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The Sun's effects on our climate

  1. Top of page
  2. The Sun's effects on our climate
  3. Andes glaciers retreating
  4. Record year for the USA
  5. New balloon endurance record
  6. Year-round snow in England, 2010
  7. Reference

The US-based National Research Council (NRC) recently published a report entitled The Effects of Solar Variability on Earth's Climate. This seeks to decipher the complexity of the interaction between solar activity and Earth's climate. The eagerly-awaited report represents the proceedings of a conference workshop at the National Center for Environmental Research (NCAR) on 8–9 September 2011.

As yet this is a poorly understood area of meteorological science, although some progress is being made. For instance, while it is known that the total radiation from the Sun changes by only 0.1% over the solar cycle, at the extreme ultra-violet level (EUV) the difference can be tenfold or more. The absorption of EUV radiation in the upper atmosphere may lead to significant changes in surface weather patterns and climate. Gerald Meehl of NCAR suggested that at solar maximum there is a trend towards a La Niña pattern in the equatorial Pacific.

It is also noted that the present sunspot cycle, 24, is the weakest for 50 years, and sub-surface measurements within the Sun suggest that the next cycle, 25, may be weaker still. Speculation by Matt Penn and William Livingston of the National Solar Observatory is that this may indicate a trend towards something more like the Maunder Minimum, when visible sunspots were virtually unobserved for 50 years in the late seventeenth century. The report calls for more research in this area.

Thanks to Andrew Sibley for this summary. More information is available from NASA: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2013/08jan_sunclimate

Andes glaciers retreating

  1. Top of page
  2. The Sun's effects on our climate
  3. Andes glaciers retreating
  4. Record year for the USA
  5. New balloon endurance record
  6. Year-round snow in England, 2010
  7. Reference

Glaciers in the tropical Andes are retreating at an accelerating rate, according to a report published recently by the European Geosciences Union in the journal The Cryosphere. An international team has been studying the Andes as these mountains contain the vast majority of all glaciers in the tropics. Many millions of people in South America are also reliant on the fresh melt water supplied by the glaciers.

The study examined around half of the total area covered by ice in the Andes mountains. Using a variety of methods, including remote sensing and photography, they attempted to compare the mass of ice now with records dating back more than 60 years.

Their results suggest that, although the general trend has been for a reduction in ice since the Little Ice Age around three centuries ago, the rate may now be at its greatest since then. As might be expected, the fastest melt is observed in lower-altitude glaciers and most of those below 5400 metres will probably disappear over the coming decades.

They say that there has been no significant trend in precipitation amounts in the tropical Andes over the last century, so much of this change must be attributed to the warming troposphere. Air temperatures are estimated to have been rising at around 0.1 degC per decade over the last 70 years, with the variability of surface temperatures in the Pacific an important factor.

Record year for the USA

  1. Top of page
  2. The Sun's effects on our climate
  3. Andes glaciers retreating
  4. Record year for the USA
  5. New balloon endurance record
  6. Year-round snow in England, 2010
  7. Reference

In 2012, the contiguous United States (comprising the 48 adjoining states, excluding Hawaii and Alaska) experienced its warmest year in the 118-year record, according to a report published by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). They estimate the average annual temperature to have been 12.9°C, 1.7 degC above the long-term normal. It was the 15th driest year, with an average of 675mm.

More information and the full report of 2012's weather in the USA are available from the NCDC: www.ncdc.noaa.gov

New balloon endurance record

  1. Top of page
  2. The Sun's effects on our climate
  3. Andes glaciers retreating
  4. Record year for the USA
  5. New balloon endurance record
  6. Year-round snow in England, 2010
  7. Reference

During December and January, a giant scientific balloon launched from McMurdo Station in Antarctica by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) broke two flight-duration records. It flew for 55 days, 1 hour and 34 minutes at an altitude of around 38 500 metres.

The balloon, carrying an instrument known as the Super-TIGER, broke the records both for the longest flight by a balloon of its size and also the longest flight of any heavy-lift scientific balloon.

The Super-TIGER was able to stay in flight for so long by taking advantage of prevailing anticyclonic wind patterns in the Antarctic stratosphere. The instrument is designed to measure rare elements contained in cosmic rays entering our atmosphere from elsewhere in the galaxy; this data will then be used by experts to help understand more about these highly-energetic atomic nuclei.

The balloon reaches an incredible size when in flight, with a volume of 1.12 million m3 and the length of its seams measuring 34.8km. According to NASA this method of carrying instruments for long durations can be very cost-effective.

Year-round snow in England, 2010

  1. Top of page
  2. The Sun's effects on our climate
  3. Andes glaciers retreating
  4. Record year for the USA
  5. New balloon endurance record
  6. Year-round snow in England, 2010
  7. Reference

Iain Cameron has sent us the following note. Recently in Weather (2012), I reported that the last snow to vanish in England and Wales was a wreath on Helvellyn on 18 May. This proved to be incorrect. I am grateful to potholer Edward Morgan who, after reading the article, informed me of a remnant (10 × 5 × 0.5 metres) of the previous winter's snow that persisted until 4 June. This snow was in a deep cave in the Peak District known as Eldon Hole (SK115809). Further investigations by me resulted in correspondence with Tim Nixon, who informed me that on 7 November 2010 he and two others came across a 4–5 metre square snow-plug at the bottom of the same shaft. Heavy snow fell during late November at this location, and it is a reasonable inference that this remnant survived until then. This is the only instance that I am aware of where snow has persisted from winter-to-winter in England or Wales.