Tag: Sun

The Winter solstice

Today, we celebrate the shortest daylight! (In the Northern Hemisphere).

From WikiPedia:

The winter solstice, also called the hiemal solsticehibernal solstice, and brumal solstice, occurs when either of Earth‘s poles reaches its maximum tilt away from the Sun. This happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere (Northern and Southern). For that hemisphere, the winter solstice is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, when the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky. Either pole experiences continuous darkness or twilight around its winter solstice. The opposite event is the summer solstice. Depending on the hemisphere’s winter solstice, at the Tropic of Cancer or Capricorn, the Sun reaches 90° below the observer’s horizon at solar midnight, to the nadir.

The winter solstice occurs during the hemisphere’s winter. In the Northern Hemisphere, this is the December solstice (usually December 21 or 22) and in the Southern Hemisphere, this is the June solstice (usually June 20 or 21). Although the winter solstice itself lasts only a moment, the term sometimes refers to the day on which it occurs. Other names are the “extreme of winter” (Dongzhi), or the “shortest day”. Since the 18th century, the term “midwinter” has sometimes been used synonymously with the winter solstice, although it carries other meanings as well. Traditionally, in many temperate regions, the winter solstice is seen as the middle of winter, but today in some countries and calendars, it is seen as the beginning of winter.

Since prehistory, the winter solstice has been seen as a significant time of year in many cultures, and has been marked by festivals and rituals. It marked the symbolic death and rebirth of the Sun. The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days.

Sunrise at Stonehenge in southern England on the winter solstice

Later on, that article speaks of the Celtic history:


Prior to the arrival of Christianity, the Celtic people of Britain celebrated Yule in a similar fashion to the Germanic festival. It is alleged that Celtic Druids began the tradition of the Yule Log, with the intention of driving out darkness, evil spirits, and poor luck in the following year. The Yule Log was intended to be kept alight over the entire solstice period, twelve days over which the sun was believed to stand still. The log being extinguished symbolised poor luck in the following year. Additionally, evergreen plants were used in decoration – of key significance are “The Holly and the Ivy”, used in decoration, and Mistletoe, suspended over a doorway in a token gesture of goodwill to all who passed under it. These traditions have been adopted into the Christian winter celebrations, symbolised by a mistletoe wreath placed on the front door to a building.

It is a most ancient celebration because as soon as humans recognised that this was the shortest day they were deeply respectful of the forces of the universe.

Summer solstice 2020.

As old as time itself!

holding-the-sunThe point at which the sun reaches its farthest point north of the equator is the Summer Solstice, well it is for the Northern Hemisphere. This occurs annually on June 20 or June 21, depending on your time zone.

Here in Southern Oregon, the moment of the Summer Solstice will be at 2:43 PM or 14:43 PDT on Saturday, i.e. today! For the United Kingdom it will be at 22:43 BST on the same day or 21:43 GMT/UTC.

A quick web ‘look-up’ finds that the word solstice is from the Latin solstitium, from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop), reflecting the fact that the Sun appears to stop at this time, albeit momentarily.

At the ancient stone circle of Stonehenge in Southern England, the prehistoric monument that took Neolithic builders an estimated 1,500 years to erect, for many years the Druids have celebrated the Solstice and, undoubtedly, will be doing so again.

AMESBURY, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 21: A man stands on top of Stonehenge as the sun rises over Salisbury Plain on June 21, 2006 in Amesbury, England. Police estimated around 17,000 people travelled to watch the sun rise ove the 5,000 year old stone circle to start the longest day of the year. The all-night party to celebrate the Summer Solstice passed with only four arrests being made. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)
AMESBURY, UNITED KINGDOM – JUNE 21: A man stands on top of Stonehenge as the sun rises over Salisbury Plain on June 21, 2006 in Amesbury, England. Police estimated around 17,000 people travelled to watch the sun rise over the 5,000 year old stone circle to start the longest day of the year. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

There’s a good article over at EarthSky on this year’s Solstice. I would like to quote a little from it:

At the June solstice, Earth is positioned in its orbit so that our world’s North Pole is leaning most toward the sun. As seen from Earth, the sun is directly overhead at noon 23 1/2 degrees north of the equator, at an imaginary line encircling the globe known as the Tropic of Cancer – named after the constellation Cancer the Crab. This is as far north as the sun ever gets.

All locations north of the equator have days longer than 12 hours at the June solstice. Meanwhile, all locations south of the equator have days shorter than 12 hours.


Where should I look to see signs of the solstice in nature? Everywhere. For all of Earth’s creatures, nothing is so fundamental as the length of the day. After all, the sun is the ultimate source of almost all light and warmth on Earth’s surface.

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you might notice the early dawns and late sunsets, and the high arc of the sun across the sky each day. You might see how high the sun appears in the sky at local noon. And be sure to look at your noontime shadow. Around the time of the solstice, it’s your shortest noontime shadow of the year.

If you’re a person who’s tuned in to the out-of-doors, you know the peaceful, comforting feeling that accompanies these signs and signals of the year’s longest day.

Is the solstice the first day of summer? No world body has designated an official day to start each new season, and different schools of thought or traditions define the seasons in different ways.

In meteorology, for example, summer begins on June 1. And every schoolchild knows that summer starts when the last school bell of the year rings.

Yet June 21 is perhaps the most widely recognized day upon which summer begins in the Northern Hemisphere and upon which winter begins on the southern half of Earth’s globe. There’s nothing official about it, but it’s such a long-held tradition that we all recognize it to be so.

It has been universal among humans to treasure this time of warmth and light.

For us in the modern world, the solstice is a time to recall the reverence and understanding that early people had for the sky. Some 5,000 years ago, people placed huge stones in a circle on a broad plain in what’s now England and aligned them with the June solstice sunrise.

We may never comprehend the full significance of Stonehenge. But we do know that knowledge of this sort wasn’t limited to just one part of the world. Around the same time Stonehenge was being constructed in England, two great pyramids and then the Sphinx were built on Egyptian sands. If you stood at the Sphinx on the summer solstice and gazed toward the two pyramids, you’d see the sun set exactly between them.

