Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lemming Tracks: Solar Double Header

The Lemming has a pair of articles again. ("Asteroid Double Header" (October 6, 2010)) This time they're about the sun, Earth, some new data, and what folks who study such things think of it.

That's the interesting part of this post.

The Lemming's also got a rant - but that's at the end, starting with "On the other hand," after the second article's excerpt.
"Sun's Surprise: Even As It Relaxes, It May Heat Earth's Climate" (October 6, 2010)

"As the ultimate source of all the energy on Earth, the sun has an inextricable hand in driving our planet's climate and atmosphere. But a new look at the sun's connection to Earth's climate has returned some surprising results.

"The study finds that during the most recent lull in the sun's weather cycle, the amount of energy that reached Earth increased, instead of decreasing as predicted. The planet may have experienced a slight warming effect as well, researchers said....

"...As the sun becomes less active, it typically releases less energy in the form of radiation. Previously, this was understood as a decrease in the total amount of radiation that reaches the top of the Earth's atmosphere.

"In examining solar emissions during this declining phase, however, the researchers found that a large decrease in ultraviolet radiation was roughly compensated for, by an increase in visible radiation.

" 'Visible radiation is the only kind that, in any substantial quality, gets to the Earth's surface and heats the lower atmosphere,' Haigh told 'We found that as the sun's activity declined from 2004 to 2007, more of this radiation was entering into the lower atmosphere.'..."

There's more in the article - detail on what's been noticed recently, and what we're pretty sure about when it comes to the sunspot cycle on our star. Interesting stuff, for folks who find that sort of thing interesting.

The Lemming thinks that this new set of data suggests that the sun has an effect on Earth's climate.

As if that wasn't enough shocking news for one day, here's something from another source:

"When the Sun Heats Up, Earth...Cools?"
John D. Cox, Earth News, Discovery News (October 6, 2010)

"The Earthly impact of the Sun's 11-year solar cycle has always seemed like one of the more reliable and straightforward elements in the vast array of climate variables. On the rise, solar radiation increases and so warms the planet a little -- the thinking goes -- and on the way down a subtle cooling takes place.

"Now, a new piece of research argues that's not necessarily so. Looking inside at the individual wavelengths of solar radiance as measured by a satellite-borne device called the Spectral Irradiance Monitor, scientists report that in their study of these measurements during the declining phase of the solar cycle between 2004 and 2007, the opposite pattern emerges...."

Seriously? This is a relatively short, fairly non-technical writeup about some new data and analysis - and includes this statement:

" 'We cannot jump to any conclusions based on what we have found during this comparatively short period and we need to carry out further studies to explore the Sun's activity, and the patterns that we have uncovered, on longer timescales. However, if further studies find the same pattern over a longer period of time, this could suggest that we may have overestimated the Sun's role in warming the planet, rather than underestimating it.' "
(Physicist Joanna Haigh of Imperial College, via Discovery News)

The Lemming takes that statement with a grain of salt. The caution is commendable - assuming that it stems from an unwillingness to start reasoning ahead of the data.

On the other hand, the idea that something other than Big Oil and capitalists is behind global warming is - well, not exactly welcome in much of academia. Physicists and other academic professionals have their careers to consider, as well as facts. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (April 29, 2008))

Science, Change, Assumptions, and the Lemming

The Lemming isn't on the same page as folks who take Bishop Ussher seriously. He's the chap who decided that the world was created over a particular six-day period in 4004 BC. He used references to the Bible: which proves, for some folks, that he's right. And that nothing much has changed since then. At all. Except for some details of human society - that'd be hard to ignore.

The Lemming also isn't on the same page as folks who think that the universe popped into existence billions and billions of years ago and went through ages and ages of cataclysmic evolutionary change. Until somewhere in the 19th century, after which all change was somebody's fault.

Actually, the Lemming is okay with that second paragraph - until the last sentence. I've discussed this in another blog. (A Catholic Citizen in America (September 23, 2010))

(If you think the Lemming is trying to spark interest in his other blogs, with these links - you're probably right.)

Change Happens

Earth may be warming at the moment. That's likely enough: We're coming out of (or still in) the most recent of Earth's periods of continental glaciation. (July 30, 2010)

Or, maybe Earth is cooling - that's what available data showed about a half-century back. We got some dandy 'scare' articles and several pretty-good science fiction stories out of that set of data.

I've noticed that, these days, the coming ice age is discussed about as much as that famous butterfly expert's apocalyptic visions of impending doom. (April 20, 2010)

I think that what both folks who take Bishop Ussher seriously, and those who are convinced that we're doomed by whatever crisis is now and wow, have in common is a very human reaction to change. Most of us, I think, got used to the world as it was when we were young(er).

For example, I got used to seeing a particular lake, here in central Minnesota. I've been watching it change into a meadow with a few ponds. I miss that lake: during the seventies its reflective surface was a treat for the eyes as I made regular trips on Interstate 94. Another few decades, and it'll be all meadow.

I don't think it's anybody's fault, though. That's what happens to these bodies of water, left over from the last glaciation in this part of the world. Another few centuries or millennia - and all of Minnesota's lakes will be gone.

Like I said, change happens.

Looking at what we've discovered about what's happened in the last few billion years - and assuming that the nature of reality didn't change about a hundred and fifty years back - isn't a popular idea in some quarters.

Earth is Changing

One of the few things the Lemming is fairly certain of is that, a thousand years from now, things won't be just like they are now.

Does that mean that I care not for the environment and cute fuzzy animals? Certainly not. I like cute fuzzy animals. And I think it's stupid to act as though we don't need to be careful about what we do with waste products.

But I also think it's a trifle daft to act as if all of delicate, frail little Mother Nature is doomed, dooooomed, unless we whack the human population down to some arbitrary number, outlaw SUVs, go vegetarian, or whatever the current 'gotta do' thing is. (December 20, 2009)

Don't worry - the next post will be lighter.

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