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A small win for Svensmark

Anthony reports on a new paper by Henrik Svensmark and colleagues, which provides support for his theory that galactic cosmic rays, influenced by the behaviour of the sun, can change the amount of cloud in the sky.

One of the critiques of the Svensmark hypothesis has been that once a cosmic ray has caused an initial chemical reaction between sulphur dioxide molecule and water, the tiny sulphuric acid droplet formed would be too small to seed cloud formation. But in Svensmark's latest experimental replication of conditions in the atmosphere such droplets continued to grow even after the initial reaction. It seems that there is another chemical reaction going on as well, although quite what this is is a mystery at the moment.

I'm not sure it's confirmation of Svensmark's theory, as Anthony's headline suggests, but it's certainly not a problem for it.


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Reader Comments (37)

I was really happy to read this over at WUWT, I became a Svensmark fan after reading "The Chilling Stars". His basis is the sunspot records which go back hundreds of years and do show a better correlation with temperature than CO2 but nobody understood why. If his theories are proved correct then we can kiss goodbye to all the CO2 rubbish.

Sep 5, 2013 at 12:16 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Tests in a large and highly instrumented reaction chamber in Lyngby, called SKY2, ...

experiments in Copenhagen and elsewhere have demonstrated ...

Fortunately the chemical theory could also be tested experimentally ...

Does this guy know how to do science? He is experimenting when he should be modelling. This quote:

This unpredicted experimental finding points to a process not included in current theoretical models,

demonstrates just how wrong he is. If his experiment does not conform to the model then his experiment is obviously wrong and the results need to be adjusted until they do agree.

Sep 5, 2013 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

How refreshing to hear the word "experiment" in its proper context.

Sep 5, 2013 at 12:51 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

TerryS (Sep 5, 2013 at 12:38 PM):

Now that is funny! Wonder of the likes of Mann, Jones, the BBC, et al will get it?

Sep 5, 2013 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

With the sun very obligingly entering a ''quiet' phase currently and while CO2 increases, Svensmark is positioned very well for confirming evidence in the next few years.

Should he be right, how many climate scientists will we then need?


Sep 5, 2013 at 12:56 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat

Always thought Svensmark's theory sounded plausible and open to experimental proof.

I wonder if Jasper Kirkby has any comment, or is he still not allowed to by his bosses at CERN?

Sep 5, 2013 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterSwiss Bob

[Snip - venting, O/t]

Sep 5, 2013 at 1:22 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

"It seems that there is another chemical reaction going on as well, although quite what this is is a mystery at the moment."

Maybe it is brand new.

Sep 5, 2013 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Mosher's comment below the WUWT-post puts the paper in perspective (well, the perspective I have on it, at least)

Sep 5, 2013 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterO Bothe

'All because a bunch of second rate scientists with inferiority complexes have been trying to make themselves feel important.'

They aren't scientists.

Scientists would never fall for Hansemkoism.

Sep 5, 2013 at 1:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

O Bothe:

I see Mosher has at least 16 comments: what particular point did you want to draw attention to?

(If it is about Forbush events, i think you will find this criticism has already been answered by Svensmark himself and also by Shaviv as you may note lower down in WUWT.)

Sep 5, 2013 at 1:43 PM | Registered Commentermatthu

CERN 'gags' physicists in cosmic ray climate experiment

The chief of the world's leading physics lab at CERN in Geneva has prohibited scientists from drawing conclusions from a major experiment. The CLOUD ("Cosmics Leaving Outdoor Droplets") experiment examines the role that energetic particles from deep space play in cloud formation. CLOUD uses CERN's proton synchrotron to examine nucleation.

CERN Director General Rolf-Dieter Heuer told Welt Online that the scientists should refrain from drawing conclusions from the latest experiment.

"I have asked the colleagues to present the results clearly, but not to interpret them," reports veteran science editor Nigel Calder on his blog. Why?

