October 13, 2012
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№ 9 (September 2012)

Solar Variation and Climate Change. Future Temperature Decline and Energy Demand Growth

   Climate change (temperature fluctuations) on Earth, caused by solar variation, is a cyclic natural process, which geochronologically accompanies periods of warming and cooling.

By V. Bashkin, R. Galiulin

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   At present another temperature decline is forecast, which is bound to increase energy demand globally, as well as locally. It is suggestive that the International Energy Agency outlook projects increasing energy demand, with energy produced by oil, coal and especially natural gas, which will allow the latter to take the second place after oil in 2035.

   Today climate change (temperature fluctuations), and in particular the warming climate, and the impact of fuel energy, which predominantly uses the domineering, traditional energy sources – oil, coal and natural gas, is subject to ever more debate. It is believed that global warming the world has been witnessing over the past 50 years is mainly human-inflicted and primarily caused by carbon dioxide emissions, leading to the “greenhouse effect”. At the same time, about three-quarters of the human-induced carbon dioxide emissions over the past 20 years have been the result of oil, coal and natural gas extraction and burning. This statement was the cornerstone of the famous Kyoto Protocol (in effect since 1997), imposing restrictions on the human-inflicted greenhouse gases emissions, especially carbon dioxide, and providing for emissions trading. To clarify the situation, it was important to analyze the available data about climate change, characterized by increasing as well as declining temperatures, and to study possible oil, coal and natural gas demand changes in lower temperatures to guarantee a comfortable life and dynamic development of society, particularly in the northern hemisphere.

   It is known that climate change is triggered by phenomena that occur in the Global ocean, such as South (El Niño), North Atlantic and Arctic oscillation, that is, temperature changes of the surface water layer, as well as the reaction to phenomena, such as solar constant changes and the Earth’s orbit, the “greenhouse effect”, the tectonic plate movements, etc.

   Thus, over decades, South oscillation in the equatorial part of the Pacific Ocean as well as North-Atlantic and Arctic oscillation have contributed to climate change, which has occurred partly due to the solar energy accumulation of the global ocean and a further spread of the energy worldwide. Over a longer term thermohaline circulation, aka cycle, has occurred in the ocean caused by the density fluctuation, which the temperature and salinity fluctuation in the water has resulted in. The latter also plays a vital role in the heat redistribution.

   The change of the solar constant – the amount of incoming solar electromagnetic radiation per unit area (kW/m² or cal/cm²*min) – is believed to be an important factor triggering the start of a better-known Little Ice Age (14th–19th centuries), with the coldest period in the 17th–18th century. The solar constant is influenced by the Earth-Sun distance, which changes over months due to the Earth’s elliptical orbit, and solar variation, as phenomena and processes linked to the change in the solar magnetic activity. The changes in the Earth orbit – the result of the Earth-Moon-planets interaction – impact on the climate like the fluctuations of the Earth constant, as minor changes in the orbit bring about the redistribution of the solar irradiation on the surface.

   As far as the greenhouse effect is concerned, it is the process by which thermal radiation from a planetary surface is trapped by atmospheric greenhouse gases (water vapour – 36-72 percent, carbon dioxide – 9-26 percent, methane 4-9 percent and ozone – 3-7 percent), and is re-radiated in all directions thus resulting in an elevation of the average surface temperature above what it would be in the absence of the gases. Man’s impact on the greenhouse gases balance, majorly through carbon dioxide emissions, is linked to oil, coal and gas extraction and burning. However the absence of any evidence that greenhouse gases concentration has directly affected the climate in the past tens of millions of years, points its miniscule role in climate change.
Meanwhile it is believed that the large-scale tectonic motions of the Earth’s lithosphere aggravated the situation thus impacting the recent Ice Age, which ended 10 thousand years ago. So, the collision of the North and the South American plates about 3 million years earlier resulted in the formation of the Isthmus of Panama, which shut down the flow of water between the two oceans, with the Atlantic no longer mingling with the Pacific. It directly influenced atmospheric heat circulation patterns, which affects climate change.

   Thus, the Earth’s climate is determined by the combination of many factors: over a shorter period of time (decades and centuries) separate phenomena impact on it, over a longer period of time (millenia) all the natural phenomena considered together exert influence upon the climate. Due to the above mentioned assumptions the question about the nature of the climate change on the geochronological scale arises naturally, which makes objective assessment of the phenomenon possible.

   It was determined that the climate change, in particular in the Holocene, part of the Quaternary period, which has lasted for the past 12,000 years up to now, is characterized by the alternation of warmer and colder periods at different periods of time, which testifies to the cyclical nature of this phenomenon (Fig. 1). The reconstruction of the climate through various geophysical, geochemical and other means in the Holocene as well as in the earlier periods – 420,000, 5,000,000 and 65,000,000 years ago also point to the cyclical nature of the climate change on the geochronological scale. Fig. 1 shows that the recent period has been characterised by increasing temperatures, as the average has edged up by 0.7 С since the outbreak of the industrial revolution in the second half of the 18th century. Meanwhile, the theory of the “cyclical nature of climate change” and of the “Little Ice Age” are considered most powerful arguments of the critics of the human-induced global warming vision. In their view, the current temperature increase marks the natural end of the “Little Ice Age” and an upcoming spell of colder weather.