How does it end up hotter later in the summer, if June has the longest day? People often ask:

If the June solstice brings the longest day, why do we experience the hottest weather in late July and August?

This effect is called the lag of the seasons. It’s the same reason it’s hotter in mid-afternoon than at noontime. Earth just takes a while to warm up after a long winter. Even in June, ice and snow still blanket the ground in some places. The sun has to melt the ice – and warm the oceans – and then we feel the most sweltering summer heat.

Ice and snow have been melting since spring began. Meltwater and rainwater have been percolating down through snow on tops of glaciers.

But the runoff from glaciers isn’t as great now as it’ll be in another month, even though sunlight is striking the northern hemisphere most directly around now.

So wait another month for the hottest weather. It’ll come when the days are already beginning to shorten again, as Earth continues to move in orbit around the sun, bringing us closer to another winter.

And so the cycle continues.

Indeed, so the cycle continues as it has for time immemorial!

Summer solstice

As old as time itself!


The point at which the sun reaches its farthest point north of the equator is the Summer Solstice, well it is for the Northern Hemisphere. This occurs annually on June 20 or June 21, depending on your time zone.

Here in Southern Oregon, the moment of the Summer Solstice will be 22:04 Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) on the evening of June 20th and at 05:04 GMT/UTC on June 21 2013 in the United Kingdom.

A quick web ‘look-up’ finds that the word solstice is from the Latin solstitium, from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop), reflecting the fact that the Sun appears to stop at this time, albeit momentarily.

At the ancient stone circle of Stonehenge in Southern England, the prehistoric monument that took Neolithic builders an estimated 1,500 years to erect, for many years the Druids have celebrated the Solstice and, undoubtedly, will be doing so again.

AMESBURY, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 21:  A man stands on top of Stonehenge as the sun rises over Salisbury Plain on June 21, 2006 in Amesbury, England.  Police estimated around 17,000 people travelled to watch the sun rise ove the 5,000 year old stone circle to start the longest day of the year. The all-night party to celebrate the Summer Solstice passed with only four arrests being made. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)
AMESBURY, UNITED KINGDOM – JUNE 21: A man stands on top of Stonehenge as the sun rises over Salisbury Plain on June 21, 2006 in Amesbury, England. Police estimated around 17,000 people travelled to watch the sun rise over the 5,000 year old stone circle to start the longest day of the year. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

AGW certainty, Part Two

Continuing the examination of two views on AGW.

Readers will recall that this post opened yesterday.  That Part One closed with Martin writing this:

Martin Lack

Much of what Oakwood writes is an attack upon the Hockey Stick graph of palaeoclimatic temperature reconstructions first produced in 1998 (MBH98).

However, the fatal flaws in Oakwood’s scepticism regarding MBH98 are as follows:

  1. MBH98 has been validated by at least 14 other reconstructions (as cited in IPCC AR4 in 2007) using a wide variety of other proxy data(see Wikipedia for relevant links)
  2. Hockey Stick-shaped graphs turn up in reconstructions of CO2 levels and temperature – now going back over thousands of years – because they are not ‘statistical noise’ –
  3. Arguments about splicing instrumental data onto proxy data only serve to challenge the extent to which the speed of late 20th Century warming is unprecedented.
  4. Such arguments do not invalidate the conclusion that it is now almost certainly warmer than it has been at any time since the last Ice Age (i.e. a period of relative climate and sea level stability that has made agriculture, urbanisation and civilisation possible).

However, this is no reason for us to be complacent because, as Oakwood must know, the 50 to 100 metres of sea level rise that will be caused by the melting of terrestrial ice sheets will necessitate the mass migration of millions of people. This makes his concerns about current poverty and starvation (i.e. the main reason he eventually cites for not believing action is yet necessary) look very trivial indeed.

So continuing ….


The argument that the ‘divergence problem’ does not bring into question proxy studies is just one example of supposed ‘settled’ evidence in the case for AGW. There are others which collectively bring down the case to one of opinion.

Martin Lack

After a lengthy attempt to assert that the “hide the decline” controversy was or is significant, Oakwood eventually moves onto attack the significance of MBH98; and to claim that ACD is no more than a matter of opinion. It is only possible to reach this conclusion by dismissing the majority of climate scientists as being stupid, sloppy, or sinister.


Here are a few others:

  • Mann et al’s original hockey stick (1998) (as well as a number of other studies) shows an unprecedented temperature rise in the first half of the 20th century, a temperature change that most climate scientists believe can be explained by natural phenomena, such as the Sun (while failing to reproduce the man-made rise in the 2nd half of the century, due to the divergence problem explained above).

Martin Lack

However, Climategate and, more especially Climategate 2.0 merely served to demonstrate how deliberate and organised are the attempts to discredit climate science and derail international attempts to tackle the ACD problem.


Thus, we are expected to believe there was both an unprecedented NATURAL temperature rise and unprecedented MAN-MADE rise in the same century. Not impossible, but statistically highly unlikely.

Martin Lack

Oakwood suggests that assertions about early 20th Century warming are statistically highly unlikely (i.e. that climate scientists are stupid to make them). However, the real statistically highly unlikely suggestion is that 30 years of monthly average temperatures exceeding their long-term average values could be a consequence of natural variation. Unlike early 20th Century warming, this is definitely not capable of being explained by natural causes (such as cyclical solar activity or random volcanic eruptions).


  • The ‘record’ (in just 35 years) of minimum summer ice in the Arctic is repeatedly presented as evidence for impending doom. However, the record MAXIMUM ice cover in the ANTarctic, at the same time, is dismissed with ‘we have another explanation for that’.

Martin Lack

Trying to shift the focus away from the accelerating rate of ice loss in the Arctic is very lame indeed. The Arctic is surrounded by land and (now) increasing amounts of warming water. The reasons for the ice loss are well understood and it is happening faster than was predicted even 5 years ago. The Antarctic is surrounded by a huge expanse of cold ocean and is also being kept cold by the human caused hole in the ozone layer. The reasons why its ice is not melting so fast are therefore also well understood. In addition, it should be noted that the Antarctic Peninsula is the fastest warming place in the southern hemisphere.


