Are global climate changes caused by cycles of cosmic rays?

Weather Gems

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Ever since Henrik Svensmark explained his theory concerning the connection between cosmic rays and the formation of clouds in 1996 in Copen-hagen, Denmark, I've received at least 100 emails and letters on the possible 'dawn of the cosmic ray era' in climate science.

Earlier in March, Jerry Boyd sent me this email on cosmic rays. I found his conclusions very interesting to say the least. Here's what he wrote:

"The Svensmark hypothesis posits that periods of global warming and global cooling are explained by the interaction of the sun and cosmic rays. At least until recently, this hypothesis was largely discounted by the global warming advocates, because they contended that solar activity could not be responsible for significant changes in global temperatures. The computer models cited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control (which is the basis of the so-called 'consensus' on climate science) assumed little or no solar effect on climate. Therefore, global warming theorists settled on a non-solar cause of global warming. Vola! Carbon dioxide became the villain of the hour!

You can understand the dismay when a serious research physicist from Denmark walks onto the stage with a climate hypothesis which is based on a combination of solar magnetic forces and cosmic rays. If he is correct, one of the pillars of global warming theory crumbles. Aspects of the Svensmark hypothesis have been experimentally tested, including using the European particle collider, apparently validated, and are in the process of being published and peer-reviewed.

If this hypothesis holds up, 10 years from now, Svensmark will win a Nobel prize, and the U.S. may decide to try to again be a first-world economy and rejoin with China, India, Russia and Canada, who are not so stupid as the U.S. in believing that you can get by without carbon-based fuels."

In 2011, Svensmark updated his cosmic ray hypothesis. Here are his recent findings:

Cosmic rays, high-energy particles raining down from exploded stars, knock electrons out of air molecules.

The electrons help clusters of sulphuric acid and water molecules to form, which can grow into cloud condensation nuclei - seeds on which water droplets form to make clouds.

Low clouds made with liquid water droplets cool the Earth's surface.

Variations in the sun's magnetic activity alter the influx of cosmic rays to the earth.

When the sun is lazy, magnetically speaking, there are more cosmic rays and more low clouds, and the world is cooler.

When the sun is active fewer cosmic rays reach the earth and, with fewer low clouds, the world warms up.

The sun became unusually active during the 20th Century and as a result "global warming" occurred.

Recently (2006-2010) the sun has been unusually lazy and "global warming" seems to have gone into reverse, as expected by the Svensmark hypothesis.

Coolings and warmings of around 2 degrees Celcius have occurred repeatedly over the past 10,000 years, as the sun's activity and the cosmic ray influx have varied.

Over many millions of years, much larger variations of up to 10 degrees Celcius occur as the sun and earth, traveling through the Galaxy, visit regions with more or fewer exploding stars.

Both Boyd's and Svenmark's conclusions concerning the probable effects of cosmic rays on the Earth's weather, particularly clouds formations, make sense to this climatologist. But, I'm merely 'a watcher in the Idaho woods.' Theories of all types must be proven over specific periods of time. I'm a patient man.


I wrote this North Idaho weather update on Palm Sunday morning, April 1. Temperatures were in the lower 30s on Player Drive. Brief light to moderate snow began falling in town at 9:30 a.m., just when folks were heading to church services. This 'April Fool's joke' from Ma Nature was a 'miserable prank' to say the least.

April was starting off where the wettest March on record ended late Saturday evening with a thoroughly amazing 7.51 inches of precipitation, a whopping 2.14 inches above the previous March moisture record of 5.37 inches set 96 years ago in 1916. Our normal precipitation for March is just 1.94 inches. Last March in 2011, we measured 5.02 inches for third place in the March rainfall standings since 1895.

As of midnight on March 31, we had measured an incredible 15.06 inches of moisture since Jan. 1, which was double normal and easily topped the previous first quarter mark of 13.62 inches in 1974. Six years ago in 2006, we gauged 13.44 inches of precipitation on Player Drive between Jan. 1 and March 31. In fourth place was the 13.03 inches measured last year in 2011 during the winter first quarter.

The record spring rains and snow runoff in the Silver Valley have led to the closure of many roads. Fortunately, the damage has been far less in Kootenai County, except for low-lying areas like Mica Kidd Island Road.

The Spokane Valley has likewise seen some lowland flooding this past soggy week. Spokane also set a new March precipitation record with 4.56 inches of rainfall breaking the previous mark of 3.81 inches in 1995.

Our total March snowfall was 13.5 inches, more than double the normal for the month of 6.3 inches. Adding the 0.2 inches that fell Sunday morning, April 1, on Player Drive, our seasonal total for the 2011-12 winter stood at a healthy 80.3 inches, more than a 'foot' above normal to date. Our normal entire season's snowfall since 1895 has been 69.8 inches. We gauged 121 inches last 'La Nina'-dominated winter of 2010-11.

March of 2012 locally was colder than normal with a mean (average) temperature of just 38 degrees. The warmest afternoon was the almost springlike 66 degrees on March 9. The month's coldest temperature was 19 degrees on March 7.

Longer-term, Randy Mann and I are expecting decreasing rains and milder temperatures after this week. There should be no more snows after April 6, so one can take off those studded snow tires as soon as possible. They must be removed by April 30.

It's possible that we may see after highs in the upper 60s and lower 70s by April 14-21, as high pressure builds into the Inland Empire.

The extended 90-day outlook for our part of the country through the end of June calls for 'sun and showers,' great for our trees and flowers.

The July through September summer period still should be warm and dry with only infrequent rains.

Cliff Harris is a climatologist who writes a weekly column for The Press. His opinions are his own. Email

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