minimum with decades of much colder weather. Or sunspot activity could increase to an even higher level and temperatures could rise more than the amount some models project as a consequence of higher atmospheric carbon dioxide.

My guess is that the chances are greater for a reduction in sunspot activity than for an increase. Why? Most of the time the planet Earth is in an ice age. This is suggestive of the possibility that the Sun just doesn't put out enough heat to keep the Earth out of ice ages most of the time. Also, the higher sunspot activity reported above is at the high end of an over 1,000 year period. Therefore the odds seem greater that we will have more future years with lower sunspot activity than with higher sunspot activity.

My further guess is that a reduction in sunspot activity would cause more harm to humans than a further increase in sunspot activity. A decrease could put large amounts of farm fields out of production and would reduce the useful length of the growing seasons for other fields. The freezing over of rivers and seas along with snows and ice would interfere with transportation more than higher temperatures would.

Also, my guess is that it would be easier to reflect away excessive sunlight than to try to replace the heat lost in another cold period like the Maunder Minimum. For example, to reduce the sunlight hitting the Earth during high sunspot periods we could genetically engineer plankton to produce more of the chemicals they generate to make clouds. We could also try to engineer more snowfall around glaciers to increase the areas covered by reflective white snow. We could also paint more human structures white to reflect back sunlight.

But imagine trying to generate enough energy to make up for a reduction in solar radiation during a period of low sunspot activity. We could take some steps to compensate for reduced solar radiation. For instance, we could paint all human structures black to make them absorb more light to raise ground temperatures. Also, we could try to develop some really large scale methods for coating ice sheets with dark coverings. It may also be possible to reduce cloud cover by seeding clouds to cause rains to fall in areas where the water is needed.

One option for a period of reduced sunspot activity would be to increase the release of green house gasses. But it is not clear that the planet contains enough fossil fuels to make that possible. We'd probably have to shift heavily toward the use of coal. But even that might not generate enough greenhouse gasses to compensate for a period of no sunspots.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 July 18 01:18 PM  Climate Trends

Brock said at July 19, 2004 11:08 AM:

A lot of large asteroids are made out of mostly silicon (as the Earth itself is). Plant of couple of these big boys at a Lagrange point between the Earth and the Sun. Heat 'em up, burning out the impurities, until you've got a big ball of hot glass (I suppose some kind of nuclear powered rocket with a big frickin' laser could do it). Spin the blob until it stretches out like a big pizza dough. Wait for glass to cool.

Congratulations. You now have a (really big) magnifying glass. Preferably it's one with a bit of controllable flex built into it, ranging from slightly concave to slightly convex, as required. You can now increase or decrease the amount of sunlight reaching the earth. If the sun dimmed or burned brighter by 50% you could still compensate - all without messing with ozone, engineered snow, etc.

This would be dectuppuly on Mars, the Jovian moons, etc. Maybe we could even cool down Venus, who knows?

Incidently, it would be really funny to learn if sunspot activity was responsible for 90%+ of global warming, and all the pollution in the world didn't make a squirt of difference one way or the other.

Engineer-Poet said at July 19, 2004 11:18 AM:

I noticed a curious omission in all the linked materials:  nothing stated how much the Sun's output had changed.  This datum is crucial if we wish to ameliorate any changes, because the action required to compensate is proportional to the amount of change.

I will also contest your appraisal of the desirability of warming vs. cooling.  If we are going to engineer our climate, a slightly cooler Sun gives us simpler options than a warmer one.  With a cooler Sun we could use e.g. orbital mirrors to extend the growing season or hours of daylight in certain areas for just the fall/winter/spring period without boosting temperatures during the summer.  This would allow us to reap greater agricultural productivity without worrying about damaging droughts.

Brock said at July 19, 2004 11:47 AM:

Hmmm, targeted heat v. global warmth. An interesting experiment.

Can you imagine the kind of permits you would need to actually try cooling down the Earth "just to see what would happen"? :-)

Randall Parker said at July 19, 2004 12:01 PM:

If we add space-based facilities into an environmental engineering effort then we could deflect light from up in space just as easily as we could reflect light toward Earth.