  • Whatever the weather, blame global warming. A few years ago, milder winters and earlier springs in the UK were hailed as evidence of AGW. But now we get lots of snow, and appalling spring, cooler summers, etc, and guess what, its due to global warming.
  • Hot/dry weather and floods around the world are routinely highlighted as ‘more evidence’ whereas as cold weather extremes and records are dismissed as ‘just natural variation’ – again, and again and again.

Martin Lack

Oakwood‘s remarks about extreme events are also very misleading. The number of records being broken for hot and/or dry events is many times greater than the number of records being broken for cold and/or wet events. As Hansen et al explained last year, in their review of historical data for the last five decades, natural variability does not explain the steady shift in average temperatures and the broadening of the range of conditions experienced in any one place.

I really can’t believe that Oakwood is so parochial in his outlook that he dares to mention the cold weather the UK has experienced recently. We may have had the coldest Spring for 50 years, but, that does not change the fact that global average temperatures are still the highest ever in recorded history. Furthermore, it does not change the fact that the analysis of Hansen et al (2012) continues to be validated by events such as those in Central Europe at the moment – where 1 in 100 year flood events have recurred after only 10 years. Not impossible – just statistically highly unlikely.


Those who highlight the lack of rising temperature for the past 10-15 years are routinely dismissed as deniers and liars. We’re told, ‘but the last decade is the warmest in a 100 years’. No-one disputes that. Given the world warmed by 0.8 degC in 100 years, that’s perfectly reasonable, and is not a defence against the fact that warming has at least paused.

  • We’re told: ‘but the heat is going into the ice caps and the deep oceans and atmospheric heat is just a small percentage of the total’, How convenient. In the 1980s and 1990s, atmospheric temperature was enough for ‘proof’ of serious AGW. We didn’t hear anything about ocean heat then. No-one suggested that perhaps the warming was due to a release of previously ‘hidden’ ocean heat. Or that we shouldn’t read too much into a small atmospheric temperature rise.
  • We see again and again, whatever happens, whatever the data show, the theory is revised to ‘show’ that nothing has changed. This is simply not plausible science.
  • We’re told, the physics of CO2-induced global warming is just that, ‘physics’, and we can’t change that however much we dispute it. No-one disputes the physics. But, the atmosphere (believe it or not) is very complicated. We have the physics that says aerosols reflect the Sun’s heat, that clouds may increase and also reflect more heat. We now hear the relationships with the oceans is very important (which we didn’t hear before). Thus the debate is not about the reality of the CO2-global warming physics. Its about the sensitivity of the system and which physical phenomena will dominate.

Martin Lack

Given the massive inertia in the climate system (which guarantees decades of future temperature rise even if CO2 emissions were completely halted today), there is no reason for us to be complacent about the fact that we have only seen a rise of 0.8C since the Industrial Revolution. The scientific consensus remains that equilibrium climate sensitivity is somewhere in excess of 2C and that such a rise in temperature will not be good for the vast majority of life on Earth. On the evidence of the ACD that we are already experiencing, I think there is very good reason to agree with that conclusion.

Again, I am astonished that Oakwood even dares to mention the ‘global warming has stopped’ canard. This misconception has been debunked so many times; there are even debates about who has written written the best rebuttals.  Here is a summary: Whilst surface warming may have paused, the warming of the ocean (which is driving the increased frequency of extreme weather events of all kinds) has continued. Given that oceans cover two thirds of the Earth’s surface, is this something really worth arguing about?

Climate scientists are therefore not changing their story to accommodate inconvenient new data. Only climate change sceptics do that. The only implausible science on offer today is that which seeks to explain all the data without acknowledging that CO2 is the main driver. Sure, CO2 does not explain everything but, you cannot explain all the data unless the primacy of CO2 is accepted.


Some will respond: ‘but all of these arguments have been debunked many times’. All they really mean is another opinion or speculation has been given by an AGW believer. Nothing wrong with these, but don’t claim they represent settled science.

Martin Lack

However, I should like to re-iterate the importance of the recently-published results of investigations at a lake in the NE of Arctic Russia. What this new 3.6 million year continuous palaeoclimatic record tells us is that current warmth is not unprecedented (if you go back to an era in which humans did not exist – 400 or 1,100 thousand years ago). This demonstrates that good scientists do not change their story when they get unexpected results.


I have no problem with scientists believing in AGW and believing it a serious threat. But when so much of their case is based on weak arguments, I do have a problem with claiming the case is ‘settled’ and that anyone who questions or challenges it is a liar, denier, conspiracy theorist, etc.

Both sides of the debate have their extremists and nutters. My interest is in the rational middle ground. To suggest an ‘eccentric’ like Christopher Monckton is ‘typical’ of all AGW-sceptics is just like claiming all Conservative voters are fascist and all Labour voters communist. It has no place in informed and educated debate.

Martin Lack

Oakwood claims arguments for concern over ACD are “weak” but, in making this assertion, the only information he has referred to is very much out-of-date (such as IPCC AR4 in 2007). Oakwood moves on to discuss unhelpful labels such as “liar” and “denier”.

I do not think I have ever suggested that anyone who professes to be ‘sceptical’ is lying. However, I do think that, just like the tobacco executives whose ‘modus operandi’ they are copying, the executives of fossil fuel companies know more than they care to admit. There is also a great deal of evidence to indicate that climate change ‘scepticism’ is in fact being driven by unscientific economists aided in their anti-science cause by a handful of friendly scientists who tell them what they want to hear. This is not scepticism, it is ideological prejudice.


The term “denier” was introduced with the intention of associating AGW-sceptics with Holocaust Deniers. That is to say, AGW-sceptics are putting millions of lives at risk through their lies and ignorance. Given the weakness of the AGW case, the use of the labels ‘denier’, ‘deny’, denial’ seems to represent an insult to every victim of the Holocaust.

Martin Lack

I agree that use of the term ‘denier’ is generally not helpful, but, given all the evidence that conflicts with their position, I do think that those who remain ‘sceptical’ about the primary cause of ongoing climate change are being irrational. If your beliefs require you to dismiss any and all evidence that conflicts with them, that is not scepticism, it is wilful blindness; it is what Young Earth Creationists have to do in order to protect themselves from wicked and ungodly scientific ideas.

