IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis

TS.2.4 Radiative Forcing Due to Solar Activity and Volcanic Eruptions

Continuous monitoring of total solar irradiance now covers the last 28 years. The data show a well-established 11-year cycle in irradiance that varies by 0.08% from solar cycle minima to maxima, with no significant long-term trend. New data have more accurately quantified changes in solar spectral fluxes over a broad range of wavelengths in association with changing solar activity. Improved calibrations using high-quality overlapping measurements have also contributed to a better understanding. Current understanding of solar physics and the known sources of irradiance variability suggest comparable irradiance levels during the past two solar cycles, including at solar minima. The primary known cause of contemporary irradiance variability is the presence on the Sun’s disk of sunspots (compact, dark features where radiation is locally depleted) and faculae (extended bright features where radiation is locally enhanced). {2.7}

The estimated direct radiative forcing due to changes in the solar output since 1750 is +0.12 [+0.06 to +0.3] W m–2, which is less than half of the estimate given in the TAR, with a low level of scientific understanding. The reduced radiative forcing estimate comes from a re-evaluation of the long-term change in solar irradiance since 1610 (the Maunder Minimum) based upon: a new reconstruction using a model of solar magnetic flux variations that does not invoke geomagnetic, cosmogenic or stellar proxies; improved understanding of recent solar variations and their relationship to physical processes; and re-evaluation of the variations of Sun-like stars. While this leads to an elevation in the level of scientific understanding from very low in the TAR to low in this assessment, uncertainties remain large because of the lack of direct observations and incomplete understanding of solar variability mechanisms over long time scales. {2.7, 6.6}

Empirical associations have been reported between solar-modulated cosmic ray ionization of the atmosphere and global average low-level cloud cover but evidence for a systematic indirect solar effect remains ambiguous. It has been suggested that galactic cosmic rays with sufficient energy to reach the troposphere could alter the population of cloud condensation nuclei and hence microphysical cloud properties (droplet number and concentration), inducing changes in cloud processes analogous to the indirect cloud albedo effect of tropospheric aerosols and thus causing an indirect solar forcing of climate. Studies have probed various correlations with clouds in particular regions or using limited cloud types or limited time periods; however, the cosmic ray time series does not appear to correspond to global total cloud cover after 1991 or to global low-level cloud cover after 1994. Together with the lack of a proven physical mechanism and the plausibility of other causal factors affecting changes in cloud cover, this makes the association between galactic cosmic ray-induced changes in aerosol and cloud formation controversial. {2.7}

Explosive volcanic eruptions greatly increase the concentration of stratospheric sulphate aerosols. A single eruption can thereby cool global mean climate for a few years. Volcanic aerosols perturb both the stratosphere and surface/troposphere radiative energy budgets and climate in an episodic manner, and many past events are evident in ice core observations of sulphate as well as temperature records. There have been no explosive volcanic events since the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption capable of injecting significant material to the stratosphere. However, the potential exists for volcanic eruptions much larger than the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption, which could produce larger radiative forcing and longer-term cooling of the climate system. {2.7, 6.4, 6.6, 9.2}