Down here on Earth we can adjust the planet's albedo. The question is whether it is easier to raise (increase reflectivity) or lower (increase amount of light absorbed and turned into heat) the albedo.

When we start using solar energy that will likely lower the planet's albedo. But it will also reduce CO2 emissions.

E-P. Yes, I share your annoyance at the lack of quantified info about how much the Sun's output has changed.

Dishman said at July 19, 2004 3:31 PM:

I don't believe there's a solid way to determine the variation in solar output based on sunspot activity.
IIRC the climate data points to as much as a 4% variation, but we don't really have a good way to isolate the solar variation in the data. Sunspots are a surface effect that varies with solar output, but they're not causal.

That said, there's a book entitled "The Sun in Time" which has some of the numbers, including sunspot periods and a rough notion of where we are in the various cycles. Unfortunately I don't have it with me to cite it.

Monsoony said at July 19, 2004 4:12 PM:

The climatologists have been ignoring the effects of the sun in most of their models. That always struck me as being rather dimwitted, given that variations in insolation have driven the major ice ages and intervening warming periods, including our own.

Engineer-Poet said at July 19, 2004 7:01 PM:

Randall:  If you block sunlight, you generally have a lot less influence over what gets through than if you add more.  One of the possibilities for adding light is to use frequency-selective mirrors to add only those wavelengths of interest; one could boost red and blue (with some added green to maintain human perceptions of color balance) to improve plant growth and omit the infrared, or vice versa.  Try THAT with albedo tweaks!  Increasing cloud cover to reflect heat would produce "global dimming", reducing productivity and making it more difficult to remove carbon from the atmosphere to help with matters.

Monsoony:  You're putting a far more negative spin on the issue than appears warranted.  If I was modelling climate and I had no good data for variations in the solar constant, I would not have any alternative to holding it constant.

Paul said at July 19, 2004 7:02 PM:

There is clear evidence that that sun has been warming up over the last 26 years. Go to http://acrim.com/Graphics%20Gallery.htm and click on the second last link for a pdf of a composite measurement of solar irradiance. Notice that the minimum in 1995 is brighter than the previous one in 1985, ie, the average output of the sun was greater during the last cycle than during the previous cycle.

There is also the Svensmark effect which posits (not proven yet but under investigation) that increased solar activity, which shields the earth from cosmic rays, decreases cloud cover and leads to greater insolation of the earth. The cloud cover is decreased because there is less seeding of clouds by the CRs. During periods of low sunspot count (= lower solar activity) this reverses and there is more cloud cover which cools the earth.

As a result you get a two-fer: extra solar activity increases the solar output plus there is less shielding from the sun.

Larry M. said at July 20, 2004 12:03 AM:

Your expert Sami Solanki is not a climatologist SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO I don't know why you would quote him in any way. His statement,"Why? Most of the time the planet Earth is in an ice age.". The Earth has been in an ice epoch for 2 million years. The Earth has been free of polar ice caps for 80% of it's history. Ice epochs and the Ice ages within those epochs would comprise 10% or less of Earth's history. We are still in an ice epoch. The current interglacial will end in about 15,000 years. A school child could have wrote a better article than Sami. His solutions are gifted for a 7th grader, but not a scientist. 410 million years ago, at the end of the Silurian CO2 was 3000 ppm in the atmosphere. Scientist believe the current build will peak at 600 ppm. The reason for the drop from 3000 ppm to the 270 ppm in Permian(and an ice epoch) was the rise of plant life on land. The plants soaked up the CO2 and turned it into coal. The animals that lived on the abundant plant life of the era turned CO2 into oil. The Sun is getting hotter(NASA article). Another Nasa article shows climate changes(hotter) throughout the Solar System.

Randall Parker said at July 20, 2004 12:42 AM:

Larrry M, I was not quoting Solanki with the "Why?" question.

As for the length of periods of the Earth being warm or cold: It depends in part on how you define warm and cold. One account of climate history shows the Earth has been cold more often than warm for the last 60 million years.

If you want to look over a period of hundreds of millions of years then, yes, the Earth has been pretty warm most of the time. But over most of the last 130,000 years the world has been considerably colder than it is now and much of that time was an ice age. Many scientists think we are just in a temporary warm spell of the Quarternary ice age which has been running for the last 4 million years and which may well run for many more millions of years.