Therefore, even if Oakwood does not do it, many who are ‘sceptical’ do rely upon conspiracy theories to dismiss all the evidence that conflicts with their beliefs. This includes dismissing most scientists as stupid, sloppy or sinister.


And why is it not time to act now? I am an environmentalist and see many environmental and social problems that need addressing. In particular, the need for ‘sustainability’ in all we do. There remain millions dying each year from such things as malnutrition, lack of safe drinking water, malaria, etc.

These are hard facts with zero room for any doubt. Given the weakness in the AGW-case, it is not a priority. I see some benefits in acting. For example, in many cases a reduction in CO2 emissions leads to much improved energy-efficiency, and less pollution. However, the case is not made for diverting money and effort from the more immediate priorities, covering pristine countryside in wind farms to satisfy urban energy demands, or using more biofuels at the expense of more hunger.

Martin Lack

Having wasted so much time trying to falsify MBH98, Oakwood finally gets round to the important bit of my question: Why does he think the time to act has not yet arrived?

Failing to address the point that a wide range of industrial, political and economic organisations now agree that it is time to act, Oakwood opts instead to simply re-state his belief that attempts to mitigate the ACD problem will do more harm than good. All the evidence I have seen suggests that he is mistaken. To-date, I think the most compelling evidence is that contained in the IIED’s 2009 report , ‘Assessing the costs of Adaptation to Climate Change: A review of UNFCCC and other recent estimates’ (PDF available here), which begins with the following very sobering executive summary:

Several recent studies have reported adaptation costs for climate change, including for developing countries. They have similar-sized estimates and have been influential in discussions on this issue.

However, the studies have a number of deficiencies which need to be transparent and addressed more systematically in the future. A re-assessment of the UNFCCC estimates for 2030 suggests that they are likely to be substantial under-estimates. The purpose of this report is to illustrate the uncertainties in these estimates rather than to develop new cost estimates, which is a much larger task than can be accomplished here.

The main reasons for under-estimation are that: (i) some sectors have not been included in an assessment of cost (e.g. ecosystems, energy, manufacturing, retailing, and tourism); (ii) some of those sectors which have been included have been only partially covered; and (iii) the additional costs of adaptation have sometimes been calculated as ‘climate mark-ups’ against low levels of assumed investment. In some parts of the world low levels of investment have led to a current adaptation deficit, and this deficit will need to be made good by full funding of development, without which the funding for adaptation will be insufficient. Residual damages also need to be evaluated and reported because not all damages can be avoided due to technical and economic constraints.

There is an urgent need for more detailed assessments of these costs, including case studies of costs of adaptation in specific places and sectors.


Thus, belief in AGW is not a simple moral argument which some would want to believe – good vs evil, or capitalist vs environmentalist, etc.

Martin Lack

Oakwood says he does not think this is a good-vs- evil or a capitalist-vs- environmentalist issue. I would agree. However:

  • I am not the one who is allowing my political beliefs to prejudice my approach to the science;
  • I am not the one who is accusing most scientists of being stupid, sloppy or sinister in order to dismiss what they are telling me; and
  • I am not the one changing my story or my preferred argument whenever something I have formerly relied upon is shown to be unreasonable.

Although it is a shame that he is part of a minority within the UK’s current Coalition Government, I will conclude by quoting from a recent speech by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Edward Davey:

Of course there will always be uncertainties within climate science and the need for research to continue… We make progress by building on what we know, and questioning what we don’t. But some sections of the press are giving an uncritical campaigning platform to individuals and lobby groups who reject outright the fact that climate change is a result of human activity. Some who even deny the reality of climate change itself… By selectively misreading the evidence, they seek to suggest that climate change has stopped so we can all relax and burn all the dirty fuel we want without a care…

Oakwood says he opposes action to curb ACD because there are bigger problems we need to solve. If this were likely to be true, it would be an admirable position to take. Unfortunately, the bulk of the evidence suggests that ACD is a problem unlike any other and, unless we make serious attempts to minimise it, its consequences will dwarf all other problems we face.

This is because basic physics tells us that allowing the Earth to warm up will cause terrestrial ice to melt and sea levels to rise. It was predicted and it is now happening. The time to act to stop it is now. Millions of people cannot and will not adapt to having their land and their cities submerged under water.


Well I think that the agreement of Oakwood and Martin to set out their positions is fabulous and very worthy.

If readers will forgive me, tomorrow I will offer my own personal reflections on what has been offered by Martin and Oakwood today and yesterday.

Just a small, white dot!

Does rather serve to remind us of our place in the scheme of things.

This stunning image was taken by the Cassini-Huygens probe.  Many of the images taken by NASA are available for download from the DVIDS website, which is where this one was found. (But also do visit the Ciclops website.)

The title of the photograph is:

A View of Earth from Saturn

A View of Earth from Saturn: Image of the Day

Although the Earth Observatory typically reserves ”Image of the Day” space for publishing data and images acquired by Earth-observing satellites, we are sometimes so enthralled by the spectacular images acquired by spacecraft observing other parts of the solar system that we want to share these ‘otherworldy’ views with our visitors. And if you are looking for remotely sensed images of the Earth, this view is the most remotely sensed image we have ever published!

This beautiful image of Saturn and its rings looks more like an artist’s creation than a real image, but in fact, the image is a composite (layered image) made from 165 images taken by the wide-angle camera on the Cassini spacecraft over nearly three hours on September 15, 2006.

Scientists created the color in the image by digitally compositing ultraviolet, infrared, and clear-filter images and then adjusting the final image to resemble natural color. (A clear filter is one that allows in all the wavelengths of light the sensor is capable of detecting.) The bottom image [the one above. Ed.] is a closeup view of the upper left quadrant of the rings, through which Earth is visible in the far, far distance.

On this day, Saturn interceded between the Sun and Cassini, shielding Cassini from the Sun’s glare. As the spacecraft lingered in Saturn’s shadow, it viewed the planet’s rings as never before, revealing previously unknown faint rings and even glimpsing its home world. Seen from more than a billion kilometers (almost a billion miles) away, through the ice and dust particles of Saturn’s rings, Earth appears as a tiny, bright dot to the left and slightly behind Saturn.

