Space Science Reviews

, Volume 120, Issue 3–4, pp 243–286 | Cite as

Solar Forcing of Climate. 2: Evidence from the Past

  • Gerard J. M. VersteeghEmail author


The nature of the climatic response to solar forcing and its geographical coherence is reviewed. This information is of direct relevance for evaluating solar forcing mechanisms and validating climate models.

Interpretation of Sun-climate relationships is hampered by difficulties in (1) translating proxy records into quantitative climate parameters (2) obtaining accurate age assessments (3) elucidating spatial patterns and relationships (4) separating solar forcing from other forcing mechanisms (5) lacking physical understanding of the solar forcing mechanisms. This often limits assessment of past solar forcing of climate to identification of correlations between environmental change and solar variability.

The noisy character and often insufficient temporal resolution of proxy records often exclude the detection of high frequency decadal and bi-decadal cycles. However, on multi-decadal and longer time scales, notably the ∼90 years Gleisberg, and ∼200 years Suess cycles in the 10Be and 14C proxy records of solar activity are also well presented in the environmental proxy records. The additional ∼1500 years Bond cycle may result from interference between centennial-band solar cycles.

Proxy evidence for Sun-climate relations is hardly present for Africa, South America and the marine realm; probably more due to a lack of information than a lack of response to solar forcing. At low latitudes, equatorward movement of the ITCZ (upward component of the Hadley cell) occurs upon a decrease in solar activity, explaining humidity changes for (1) Mesoamerica and adjacent North and South American regions and (2) East Africa and the Indian and Chinese Monsoon systems. At middle latitudes equatorward movement of the zonal circulation during solar minima probably (co-)induces wet and cool episodes in Western Europe, and Terra del Fuego as well as humidity changes in Southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the Mediterranean. The polar regions seem to expand during solar minima which, at least for the northern hemisphere is evident in southward extension of the Atlantic ice cover. The forcing-induced migration of climate regimes implies that solar forcing induces a non linear response at a given location. This complicates the assessment of Sun-climate relations and calls for nonlinear analysis of multiple long and high resolution records at regional scale. Unfortunately nonlinear Sun-climate analysis is still a largely barren field, despite the fact that major global climate configurations (e.g. the ENSO and AO) follow nonlinear dynamics.

The strength of solar forcing relative to other forcings (e.g. volcanism, ocean circulation patterns, tides, and geomagnetism) is another source of dynamic responses. Notably the climatic effects of tides and geomagnetism are hitherto largely enigmatic.

Few but well-dated studies suggest almost instantaneous, climatic deteriorations in response to rapid decreases in solar activity. Such early responses put severe limits to the solar forcing mechanisms and the extent of this phenomenon should be a key issue for future Sun-climate studies.


proxy climate solar forcing Holocene 


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© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hanse WissenschaftskollegDelmenhorstGermany

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