Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

Solar variability and climate change: An historical perspective



There is nothing new about the debate over the Sun's influence on terrestrial climate.

As early as the late 18th century, widespread concern for the deterioration of the Earth's climate led to speculation about the Sun's role in climate change [Feldman, 1993; Fleming, 1990]. Drawing analogies with variations in the brightness of stars, the British astronomer William Herschel suggested that greater sunspot activity would result in warmer terrestrial climates. Herschel supported his hypothesis by referring to price series for wheat published in Adam Smiths Wealth of Nations [Hufbauer, 1991]. Later, the eminent American physicist Joseph Henry demonstrated by thermopile measurements that, contrary to Herschel's assumption, sunspots were cooler than the unblemished portions of the solar disk.