Although it might appear that Earth is located within Saturn’s outermost rings, that positioning is just an illusion created by the enormous distance between Cassini and Earth. When Cassini took this image, the spacecraft was looking back at Saturn from a distance of about 2.2.million kilometers (about 1.3 million miles). The Sun was millions of additional miles beyond, hidden behind Saturn. On September 15, Earth’s orbit had brought our home planet to a location slightly behind and to the left of the Sun from Cassini’s perspective. The Website of the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPS) provides more detailed information about this image. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency.

Trying to find that faint image of Planet Earth in the above photograph is a challenge, even for those with much younger eyes than mine.

However, with a little bit of jiggery-pokery I was able to crop and enlarge the photograph, see below:


Planet Earth is in the ’10 o’clock’ position in the photograph, about half-way from the centre of the enlarged segment towards the top-left corner of the picture, just outside the outer white ring.

That’s us. All that we have ever been. All that we ever will be. Just that small white dot.

Sceptical voices, part two

More musings about determining the truth.

Those who read yesterday’s part one will undoubtedly have seen the added comment from long-time friend of Learning from Dogs, Patrice Ayme.  Yesterday, I promised to conclude Dan’s sceptical approach to climate warming with three articles that he had sent me.  Here they are,

Global Warming

“Global warming” refers to the global-average temperature increase that has been observed over the last one hundred years or more. But to many politicians and the public, the term carries the implication that mankind is responsible for that warming. This website describes evidence from my group’s government-funded research that suggests global warming is mostly natural, and that the climate system is quite insensitive to humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions and aerosol pollution.

Believe it or not, very little research has ever been funded to search for natural mechanisms of warming…it has simply been assumed that global warming is manmade. This assumption is rather easy for scientists since we do not have enough accurate global data for a long enough period of time to see whether there are natural warming mechanisms at work.

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that the only way they can get their computerized climate models to produce the observed warming is with anthropogenic (human-caused) pollution. But they’re not going to find something if they don’t search for it. More than one scientist has asked me, “What else COULD it be?” Well, the answer to that takes a little digging… and as I show, one doesn’t have to dig very far.

But first let’s examine the basics of why so many scientists think global warming is manmade. Earth’s atmosphere contains natural greenhouse gases (mostly water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane) which act to keep the lower layers of the atmosphere warmer than they otherwise would be without those gases. Greenhouse gases trap infrared radiation — the radiant heat energy that the Earth naturally emits to outer space in response to solar heating. Mankind’s burning of fossil fuels (mostly coal, petroleum, and natural gas) releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and this is believed to be enhancing the Earth’s natural greenhouse effect. As of 2008, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was about 40% to 45% higher than it was before the start of the industrial revolution in the 1800’s.

It is interesting to note that, even though carbon dioxide is necessary for life on Earth to exist, there is precious little of it in Earth’s atmosphere. As of 2008, only 39 out of every 100,000 molecules of air were CO2, and it will take mankind’s CO2 emissions 5 more years to increase that number by 1, to 40.

Earth's atmosphere

The “Holy Grail”: Climate Sensitivity Figuring out how much past warming is due to mankind, and how much more we can expect in the future, depends upon something called “climate sensitivity”. This is the temperature response of the Earth to a given amount of ‘radiative forcing’, of which there are two kinds: a change in either the amount of sunlight absorbed by the Earth, or in the infrared energy the Earth emits to outer space.

The ‘consensus’ of opinion is that the Earth’s climate sensitivity is quite high, and so warming of about 0.25 deg. C to 0.5 deg. C (about 0.5 deg. F to 0.9 deg. F) every 10 years can be expected for as long as mankind continues to use fossil fuels as our primary source of energy. NASA’s James Hansen claims that climate sensitivity is very high, and that we have already put too much extra CO2 in the atmosphere. Presumably this is why he and Al Gore are campaigning for a moratorium on the construction of any more coal-fired power plants in the U.S.

You would think that we’d know the Earth’s ‘climate sensitivity’ by now, but it has been surprisingly difficult to determine. How atmospheric processes like clouds and precipitation systems respond to warming is critical, as they are either amplifying the warming, or reducing it. This website currently concentrates on the response of clouds to warming, an issue which I am now convinced the scientific community has totally misinterpreted when they have measured natural, year-to-year fluctuations in the climate system. As a result of that confusion, they have the mistaken belief that climate sensitivity is high, when in fact the satellite evidence suggests climate sensitivity is low.

The case for natural climate change I also present an analysis of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation which shows that most climate change might well be the result of….the climate system itself! Because small, chaotic fluctuations in atmospheric and oceanic circulation systems can cause small changes in global average cloudiness, this is all that is necessary to cause climate change. You don’t need the sun, or any other ‘external’ influence (although these are also possible…but for now I’ll let others work on that). It is simply what the climate system does. This is actually quite easy for meteorologists to believe, since we understand how complex weather processes are. Your local TV meteorologist is probably a closet ’skeptic’ regarding mankind’s influence on climate.

Climate change — it happens, with or without our help.

And the next one,

Earth may be headed into a mini Ice Age within a decade

Physicists say sunspot cycle is ‘going into hibernation’

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science14th June 2011 17:00 GMT

What may be the science story of the century is breaking this evening, as heavyweight US solar physicists announce that the Sun appears to be headed into a lengthy spell of low activity, which could mean that the Earth – far from facing a global warming problem– is actually headed into a mini Ice Age.

Ice skating on the Thames by 2025?

The announcement made on 14 June (18:00 UK time) comes from scientists at the US National Solar Observatory (NSO) and US Air Force Research Laboratory. Three different analyses of the Sun’s recent behaviour all indicate that a period of unusually low solar activity may be about to begin.

The Sun normally follows an 11-year cycle of activity. The current cycle, Cycle 24, is now supposed to be ramping up towards maximum strength. Increased numbers of sunspots and other indications ought to be happening: but in fact results so far are most disappointing. Scientists at the NSO now suspect, based on data showing decades-long trends leading to this point, that Cycle 25 may not happen at all.

