, Volume 94, Issue 1-2, pp 1-11

Solar Variability and the Earth's Climate: Introduction and Overview

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Abstract

Numerous attempts have been made over the years to link various aspects of solar variability to changes in the Earth's climate. There has been growing interest in this possible connection in recent years, spurred largely by the need to understand the natural causes of climate change, against which the expected global warming due to man's activities will have to be detected. The time scale of concern here is that of decades to centuries, and excludes the longer millennial scale in which orbital variations play a dominant role. The field has long been plagued by the lack of an acceptable physical mechanism by which solar variability can affect climate, but the discovery of variability in the Sun's total irradiance (the solar “constant” of meteorology) by spacecraft instruments has pointed to a direct mechanism. Other less direct mechanisms that have been suggested involve variations in the Sun's ultraviolet flux and in the plasma outflow of the solar wind. The purpose of this paper is to summarize the current state of the field, emphasizing the proposed mechanisms as an introduction to the more detailed papers that follow. The particular case of sea-surface temperature data will be used as an illustration.