IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis Indirect Effects of Solar Variability

Approximately 1% of the Sun’s radiant energy is in the UV portion of the spectrum at wavelengths below about 300 nm, which the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs. Although of considerably smaller absolute energy than the total irradiance, solar UV radiation is fractionally more variable by at least an order of magnitude. It contributes significantly to changes in total solar irradiance (15% of the total irradiance cycle; Lean et al., 1997) and creates and modifies the ozone layer, but is not considered as a direct RF because it does not reach the troposphere. Since the TAR, new studies have confirmed and advanced the plausibility of indirect effects involving the modification of the stratosphere by solar UV irradiance variations (and possibly by solar-induced variations in the overlying mesosphere and lower thermosphere), with subsequent dynamical and radiative coupling to the troposphere (Section 9.2). Whether solar wind fluctuations (Boberg and Lundstedt, 2002) or solar-induced heliospheric modulation of galactic cosmic rays (Marsh and Svensmark, 2000b) also contribute indirect forcings remains ambiguous.

As in the troposphere, anthropogenic effects, internal cycles (e.g., the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation) and natural influences all affect the stratosphere. It is now well established from both empirical and model studies that solar cycle changes in UV radiation alter middle atmospheric ozone concentrations (Fioletov et al., 2002; Geller and Smyshlyaev, 2002; Hood, 2003), temperatures and winds (Ramaswamy et al., 2001; Labitzke et al., 2002; Haigh, 2003; Labitzke, 2004; Crooks and Gray, 2005), including the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation (McCormack, 2003; Salby and Callaghan, 2004). In their recent survey of solar influences on climate, Gray et al. (2005) noted that updated observational analyses have confirmed earlier 11-year cycle signals in zonally averaged stratospheric temperature, ozone and circulation with increased statistical confidence. There is a solar-cycle induced increase in global total ozone of 2 to 3% at solar cycle maximum, accompanied by temperature responses that increase with altitude, exceeding 1°C around 50 km. However, the amplitudes and geographical and altitudinal patterns of these variations are only approximately known, and are not linked in an easily discernible manner to the forcing. For example, solar forcing appears to induce a significant lower stratospheric response (Hood, 2003), which may have a dynamical origin caused by changes in temperature affecting planetary wave propagation, but it is not currently reproduced by models.

When solar activity is high, the more complex magnetic configuration of the heliosphere reduces the flux of galactic cosmic rays in the Earth’s atmosphere. Various scenarios have been proposed whereby solar-induced galactic cosmic ray fluctuations might influence climate (as surveyed by Gray et al., 2005). Carslaw et al. (2002) suggested that since the plasma produced by cosmic ray ionization in the troposphere is part of an electric circuit that extends from the Earth’s surface to the ionosphere, cosmic rays may affect thunderstorm electrification. By altering the population of CCN and hence microphysical cloud properties (droplet number and concentration), cosmic rays may also induce processes analogous to the indirect effect of tropospheric aerosols. The presence of ions, such as produced by cosmic rays, is recognised as influencing several microphysical mechanisms (Harrison and Carslaw, 2003). Aerosols may nucleate preferentially on atmospheric cluster ions. In the case of low gas-phase sulphuric acid concentrations, ion-induced nucleation may dominate over binary sulphuric acid-water nucleation. In addition, increased ion nucleation and increased scavenging rates of aerosols in turbulent regions around clouds seem likely. Because of the difficulty in tracking the influence of one particular modification brought about by ions through the long chain of complex interacting processes, quantitative estimates of galactic cosmic-ray induced changes in aerosol and cloud formation have not been reached.

Many empirical associations have been reported between globally averaged low-level cloud cover and cosmic ray fluxes (e.g., Marsh and Svensmark, 2000a,b). Hypothesised to result from changing ionization of the atmosphere from solar-modulated cosmic ray fluxes, an empirical association of cloud cover variations during 1984 to 1990 and the solar cycle remains controversial because of uncertainties about the reality of the decadal signal itself, the phasing or anti-phasing with solar activity, and its separate dependence for low, middle and high clouds. In particular, the cosmic ray time series does not correspond to global total cloud cover after 1991 or to global low-level cloud cover after 1994 (Kristjánsson and Kristiansen, 2000; Sun and Bradley, 2002) without unproven de-trending (Usoskin et al., 2004). Furthermore, the correlation is significant with low-level cloud cover based only on infrared (not visible) detection. Nor do multi-decadal (1952 to 1997) time series of cloud cover from ship synoptic reports exhibit a relationship to cosmic ray flux. However, there appears to be a small but statistically significant positive correlation between cloud over the UK and galactic cosmic ray flux during 1951 to 2000 (Harrison and Stephenson, 2006). Contrarily, cloud cover anomalies from 1900 to 1987 over the USA do have a signal at 11 years that is anti-phased with the galactic cosmic ray flux (Udelhofen and Cess, 2001). Because the mechanisms are uncertain, the apparent relationship between solar variability and cloud cover has been interpreted to result not only from changing cosmic ray fluxes modulated by solar activity in the heliosphere (Usoskin et al., 2004) and solar-induced changes in ozone (Udelhofen and Cess, 2001), but also from sea surface temperatures altered directly by changing total solar irradiance (Kristjánsson et al., 2002) and by internal variability due to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (Kernthaler et al., 1999). In reality, different direct and indirect physical processes (such as those described in Section 9.2) may operate simultaneously.

The direct RF due to increase in solar irradiance is reduced from the TAR. The best estimate is +0.12 W m–2 (90% confidence interval: +0.06 to +0.30 W m–2). While there have been advances in the direct solar irradiance variation, there remain large uncertainties. The level of scientific understanding is elevated to low relative to TAR for solar forcing due to direct irradiance change, while declared as very low for cosmic ray influences (Section 2.9, Table 2.11).