Because, Heuer says, "That would go immediately into the highly political arena of the climate change debate. One has to make clear that cosmic radiation is only one of many parameters."

Sep 5, 2013 at 1:45 PM | Unregistered CommentereSmiff

Jasper Kirkby, a British experimental particle physicist currently with CERN, Switzerland presents a lecture in which cosmic rays show a strong correlation with global temperature over short and long time periods. He is currently involved in research on their effects on clouds at CERN..

The current understanding of climate change in the industrial age is that it is predominantly caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gases, with relatively small natural contributions due to solar irradiance and volcanoes. However, palaeoclimatic reconstructions show that the climate has frequently varied on 100-year time scales during the Holocene (last 10 kyr) by amounts comparable to the present warming - and yet the mechanism or mechanisms are not understood.

Some of these reconstructions show clear associations with solar variability, which is recorded in the light radio-isotope archives that measure past variations of cosmic ray intensity. However, despite the increasing evidence of its importance, solar-climate variability is likely to remain controversial until a physical mechanism is established.

Estimated changes of solar irradiance on these time scales appear to be too small to account for the climate observations. This raises the question of whether cosmic rays may directly affect the climate, providing an effective indirect solar forcing mechanism. Indeed recent satellite observations - although disputed - suggest that cosmic rays may affect clouds. This talk presents an overview of the palaeoclimatic evidence for solar/cosmic ray forcing of the climate, and reviews the possible physical mechanisms. These will be investigated in the CLOUD experiment which begins to take data at the CERN PS later this year

Sep 5, 2013 at 1:47 PM | Unregistered CommentereSmiff

"Mosher's comment below the WUWT-post puts the paper in perspective (well, the perspective I have on it, at least)
Sep 5, 2013 at 1:30 PM | O Bothe"

Perhaps it is worth reading Gail Combs lengthy rebuttal of Mosher further down at WUWT including a reference to Nive Shaviv's defence of the Svensmark theory.

"Gail Combs says:
September 4, 2013 at 11:40 am
Steven Mosher says: @ September 4, 2013 at 11:27 am
…. The problem is that if you look at events like Forbush events, where the amount of GCR changes dramatically, you dont see more clouds. Thats the real world. So, basically he’s trying to explain a phenomena that doesnt happen…
Physicist Nive Shaviv doesn’t agree with you on that.
followed by extracts."

On the other hand Leif Svalgaard does not think much of the theory or experiments as shown in his comments.

Sep 5, 2013 at 1:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Peter

I havn't read Leif's critique of Henrik's theory, but believe that he is critical due to believed inconsistency between solar spots and global temperature. However as I understand it, Henrik claims that there is a causality between CR and temperature.

Having high regards for both of them, it would be interesting to understand their differences of opinion in details.

Sep 5, 2013 at 2:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterTroels Halken


Thanks very much for that link. That page has various options to down load Prof. Kirkby's presentation and I have taken advantage to download it. I think it is a very good example of how science should be done.

Sep 5, 2013 at 2:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoss Lea

I am continually amazed why Mosher seems to think that a single sentence, cryptic and often sarcastic comment from him about something he disagrees with makes him right and everyone else wrong. It is very arrogant and patronising. I read Gail Coomb's rebuttal, which is pretty good.

Sort of reminds me of Bono.

Sep 5, 2013 at 2:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist


I have now found the graph that I feel is most revealinng on Jasper Kirby's CLOUD experiments

Sep 5, 2013 at 2:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoss Lea


My understanding is that Leif is critical of anything which suggests that we had a Grand Maximum in solar activity in the 80/90s since he has shown that sunspot numbers were inflated by better observations at this time. Thus, he is against the use of Svensmark's theory to explain the increase in global temperature which occurred then and - to my mind - has not really answered the main point that GCR can cause clouds.

