Surveys in Geophysics

, Volume 25, Issue 5–6, pp 441–484

The Global Atmospheric Electrical Circuit and Climate



Evidence is emerging for physical links among clouds, global temperatures, the global atmospheric electrical circuit and cosmic ray ionisation. The global circuit extends throughout the atmosphere from the planetary surface to the lower layers of the ionosphere. Cosmic rays are the principal source of atmospheric ions away from the continental boundary layer: the ions formed permit a vertical conduction current to flow in the fair weather part of the global circuit. Through the (inverse) solar modulation of cosmic rays, the resulting columnar ionisation changes may allow the global circuit to convey a solar influence to meteorological phenomena of the lower atmosphere. Electrical effects on non-thunderstorm clouds have been proposed to occur via the ion-assisted formation of ultra-fine aerosol, which can grow to sizes able to act as cloud condensation nuclei, or through the increased ice nucleation capability of charged aerosols. Even small atmospheric electrical modulations on the aerosol size distribution can affect cloud properties and modify the radiative balance of the atmosphere, through changes communicated globally by the atmospheric electrical circuit. Despite a long history of work in related areas of geophysics, the direct and inverse relationships between the global circuit and global climate remain largely quantitatively unexplored. From reviewing atmospheric electrical measurements made over two centuries and possible paleoclimate proxies, global atmospheric electrical circuit variability should be expected on many timescales.


atmospheric aerosols climate change cloud microphysics cosmic rays global circuit ionosphere–troposphere coupling paleoclimate solar-terrestrial physics solar variability 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MeteorologyThe University of ReadingReadingUK

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