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Our Proudest Moment | Main | Likely Liberal Plants Continue Heckling Romney
August 25, 2011

CERN publishes their Cosmic Ray/Cloud Formation research.
Global Warming Cultists Hardest Hit.

You may recall recent posts about CERN looking into this cosmic ray/cloud cover deal. These initial stories focused on the CERN mucky-mucks warning their researchers not to get involved in the political aspects - that is, this research could make the Global Warming guys look even more stupid.

Well Hey. They published the results today. Real official like - in Nature and everything. Guess what? The research makes the Global Warming guys look even more stupid.

Super-Short summary if you want to get back to worrying about Hurricane Irene. Do Cosmic Rays help create high-altitude clouds that reflect sunlight - which has a big impact on the Earth's temperature? And have we been seeing fewer Cosmic Rays lately which means fewer clouds and more warming? Yes.

Now more details for everybody else.

First, a nice overview from the blokes at The Register. If you're in a hurry, you can digest this one and know more than 90% of the public.

But that's not enough for us morons! CCNet had a special All CERN issue today with a bunch of stories. And one of those had the Quote of the Year.

The take-home message from this research is that we just don’t understand clouds in anything other than hand-waving terms.

That's real comforting to hear when you consider that they use this hand-waving knowledge in their Holy Holy Computer Climate Models. Let's all say it together... "Garbage In, Garbage Out."

Here are the sciency articles CCNet linked and a quick summary of what they cover.

Probing the cosmic-ray-climate link.

Tells you about Aerosols. Seemingly trivial amounts of chemicals have a big impact and cosmic rays can amplify that 10 times.

This article had the killer quote mentioned earlier. I like the closing as well.

This research is an important first experimental step in understanding the influence that Cosmic Rays may have on climate. It is important because the experimental results do not rule out the idea. Opponents of the hypothesis are not denying this, but are instead looking to other data and models to explain why the effect could not work in real life.

Given the unknowns and uncertainties and not forgetting the surprises thrown up in this experiment, perhaps a more humble approach would be better. Science has a way of humbling those who are too certain about things, especially when they are complex and poorly understood... like clouds.

CERN experiment confirms cosmic ray action

Calder catches the omission of an damning graph from the printed report (it's in the online report).

A graph they'd prefer you not to notice. Tucked away near the end of online supplementary material, and omitted from the printed CLOUD paper in Nature, it clearly shows how cosmic rays promote the formation of clusters of molecules ("particles") that in the real atmosphere can grow and seed clouds.

Calder gets into the politics of science - how when the cosmic ray idea first started percolating in 1996 it was suppressed.

Retracing those 14 years, what if physics had functioned as it is supposed to do? What if CLOUD, quickly approved and funded, had verified the Svensmark effect with all the authority of CERN, in the early 2000s. What if the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had done a responsible job, acknowledging the role of the Sun and curtailing the prophecies of catastrophic warming?

More background, historical and political stuff (Feb 2007)

Jasper Kirkby is a superb scientist, but he has been a lousy politician. In 1998, anticipating he'd be leading a path-breaking experiment into the sun's role in global warming, he made the mistake of stating that the sun and cosmic rays "will probably be able to account for somewhere between a half and the whole of the increase in the Earth's temperature that we have seen in the last century." Global warming, he theorized, may be part of a natural cycle in the Earth's temperature.

Dr. Kirkby was immediately condemned by climate scientists for minimizing the role of human beings in global warming. Stories in the media disparaged Dr. Kirkby by citing scientists who feared oil-industry lobbyists would use his statements to discredit the greenhouse effect. And the funding approval for Dr. Kirkby's path-breaking experiment -- seemingly a sure thing when he first announced his proposal-- was put on ice.


In May, just months before the first CERN results are in, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the agency organizing most of the world's climate-change studies, will be releasing its much-anticipated report on the state of climate science. Oddly, the IPCC report -- now circulating in draft form -- has in effect decided not to wait for CERN's findings.

The IPCC draft report ranks the sun as an all-but-irrelevant factor in climate change. More oddly, it has come to this conclusion although it states that there is no consensus among solar scientists, meaning the IPCC admits it has no hard evidence to go on. Even more oddly, given the excitement and the anticipation that the CLOUD experiment is generating among the 6,500 particle physicists in CERN's community, the IPCC has decided to diminish the sun's estimated contribution to climate change by more than half, from its previously small contribution to one that is yet smaller.

Bishop Hill has a roundup of news sources that are trying to downplay this.

Reuters' coverage is disgraceful

* Study does not prove cosmic rays drive climate change
* Academics see cosmic ray effect as only very small

Another, somewhat techy, overview.

The experiment called SKY (Danish for "cloud") took place in a large reaction chamber which contained a mixture of gases at realistic concentrations to imitate the chemistry of the lower atmosphere.

Ultraviolet lamps mimicked the action of the Sun's rays. During experimental runs, instruments traced the chemical action of the penetrating cosmic rays in the reaction chamber.

The data revealed that electrons released by cosmic rays act as catalysts, which significantly accelerate the formation of stable, ultra-small clusters of sulphuric acid and water molecules which are building blocks for the cloud condensation nuclei. A vast numbers of such microscopic droplets appeared, floating in the air in the reaction chamber.

"We were amazed by the speed and efficiency with which the electrons do their work of creating the building blocks for the cloud condensation nuclei," says team leader Henrik Svensmark, who is Director of the Center for Sun-Climate Research within the Danish National Space Center. "This is a completely new result within climate science."

This is a long post because this is a big deal.

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