I have a lot of time for Leif, but I do think he goes too far in this case - in the same way that other people have gone too far with Svensmark's work to date. Svensmark's theory might be "the answer", but so far all we have is a plausible mechanism for how solar activity and global temperatures can be linked. The best part about it is that it is testable (falsifiable, if you will) - a point that has been well made by other commentors above. Good science is what we really need, not hyperbole (and certainly not massive economic upheaval based on a little more than a whim).

Sep 5, 2013 at 3:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Potter

When you think that it is about 18 months ago that we were told that the CLOUD experiments had reached "preliminary" conclusions about Svensmark but would not announce them (for reasons given above) you have to assume that if they disproved Svensmark it would have been headline news ^.^
The interesting thing about Svensmark's later "theory of everything" paper is what it says about today's climate and it's likely changes going forward.
According to Svensmark our sun is about to leave one of the spiral arms in our galaxy and begin to traverse an area with very few stars (let alone supernovae which provide the cosmic rays). This would mean that the earth would enter a long period where temperatures would be higher than today by 10-15 degrees C. Solar minima would no longer cause little ice ages, simply a little relief from bad sunburn hehe. None of this will happen in our lifetimes of course but it might be worth noting for a politician who wants to look further than the end of his snout or the depth of his trough.

Sep 5, 2013 at 3:26 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Many years ago I researched the nucleation of thin metal films, and demonstrated how electron bombardment of an insulating material substrate clearly led to preferential nucleation. Of course this is a different situation to Svensmark's case, but it does indicate that ions can preferentially attract atoms into forming clusters.

Sep 5, 2013 at 3:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

O Bothe:

Mosher's comment below the WUWT-post puts the paper in perspective (well, the perspective I have on it, at least)

I like that.

I'm not agreeing with your (or Mosher's) science. I'm firmly agnostic about the importance of cosmic rays in cloud formation and any downstream effects from there (and I assume there is tons to discover in that regard, if and when it comes to it). But I appreciate anyone who is aware of where the different viewpoints are, doesn't impose their own but does elucidate. :)

Sep 5, 2013 at 4:00 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Thanks for shining some light on the matter, Rob. It could seem as Leif is on thin ice here.

I do agree with your comments as neither I am convinced about the CAGW theory. If action is required, which I believe it is not, I would suggest at a more practical and economical approach, such as Lomborg has argued for. Our understanding of the climate of the planet is still in a very early stage and hence very basic, and unfortunately the science seem to be distorted to fit a predetermined CO2 narrative, as the mixing of science and policy clearly proves. Having worked in the renewables energy industry etc I have also seen the green solutions and am on that basis not particular impressed with green economics (as opposed to normal textbook economics).

Anyhow I would say that Henrik's CR theory could be a factor in the climate variability. Time will tell. That they have not abandoned their research even in face of strong head wind, suggest to me that they still believe it can be defended. We are indeed living in interesting times.

Sep 5, 2013 at 4:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterTroels Halken

Wasn't this debunked years ago?

Sep 5, 2013 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man

EM, new paper, new debunking required. Or a failed attempt at replication. Or do you need one of your lectures on the scientific method fed back to you?

Sep 5, 2013 at 5:28 PM | Registered Commenterrhoda

The Hockey Stick was debunked years ago but some people still claim it is correct.

Sep 5, 2013 at 6:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

EM, for a debunking of the debunking, see

Sep 5, 2013 at 6:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterJens


I could not get your address to work but I think this is the same paper.

Sep 5, 2013 at 6:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoss Lea

I have read the paper and I am with Nir on this one.

Sep 5, 2013 at 6:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoss Lea

This is an interesting comment by Dr. Tim Ball on WUWT on the same thread.

Tim Ball says:

September 4, 2013 at 11:15 am
This identification of cosmic rays as a source of condensation nuclei (CN) resolves another conundrum in early climate studies. Originally, it was assumed that most CN were salt or clay particles. The problem was there appeared to be insufficient CN from these sources to account for the amount of cloud.