I should have been more clear. When I say "Most of the time the planet Earth is in an ice age" I'm talking about the recent millions of years during which that certainly is the case. During the mllions of years when the primates evolved up to become humans that certainly has been the case and I'm writing from a human-centric perspective. Absent human intervention we can expect cooling starting any time but becoming more probable as as the centuries pass by.

Larry M. said at July 20, 2004 12:57 AM:


You've got my vote.

Randall Parker said at July 20, 2004 1:14 AM:


I think the snideness is uncalled for.

Seriously, how is the Earth's climate from hundreds of millions of years ago important in any predictive sense? The continents were arranged quite differently. The types of species and hence their effects on the climate were very different. Average level of volcanic activity was different. The rate of collision of asteroids was probably diffferent and higher far enough back. The Sun's output was different. The Earth's orbit was different. If we want to talk about tendencies of the Earth's climate looking forward I think it makes sense to look back over a time scale of millions of years or at most tens of millions of years, not hundreds of millions years.

I think the time scale I'm thinking in is reasonable. I didn't specify that time scale when I wrote the original post. But I'm trying not to bore general readers by pounding them with too much distracting background info.

Larry M. said at July 20, 2004 1:18 AM:


Here's some Sun Data to look at and here.

John Farren said at July 20, 2004 3:55 AM:

It would be interesting to be able to figure out solar output fluctuations, atmospheric CO2, and shifts in Earth orbit and inclination since the last glaciation. It looks like they can produce pretty dramatic changes: Sahara desert born 4,000 years ago. Once we know enough, maybe we can change it back again.

Greg Hamer said at July 20, 2004 11:48 AM:

From the earlier article, would the weakening of the earth's magnetic field also contribute to the low beryllium 10 levels? (Lower magnetic field means more magnetic energy from the sun getting through). Or is it the other way around - that the strength of the earth's magnetic field plus the magnetic energy from the sun together determine the strength of the cosmic ray shield?

Ed Snack said at August 18, 2004 7:58 PM:

E_P, you may well want to hold solar irradiance constant in your model, but why then attempt to use your model for predictive purposes ? Are you claiming that solar output has no effect on climate ? You are simply confirming what many people already know, that climate models show what their designers want them to show. Current levels of understanding of the climate do not permit useful future predictions from such methods.

Bode Bliss said at November 26, 2005 3:55 PM:

80% of Earth's history there was no polar Ice. So you can't say that cold is normal. It abnormal. A big primordial swampy world would be normal.

David said at January 14, 2006 9:54 PM:

My comment may be naive considering the overall complexity of the so called global warming issue. But I had noticed comments about painting structures to reflect light and other comments such as genetic modification of plankton or other 'type' of avenues to control global warming which may or may not be an issue caused by increases in solar output. My comment has more to do along other lines. One is the problem of deforestation, and the increase of manmade 'hotspots' made by intercity construction, the continued construction of roadways, parking lots, and other type of "stuff" which may be a contributing factor to a large portion of the global warming 'factor' and solar activity causeing in itself a stimulation of the volcanism of this planet. It only takes one once too walk across a black topped road or parking lot to get the idea of the real problem which could be facing us by just one issue, (Road construction) and deforestation is such a massive problem in its own right in other regions of the world that unless even these two issues are addressed other concerns may be made moot on this subject. But if the sun is causing and increased activity inside the earth itself and the actual earths internal dynamics are increasing in output how could we as a people deal with these issues. But hey the whole issue is really moot because we are either going to pollute our way out of existance, or kill ourselves in a war or maybe even destroy our food supply by the way of gm food that it doesn't really matter.

Doug said at January 30, 2006 7:55 PM:

Just Theorizing: Assuming there's more here than meets the eye.