This could have major implications for the Earth’s climate. According to a statement issued by the NSO, announcing the research:

An immediate question is whether this slowdown presages a second Maunder Minimum, a 70-year period with virtually no sunspots [which occurred] during 1645-1715.

As NASA notes [1]:

Early records of sunspots indicate that the Sun went through a period of inactivity in the late 17th century. Very few sunspots were seen on the Sun from about 1645 to 1715. Although the observations were not as extensive as in later years, the Sun was in fact well observed during this time and this lack of sunspots is well documented. This period of solar inactivity also corresponds to a climatic period called the “Little Ice Age” when rivers that are normally ice-free froze and snow fields remained year-round at lower altitudes. There is evidence that the Sun has had similar periods of inactivity in the more distant past.

During the Maunder Minimum and for periods either side of it, many European rivers which are ice-free today – including the Thames – routinely froze over, allowing ice skating and even for armies to march across them in some cases.

“This is highly unusual and unexpected,” says Dr Frank Hill of the NSO. “But the fact that three completely different views of the Sun point in the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation.”

Hill’s own research focuses on surface pulsations of the Sun and their relationship with sunspots, and his team has already used their methods to successfully predict the late onset of Cycle 24.

“We expected to see the start of the zonal flow for Cycle 25 by now,” Hill explained, “but we see no sign of it. This indicates that the start of Cycle 25 may be delayed to 2021 or 2022, or may not happen at all.”

Hill’s results match those from physicists Matt Penn and William Livingston, who have gone over 13 years of sunspot data from the McMath-Pierce Telescope at Kitt Peak in Arizona. They have seen the strength of the magnetic fields which create sunspots declining steadily. According to the NSO:

Penn and Livingston observed that the average field strength declined about 50 gauss per year during Cycle 23 and now in Cycle 24. They also observed that spot temperatures have risen exactly as expected for such changes in the magnetic field. If the trend continues, the field strength will drop below the 1,500 gauss threshold and spots will largely disappear as the magnetic field is no longer strong enough to overcome convective forces on the solar surface.

In parallel with this comes research from the US Air Force’s studies of the solar corona. Richard Altrock, in charge of this, has found a 40-year decline in the “rush to the poles” – the poleward surge of magnetic activity in the corona.

“Those wonderful, delicate coronal features are actually powerful, robust magnetic structures rooted in the interior of the Sun,” Altrock says. “Changes we see in the corona reflect changes deep inside the Sun …

“Cycle 24 started out late and slow and may not be strong enough to create a rush to the poles, indicating we’ll see a very weak solar maximum in 2013, if at all. If the rush to the poles fails to complete, this creates a tremendous dilemma for the theorists … No one knows what the Sun will do in that case.”

According to the collective wisdom of the NSO, another Maunder Minimum may very well be on the cards.

“If we are right,” summarises Hill, “this could be the last solar maximum we’ll see for a few decades. That would affect everything from space exploration to Earth’s climate.”

The effects on space exploration would be benign, as fewer or no solar storms would make space a much less hostile environment for human beings. At the moment, anyone venturing beyond the Earth’s protective magnetic field (the only people to have done so were the Apollo moon astronauts of the 1960s and ’70s) runs a severe risk of dangerous or fatal radiation exposure during a solar storm.

Manned missions beyond low Earth orbit, a stated aspiration of the USA and other nations, might become significantly safer and cheaper to mount (cheaper as there would be no requirement for possibly very heavy shielding to protect astronauts, so reducing launch costs).

The big consequences of a major solar calm spell, however, would be climatic. The next few generations of humanity might not find themselves trying to cope with global warming but rather with a significant cooling. This could overturn decades of received wisdom on such things as CO2 emissions, and lead to radical shifts in government policy worldwide.

And the last one,

On the Misdiagnosis of Surface Temperature Feedbacks from Variations in Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance

Roy W. Spencer * and William D. Braswell

ESSC-UAH, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Cramer Hall, Huntsville, AL 35899, USA

* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.Received: 24 May 2011; in revised form: 13 July 2011 / Accepted: 15 July 2011 / Published: 25 July 2011

Abstract: The sensitivity of the climate system to an imposed radiative imbalance remains the largest source of uncertainty in projections of future anthropogenic climate change. Here we present further evidence that this uncertainty from an observational perspective is largely due to the masking of the radiative feedback signal by internal radiative forcing, probably due to natural cloud variations. That these internal radiative forcings exist and likely corrupt feedback diagnosis is demonstrated with lag regression analysis of satellite and coupled climate model data, interpreted with a simple forcing-feedback model. While the satellite-based metrics for the period 2000–2010 depart substantially in the direction of lower climate sensitivity from those similarly computed from coupled climate models, we find that, with traditional methods, it is not possible to accurately quantify this discrepancy in terms of the feedbacks which determine climate sensitivity. It is concluded that atmospheric feedback diagnosis of the climate system remains an unsolved problem, due primarily to the inability to distinguish between radiative forcing and radiative feedback in satellite radiative budget observations.

So back to me!

As you can see there is every opportunity to be confused.  Not embracing contrary views to the ones that you believe, however, is not the way to determine the truth.

So let me close with a couple of my own contrary views.

The first from Bill McKibben published in the Resurgence Magazine,


We have a tiny window of opportunity to save something of the magnificence of the Earth so let’s all grab it, writes Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org

Asked to name the biggest thing that’s happened over Resurgence’s 45-year career, I think I’d have to say the melt of the Arctic. When this magazine began publishing, there was 40% more summer sea ice in the Arctic. Viewed from space, in those first pictures from the Apollo spacecraft, the planet looked very different than it does now. In recent summers both the north-west and the north-east passages have opened, allowing sailors to circumnavigate the Arctic through waters that no one thought, even a decade ago, humans would ever navigate.

Or maybe I would pick the rapid acidification of the planet’s seas – they’re 30% more acid than they were in 1966. Which means that the small creatures at the base of the marine food chain are having more trouble forming their shells, and that coral reefs – already stressed by warming waters – have a new trauma to deal with.

Another possibility: the Earth’s atmosphere is about 4% moister than it was 45 years ago, simply because warm air holds more water vapour than cold. This loads the dice for deluge, downpour, flood – it’s not surprising that we’re seeing record rainfall and unprecedented floods. Nor, since that water has to come from somewhere, should increasing drought and desertification come as much of a shock.

