According to new research, changes in the sun’s brightness over the past few hundred years have had only a small effect on Earth’s climate, so we can’t blame global warming on solar activity. But some researchers still think the sun has an influence on global warming and these researchers say the sun MAY give us a reprieve, a chance to save ourselves.

Researcher Tom Wigley says, “Our results imply that, over the past century, climate change due to human influences must far outweigh the effects of changes in the sun’s brightness.” Other climate scientists, who DO place part of the blame for climate change on the sun, are hoping that the effects global warming may be mitigated by another Little Ice Age of the kind that occurred between 1645 and 1714, when sunspot activity went into remission. Thirty years might give mankind an opportunity to discover alternative fuels that do not give off greenhouse gas emissions.

Working with fellow researcher Peter Foukal, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (a US government agency), Wigley reconstructed the climate for the past one thousand years and discovered that warming has increased dramatically in the last 100 years. They compared their results with changes in the amount of solar brightness.

Brightness variations are the result of changes in the amount of the Sun?s surface covered by dark sunspots and by bright points. The sunspots divert heat from the solar surface, while the bright points act as thermal leaks, allowing more heat to escape. During times of high solar activity, both the sunspots and bright points increase.

Their new study looked at observations of solar brightness since 1978 and at indirect measures before then, in order to assess how the sun may have affected global warming. Data collected from US and European spacecraft show that the Sun is about 0.07 percent brighter in years of peak sunspot activity, such as it was around 2000, than when spots are rare (as they are now, at the low end of the 11-year solar cycle). They discovered that these variations are too small to have led to the accelerated global warming observed since the mid-1970s, and there were no signs of an increase in brightness over this period.

To study the period before 1978, the researchers used historical records of sunspot activity and examined radioisotopes produced in Earth’s atmosphere and recorded in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. During periods of high solar activity, the enhanced solar wind shields Earth from cosmic rays that produce the isotopes, giving scientists a record of the sun?s activity.

According to NOAA, the first eight months of 2006 was the warmest since record-keeping began in 1895. June through August was the second warmest summer on record. 2006 may have been the warmest year the planet has ever experienced.

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