Sep 5, 2013 at 7:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoss Lea

Sep 5, 2013 at 4:51 PM | Entropic Man

Do you not find the Svensmark hypothesis interesting? I really like it for it's simplicity and ability to explain things over Earth's history. It doesn't mean it is correct of course but it would be cool if it was. I'm not sure why Richard didn't finish the Chilling Stars. It isn't the best written book ever but still very interesting.

Sep 5, 2013 at 8:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

I thought The Chilling Stars was a good read, typical Nigel Calder able to describe the science in a popular but still accurate way. I think the hypothesis is quite neat, plausible and elegant. I particularly like how some of the predictions and modelling use software alreay available, designed for very generic purposes, and that give answers that agree with experiment.

Watching Svensmark is watching proper science evolving. And given the resistance, if it does turn out to be a valid and important effect in climate, all the more satisfying when it reaches its conclusion. Time will tell if its correct, or an important effect.

Its a good reason to keep drinking Carlsberg...

Sep 6, 2013 at 8:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

Remember the post-climategate conference at Downing College at the University of Cambridge in May 2011? Alan Howard assembled a nice slice of warmists and skeptics where "climagegate" was verboten, according to Andrew Orlowski's account. He winds up praising Svensmark, in contrast to the usual warmist dodges:

In short, the day lined up Phil Jones, oceanographer Andrew Watson, and physicist Mike Lockwood, the latter to argue that the sun couldn't possibly have caused recent warming. He was followed by the most impressive presentation from Henrik Svensmark, whose presentation stood out head and shoulders above anyone else. Why? For two reasons. The correlations he shows are remarkable, and don't need curve fitting, or funky statistical tricks. And he has advanced a mechanism, using empirical science, to explain them. At the other end of the scale, by way of contrast, the Met's principle research scientist John Mitchell told us:

"People underestimate the power of models. Observational evidence is not very useful," adding, "Our approach is not entirely empirical."

Yes, you could say that.


In the Danish documentary "The Cloud Mystery" on youtube, you can witness Sir John Houghton's head explode at Svensmark at a Birmingham conference in the 1990s for his looney experimental ideas about water vapor physics. "Absolutely wrongheaded." Even "dangerous." "You will learn absolutely nothing."

But times change, as Orlowski observes. And so do I, and so should they.

Sep 6, 2013 at 8:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterOrson


"Its a good reason to keep drinking Carlsberg..."

Henrik is employed by DTU or the Danish Technological University in Copenhagen. But not everything is like that here. Our met office, the DMI, is parroting the IPCC party line, and so is the government, who has defunded Lomborgs research and are spending big on a climate plan as ambitious as the British one.

Sep 6, 2013 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterTroels Halken

Rob Burton

So far we have a hypothesis and a bit of lab work. I'll get more interested once the final CERN experiment results are published.

The next problem is to demonstrate the effect under field conditions. Correalation is not enough since other variables such as solar insolation also affect cloud formation over the solar cycle.

On the basis of what's been published so far, this looks like a minor ingredient in the climate mix. To produce a significant change in cloud formation would need high cosmic ray flux, the levels produced by a nearby gamma ray burster or supernova.

Under such conditions a little cloud seeding would be of minor interest. My major concern would be avoiding a lethal radiation dose.

Sep 6, 2013 at 10:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man

"One of the critiques of the Svensmark hypothesis has been that once a cosmic ray has caused an initial chemical reaction between sulphur dioxide molecule and water, the tiny sulphuric acid droplet formed would be too small to seed cloud formation."

If that was the case, C.T.R. Wilson's cloud chamber wouldn't have worked back in 1911.

Sep 7, 2013 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterRightwinggit

One reason I feel I can trust Svensmark as a scientist is that he has formulated a theory, devised experiments, made readings and obtained results that do not fully agree with his theory!

He has then published this, with all the data and methods for others to repeat, and acknowledged that his theory, though in the right ball-park, does need more work. THAT is how a TRUE scientist should perform.

Sep 7, 2013 at 11:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

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