   Moreover, paleoclimatic research related to the climate studies of previous geological ages, arouse doubts about the validity of the above mentioned Kyoto Protocol provisions, which places restrictions on human-induced greenhouse gases emissions, especially carbon dioxide ones. The matter is that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere followed the temperature increase rather than preceded it, since the growing temperatures lead to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the Global ocean water (its concentration in the water is 60 times higher than in air) as well as from solid rock. Consequently, the assumption that the “greenhouse effect” results from human-induced carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere, allegedly causing a dramatic temperature increase and all the implications, is flawed.
Thus, even the Holocene period clearly points to centuries of climate changes as a cyclical process that has continued to the present. The current climate warming we are witnessing is another natural process, and it is not caused by the “greenhouse effect”. The impact of greenhouse gas emissions was highly exaggerated, since the mass of the Earth’s atmosphere is 18,375,000 billion tons, and with emissions totaling about 9 billion tons, the greenhouse gas concentration amounts to only 0.00005 percent, which could hardly have triggered any global changes, including a temperature increase.
Fig. 2 demonstrates that in the present time span, characterized by warm and cold period alterations, a colder period awaits humanity and a temperature decline since early 2000s as a harbinger of another “Little Ice Age” clearly testifies to that. The Earth is once again on the verge of another “Little Ice Age”, caused by a sharp decline in solar irradiation as the only energy source for the Earth, and therefore, the trigger of the climate change. The changes of the 200-year cycle of solar constant by approximately 0,2±0,05 percent, which significantly impacts on the Global ocean, affect the climate.

   The interdependence between solar variation and dramatic climate change worldwide and between and the immediate temperature decrease and the bare minimum of solar activity have been proved. The Earth is on the brink of a “Little Ice Age”, which will start in 2014, with the lowest temperatures by the mid-century. Initially, a temperature decrease will be very slow, and after a decade more intensive. The Global ocean temperature is expected to drop by one degree, which is enough for new Greenland glaciers to appear. Lower temperatures will affect the residents of the equator and the south the least. Another span of minimal temperatures (down by 1.0-1.5 C) will last 45-65 years followed by a temperature increase in the early 22nd century. Undoubtedly lower temperatures in the near future will drive energy consumption up both globally and regionally. The question suggests itself about the future prospects of different energy sources and the related energy industries.

   It is worthy pointing that according to the International Energy Agency outlook oil, coal and natural gas will remain the main energy sources up to 2035 (Fig. 3). Oil continues to be the main fuel, with consumption increasing from 4,060 million tons of oil equivalent (OE) in 2008 to 4,550 million toe in 2035. Coal consumption will grow from 3,315  million toe in 2008 to 3,670 million in 2035 peaking in around 2018 and then dropping to 250 million toe. Natural gas consumption will rise from 2,600 million toe in 2008 to 4,250 million toe in 2035, which will make it a second most important fuel. Nuclear power and alternative energy sources (biomass, wind, solar radiation, water and hydrogen for energy production), and large hydroelectric power stations will account for 3-12 percent in the energy mix in 2035. It is a quite small share compared to the share of energy produced with oil (27 percent), natural gas (25 percent) and coal (22 percent). Meanwhile, a more rapid growth in natural gas consumption in the future is linked to the obvious advantages of this fuel over oil and coal, for example, the cost of labor in this case is 37 times lower than in case of the extraction of the same amount of coal (in terms of oil equivalent). Moreover, gas has a high calorific value, pipelines can be installed anywhere, there is no ash after the combustion of natural gas, etc. The main advantage of natural gas as an energy source is the fact that over 90 percent of its production is consumed as fuel at thermal power plants, factories and in households.

   Therefore, the analysis given above points to a conclusion that climate change as a result of solar variation, is a cyclical natural processes that manifests itself on a geochronological scale in the form of alternating periods of warming and cooling. It is noteworthy that the start of the “Little Ice Age” which manifests itself in a dramatic decline in solar irradiation intensity coincided with the expected increase in oil, coal and natural gas consumption. Natural gas demand will grow exponentially due to the advantages of this resource over oil and coal. This factor will be vital for a comfortable life and dynamic development of society, particularly in the northern hemisphere during the expected “Little Ice Age”.

Abdusamatov Kh. The Sun Determines the Climate [Солнце определяет климат], The Science and Life journal [Наука и жизнь]. 2009. #1, pp. 34-42.
Archibald D. Climate Outlook to 2030 // Energy and Environment. 2007. Vol. 18, #5, p. 615-619.
World Energy Outlook. Are We Entering a Golden Age of Gas? Special Report. International Energy Agency, 2011. 131 pp.

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