Here’s what I’m trying to say: when Resurgence began its run, we were still in the Holocene. Humans had altered much of the planet’s natural environment. We had dirty rivers and dirty air, spreading toxins and endangered species. But the basic operating system of the planet was running pretty much the same as it had for the 10,000 years of human civilisation.

Sometime in the intervening decades we moved out of that comfortable and remarkably stable world, and began the transition to What Comes Next?

Any date would be arbitrary, but if you wanted to pick one, you could say 1988. That was the year NASA scientist Jim Hansen warned the US Congress that global warming was indeed real – and it was the year that we passed the benchmark of 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere. At the time we didn’t know it was a benchmark – it was 20 years later that scientists, again led by Hansen, declared that 350ppm was the absolute upper limit if we wanted a planet “similar to the one on which civilisation developed and to which life is adapted”. If we wanted, in other words, that older world we were born onto.

I could list at some length the various woes this new world is already causing: we see rising sea levels displacing farmers across the deltas of Bangladesh, and Aedes aegypti expanding its boundary and spreading dengue fever like wildfire. Speaking of wildfire, we see record amounts, in part because of more heat and drought, and in part because insects (once kept in check by cold weather) are now spreading.

We see millions still homeless from last year’s flood in Pakistan, and billions struggling to pay for food because a string of crop failures that began with last summer’s Russian drought have increased grain prices by 70–80%.

And I could list at even greater length the woes we expect as the century grinds on. After all, we’ve only raised the temperature about a degree so far, and the climatologists tell us to expect four or five unless we stop burning coal and oil and gas much faster than any government currently plans. Temperatures like that will guarantee the melt of Greenland; according to the agronomists they will cut grain harvests by a third or more; they’ll make current shortages of water seem barely worth mentioning.

But for the moment don’t think about consequences, current or future. Just think about the enormity of what we’ve managed to do: we’ve altered the most basic operations of the one planet we’ve got.

The air is profoundly different, the heat balance with our sun profoundly altered. It’s by far the biggest thing humans have ever done or ever contemplated doing, and were some alien watching from a great distance she’d be scratching her head-like appendage. It’s our head-like appendage that’s responsible, of course. That big brain turned out to be incredibly clever, and its cleverest trick was to figure out that buried carbon could make life easy. Everything that we know around us – the whole modern world – derives from that discovery. Much of it is good. But now we’re threatening to take down the good, and much else with it.

So here’s the question for the next 45 years of Resurgence: can the big brain bail us out?

It’s already provided us with the warnings we need, warnings that would not have been available at any other moment in human history. The scientific method, one of the greatest achievements of our civilisation, has produced a robust consensus on this difficult problem in chemistry and physics: since the mid-1990s the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said in unmistakably plain language that there is no doubt: we have to cut carbon, and quickly.

But so far that warning has had little or no effect: our national governments, with a few noble exceptions, have paid scant attention; our attempts at global governance have been pathetic failures. The chief reason, I think, is the remarkable power of the fossil-fuel industry to stifle change; for 200 years it has grown bigger and richer and more than able to deal with the threat that science now poses to its reign. It literally makes us stupid: earlier this winter the US House of Representatives, by a 60-vote margin, defeated a resolution that merely stated that global warming was real. Exxon has promoted its own version of physics and chemistry, and they’ve managed to fool a good many too.

The real question, then, is going to be: is there a big enough heart connected to that big brain? Will we be able to heed not only the warnings of science but those of our conscience? Will we, gazing out at the growing array of ‘natural disasters’, figure out that we’ve got to make change? Change in our personal lives, yes, but even more change in our political arrangements, since that’s the only chance that actual physics and chemistry really give us for meeting the deadlines they’ve set.

I think the answer is yes – a tentative and uncertain yes, but one based on just enough real-world data to give me hope.

Three years ago we founded 350.org, the first big global grassroots climate campaign. Rooted in science but expressed in imagination, it has grown to pretty mammoth size. Our first two big global days of action, in the waning months of 2009 and 2010, were what CNN called “the most widespread days of political action in the planet’s history”, with nearly 15,000 demonstrations in every country on Earth but North Korea.

And the good news is we didn’t really ‘organise’ it – our tiny staff worked feverishly, but ultimately it was like a potluck supper. People in every corner of the Earth heard the call and did the work, figuring out what would work in their place. (An underwater demonstration on the dying coral reefs of the Maldives; a giant image of King Canute, composed of thousands of volunteers, trying to hold the sea back on the Brighton seashore!)

It’s not enough yet to beat the fossil-fuel industry – our bodies don’t yet add up to their money. But we’re growing constantly (the next big chance to join us: 24 September 2011, a day we’re calling Moving Planet). And – sad, but true – the natural world is going to continue to give us openings to make the case more strongly. Sooner or later our leaders will listen – and we’re committed to making it sooner.

We’re not going to stop global warming: it’s already warmed and it will warm some more. Those Apollo images of our planet are forever sepia-toned. But we’ve got a tiny window left to save something of the Earth we were born onto – its beauty, its bounty, its safety.

That’s our task, and the next 45 years will tell the tale.

Bill McKibben wrote the first book for a general audience on climate change, The End of Nature, in 1989. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

The second from the BBC News website just a few days ago.

Arctic ice hits second-lowest level, US scientists say

Sea ice cover in the Arctic in 2011 has passed its annual minimum, reaching the second-lowest level since satellite records began, US scientists say.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) says the minimum, reached on 9 September, was 4.33 million sq km.

That value is 36% lower than the average minimum for 1979-2000.

NSIDC said the figure was preliminary, and that “changing winds could still push the ice extent lower” before final numbers are published in early October.

The preliminary value is 160,000 sq km – or 4% – above the record minimum seen in 2007.

The minimum level of cover is far below the average of 1979-2000

“While the record low year of 2007 was marked by a combination of weather conditions that favoured ice loss – including clearer skies, favourable wind patterns and warm temperatures – this year has shown more typical weather patterns but continued warmth over the Arctic,” they wrote.

“This supports the idea that the Arctic sea ice cover is continuing to thin.”