I've been considering the sun's output energy. Assuming that the ancient earth model ;whereby the center of the earth contains an iron core, also, given that the electromagnetic energy reaching the earth via the solar wind causes greater interaction between the earth's protective magnetosphere and that same solar radiation... one would have to conclude that the increased current caused within the core of the earth would in fact cause the core to become hotter. This leads one to think of the earth as a huge oven. Approximately 1degree of temperature change over the whole surface of the earth has been the result since 1900 (this fact is researchable via various sources - I'm citing this sweeping statement as common knowledge). Given this article, one could approximate the effect of the solar output change to the effect of 1 degree of surface temperature change...this assumes that there is no delay in energy transmission to the surface of the earth... which would not be likely. It would be more likely that a hysterisis effect would result in gradual increase and then a sharp increase in temperature to the surface of the earth. In other words, the effects of heating the core would not be immediately apparent at the surface of the earth until the hysterisis effect has finished.

Therefore, we can expect a number of effects (measureable) to occur if the sun was truly affecting the core of the earth in this manner. These effects could be increased volcanic activity due to increased magma production. Temperature of the oceans will increase. Cause and effect due to increased oceanic temperatures would then create stronger storm activity in oceanic areas which in turn affect climate change throughout landmass regions. Pursuing this towards a logical conclusion would be the goal. However the immensity of the interaction of systematic changes throughout this planet would make any accurate accounting of these changes almost impossible.

Bottom line? It's bad news to be sure. Direct cause? I'd look for reasons why the sun's output has been emitting more energy in this last 100 years versus other centuries. Perhaps our proximity to a graviton star or other astro-related phenomena can be the reason for the sun's increased output. I'd also look at previous climate indicators in soil analysis, ice analysis, and fossil analysis to determine if like conditions ever existed in the past and try to determine what happened at that time. History is a great teacher. However, the present data indicates that all of these "symptoms" are in fact occuring right now... at ever increasing rates. So whatever we decide to do... we should do it quickly with a "picked" team of scientific multidisciplined professionals who can work together in a "think tank" environment to provide sound researched solutions to this phenomena before things go beyond the point of no return.

kate sisco said at April 11, 2006 7:12 AM:

Looking forward to the Venus European probe to produce new information. Some have conjectured that Venus is not yet in charge equilibrum with its surroundings. Maybe the probe will give more information about this. Earth, Universe, and Cosmos by Carey is interesting reading about the formative processes that lead to an expanding Earth.

robert hotchkiss said at March 24, 2007 6:25 PM:

Does anyone consider that the One who put all of these factors in their present state of dynamic tension is still involved? At what point did anyone (other than themselves) appoint scientists as the gods of this planet? Have we not had enough of their world changing blunders to know to keep them on a very short leash? When the servant becomes the master, we will have the most ruthless tyrant imaginable!

robert hotchkiss said at March 25, 2007 11:47 PM:

While the media is still beating their hysterical drum re. global warming caused by man-made CO2 emmisions, we now know that the sun is the prime mover in climate change and there not a thing we can do but adjust. It may be worthwhile in this moment between manufactured crises to ask the question, what is the political agenda of these Reds turned Greens, before they find their next cause or issue to exploit in their relentless attack on freedom and the free enterprise economic system which supports that freedom.

Chris Fostel said at February 8, 2008 7:56 AM:

To answer two earlier questions;

NASA data from ACRIM 1 and ACRIM 2 indicate the sun's energy output has increased by roughly 0.8% in the past 30 years. The data has gaps because ARCRIM 1 fell silent before ACRIM 2 was launched.

During the same time frame (1975 to 2000), the Earth's magnetic field strength decreased roughly 30%. British Navel observations say the magnetic field has been changing for the past 150 years. Speculation is that the N-S pole flip that is roughly 1000 years overdue is in fact in progress and does not happen instantaneously or uniformly. A model of the magma flows in the Earth's core suggests it may take 600 years to drop the field strength to zero and restore it to full strength in the opposite polarity.

gail combs said at July 13, 2008 7:56 PM:

Control of the World food supply is the agenda of those like Maurice Strong, David Rockerfeller and their buddies “As Kissinger said back in the 1970’s, ‘Control the oil and you can control entire Continents. Control food and you control people…” WTO, OIE and FAO already have a draft ”Guide to Good Farming Practices” ready to go and the European Union is implementing it. This eliminates family farms. See http://www.i-sis.org.uk/savePolishCountryside.php

. “In the EU, there is now a list of 'official' vegetable varieties. Seed that is not on the list cannot be 'sold' to the 'public' To keep something on the list costs thousands of pounds each year.” Monsanto of course has the listed seeds patented and is ready to implement “terminator” genes so EVERYONE must buy new seed each year. (Cross pollination will sterilize any old fashioned varieties, guess thats the reason for Bill Gates' seed vault.)

