The Astronomy and Astrophysics Review

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 273–320 | Cite as

Solar radiative output and its variability: evidence and mechanisms

  • Claus FröhlichEmail author
  • Judith Lean


Electromagnetic radiation from the Sun is Earth’s primary energy source. Space-based radiometric measurements in the past two decades have begun to establish the nature, magnitude and origins of its variability. An 11-year cycle with peak-to-peak amplitude of order 0.1 % is now well established in recent total solar irradiance observations, as are larger variations of order 0.2 % associated with the Sun’s 27-day rotation period. The ultraviolet, visible and infrared spectral regions all participate in these variations, with larger changes at shorter wavelengths. Linkages of solar radiative output variations with solar magnetism are clearly identified. Active regions alter the local radiance, and their wavelength-dependent contrasts relative to the quiet Sun control the relative spectrum of irradiance variability. Solar radiative output also responds to sub-surface convection and to eruptive events on the Sun. On the shortest time scales, total irradiance exhibits five minute fluctuations of amplitude \(\approx 0.003\) %, and can increase to as much as 0.015 % during the very largest solar flares. Unknown is whether multi-decadal changes in solar activity produce longer-term irradiance variations larger than observed thus far in the contemporary epoch. Empirical associations with solar activity proxies suggest reduced total solar irradiance during the anomalously low activity in the seventeenth century Maunder Minimum relative to the present. Uncertainties in understanding the physical relationships between direct magnetic modulation of solar radiative output and heliospheric modulation of cosmogenic proxies preclude definitive historical irradiance estimates, as yet.


Sun: irradiance activity UV radiation solar-terrestrial relations 


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin/Heidelberg 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Physikalisch-Meteorologisches Observatorium DavosWorld Radiation CenterDavos DorfSwitzerland
  2. 2.E.O. Hulburt Center for Space ResearchNaval Research LaboratoryWashingtonUSA

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