NSIDC director Mark Serreze said: “Every summer that we see a very low ice extent in September sets us up for a similar situation the following year.

“The Arctic sea ice cover is so thin now compared to 30 years ago that it just can’t take a hit any more. This overall pattern of thinning ice in the Arctic in recent decades is really starting to catch up with us.”

In fact, an analysis released last week by researchers at the University of Bremen in Germany, who use a different satellite to assess ice cover, indicated that 2011’s minimum was the lowest on record.

However, there is some controversy surrounding the result; the Bremen team’s higher-resolution data can detect small patches of water where the NSIDC team would not, but the Bremen record goes back only to 2003.

These analyses are for the extent, or area, of Arctic ice, but recent estimates released by the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center give an indication of the total amount of sea ice.

Their data indicate that the ice volume is at an all-time low for the second year in a row.

Analyses of Arctic ice in recent years consistently indicate a change in the nature of the ice itself – from one solid mass that melts and freezes at its edges towards more dispersed, piecemeal ice cover, and from robust “multi-year” ice toward seasonal floes that melt more easily.

The NSIDC data show ice cover extents consistently below earlier averages

You may want to refer to the worrying images of the Petermann Glacier that I published on the 14th September.


I hope this article, split over two days, has been useful.  Hopefully, they underline the need to work it out for yourself and remain open-minded at all times.

Next ice age?

Uh, thought the great issue was global warming!

So just a day after the 2011 Summer Solstice, the sun is again a topic on this Blog.

Last Saturday’s issue of The Economist had amongst it’s leaders, a piece with the headline of Several lines of evidence suggest that the sun is about to go quiet.

Coincidentally I had seen, just a few hours previously, a similar story on the UK website The Register.  Let me quote a little from that item.

Earth may be headed into a mini Ice Age within a decade

Physicists say sunspot cycle is ‘going into hibernation’

By Lewis Page • Posted in Science14th June 2011 17:00 GMT

What may be the science story of the century is breaking this evening, as heavyweight US solar physicists announce that the Sun appears to be headed into a lengthy spell of low activity, which could mean that the Earth – far from facing a global warming problem – is actually headed into a mini Ice Age.

The announcement made on 14 June (18:00 UK time) comes from scientists at the US National Solar Observatory (NSO) and US Air Force Research Laboratory. Three different analyses of the Sun’s recent behaviour all indicate that a period of unusually low solar activity may be about to begin.

It was a moment’s effort to go to the US National Solar Observatory website (great website, by the way) and read that recent press release.  The press release link is here and it really is a ‘must read’ item.  Here’s just a flavour of what was written,


A missing jet stream, fading spots, and slower activity near the poles say that our Sun is heading for a rest period even as it is acting up for the first time in years, according to scientists at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

As the current sunspot cycle, Cycle 24, begins to ramp up toward maximum, independent studies of the solar interior, visible surface, and the corona indicate that the next 11-year solar sunspot cycle, Cycle 25, will be greatly reduced or may not happen at all.

“This is highly unusual and unexpected,” Dr. Frank Hill, associate director of the NSO’s Solar Synoptic Network, said of the results. “But the fact that three completely different views of the Sun point in the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation.”

Spot numbers and other solar activity rise and fall about every 11 years, which is half of the Sun’s 22-year magnetic interval since the Sun’s magnetic poles reverse with each cycle. An immediate question is whether this slowdown presages a second Maunder Minimum, a 70-year period with virtually no sunspots during 1645-1715.

Hill is the lead author on one of three papers on these results being presented this week. Using data from the Global Oscillation Network Group (GONG) of six observing stations around the world, the team translates surface pulsations caused by sound reverberating through the Sun into models of the internal structure. One of their discoveries is an east-west zonal wind flow inside the Sun, called the torsional oscillation, which starts at mid-latitudes and migrates towards the equator. The latitude of this wind stream matches the new spot formation in each cycle, and successfully predicted the late onset of the current Cycle 24.

“We expected to see the start of the zonal flow for Cycle 25 by now,” Hill explained, “but we see no sign of it. This indicates that the start of Cycle 25 may be delayed to 2021 or 2022, or may not happen at all.”

As I said, the item is essential reading and the full release may be read here.  Another benefit of going to that NSO press release is that you will find another link to the full text and pictures.  The pictures are just stunning.  Here’s one of them.

The Sun viewed in visible light, at minimum phase (2006) and maximum phase (2001)

Seriously, if you are interested in learning more about our Sun and the nature of solar cycles, this strikes me as an excellent place to start.

However, let me close this article by returning to the final paragraphs of that NSO Press Release.  Here they are,

All three of these lines of research to point to the familiar sunspot cycle shutting down for a while.

“If we are right,” Hill concluded, “this could be the last solar maximum we’ll see for a few decades. That would affect everything from space exploration to Earth’s climate.”

In response to news inquiries and stories, Dr. Frank Hill issued a follow-up statement:

“We are NOT predicting a mini-ice age. We are predicting the behavior of the solar cycle. In my opinion, it is a huge leap from that to an abrupt global cooling, since the connections between solar activity and climate are still very poorly understood. My understanding is that current calculations suggest only a 0.3 degree C decrease from a Maunder-like minimum, too small for an ice age. It is unfortunate that the global warming/cooling studies have become so politically polarizing.”

Just take that last quotation from Dr. Frank Hill and ponder, “It is unfortunate that the global warming/cooling studies have become so politically polarizing.” [my italics].

That statement from Dr. Hill combined with my friend Dan’s posting of the 16th are food for thought.  More about this on Learning from Dogs soon.

Summer Solstice 2011

Let’s all pause for a moment (and my apologies for the late posting!)

The precise time of the summer solstice today is 17.16 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT/UTC).

Our sun, giver of life

In terms of local times that will be 10.16 here in Arizona and also in California, 13.16 in New York, 18.16 in London, and 03.16 (Wed) in Sydney, Australia, to pick just a few places.

What a year it has been so far!

So let’s just pause for a moment, as the Sun appears to pause, and put out our combined thoughts across this wonderful Planet Earth and pray for peace and tranquillity for all during the rest of this ‘interesting’ year.