Think this doesn't effect the USA - WRONG. “..the United States and the European Union have signed up to a new transatlantic economic partnership that will see regulatory standards “harmonized” and will lay the basis for a merging of the US and EU into one single market, a huge step on the path to a new globalized world order.” BBC reported (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6607757.stm)

Currently the USDA is issuing all livestock farms “premises IDs” (no property rights) and RFID tagging “the National herd” as the first step. ”the Guide to Good Farming Practices” and heavy fines used to confiscate farmland are already in the planning stages as the next step. The FDA has just issued a statement indicating crop farms will also be regulated.

On page nine of a 1974 report to Nixon by Kissinger declassified in 1991 “they’re talking about eliminating three billion people in the world and 100 million American’s before the end of 2050.” With the big corporations controlling the food supply eliminating that “excess” population should not be a problem. After all Stalin did it to the Ukraine.

e.m.smith said at September 7, 2008 3:40 AM:

The site: http://www.sciencebits.com/ice-ages

has an interesting graphic about 2 pages down. It shows the correlation between ice EPOCHs and passage through the spiral arms of the galaxy. It also shows that we are toward the end of the present ice epoch, so future ice ages in this epoch ought to be less strong that prior ones.

Per seeds: I hope the european law does not preclude private gardener seed exchanges. (FWIW I have a freezer full of seeds just in case someone decides to start putting corn genes in foods... I have a corn allergy. Seeds can be stored for several years to decades by putting them in a closed glass jar in the freezer.)

gman said at December 2, 2008 11:53 PM:

I would love to know 3 pieces of information.

At peak solar activity how much energy does the sun emit

At the lowest part of the solar cycle how much energy does the sun emit

Does anyone have an estimate of how much energy has been released from burning fossil fuel in the last 100yrs.

Just trying to get some sort of laymans perpsective

annie said at February 8, 2009 8:59 PM:

The information were find and interesting. But i still do not get how and why the sun get brighter and warmer.Can anyone help me i am working on my science project which is a big deal for me but i still do not understand about the sun getting hotter, brighter and warmer. Please contact to me as soon as possible.

Paul Fenton said at April 26, 2009 5:50 PM:

I am by no means an expert or physicists but all the clamor about global warming being caused by carbon emissions appears to be a big lie.

I believe sun activity has more to do with it rather than man made warming. The earth has endured several ice ages and when one emerges from an ice age, things tend to warm. They proof will come when we begin to lean toward cooler temperatures and headed into another rice age. To bad I won't be around to say; "I told you so"

Al Gore can kiss my American a** and so can other environmental freaks who are either ignorant, brainwashed or some power hunger left wing politicians wanting to tax us into starvation via new Cap & Trade legislation.

I agree we need to reduce pollution and find new energy sources but not at the expence and emerency pushed by the "Nutty" crowd.

Steven Hall said at August 2, 2011 10:54 PM:

I have just read everyone's post regarding the causes of global warming and cooling and everyone is incorrect with their opinions. And, I am stating you are all totally incorrect.

Harry Titsonbelly said at September 9, 2012 4:17 PM:

Wow really smart girls here,I hope to get la.Oops,AaThe planet,so big and beautiful,are you,my numb Opps.2many people by the mooodiy blues,well got to go so here is might reality test ...is anybody else in the solar system,not your water heating system ladies,butt the solar system getting hotter baby cause I am.If others are getting hotter then what were they like when they were younger,is this heating up here a sign of dis ease your friend Homer Simpson I think the ones with less mass should be getting hotter faster ,just as I like my girls to be.LA DE DA LA DE DA VINCHI ROLLING STONES GATHER NO MOSS. HUMMP MAYBE THAT IS WHY MINE ARE ITCHY........ISN'SCIENCE FUN

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