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Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming, Scientist Says

Written by Kate Ravilious

Simultaneous warming on Earth and Mars suggests that our planet’s recent climate changes have a natural—and not a human-induced—cause, according to one scientist’s controversial theory.

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Earth is currently experiencing rapid warming, which the vast majority of climate scientists says is due to humans pumping huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. (Get an overview: “Global Warming Fast Facts”.)

Mars, too, appears to be enjoying more mild and balmy temperatures.

In 2005 data from NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor and Odyssey missions revealed that the carbon dioxide “ice caps” near Mars’s south pole had been diminishing for three summers in a row.

Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of space research at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, says the Mars data is evidence that the current global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun.

“The long-term increase in solar irradiance is heating both Earth and Mars,” he said.

Solar Cycles

Abdussamatov believes that changes in the sun’s heat output can account for almost all the climate changes we see on both planets.

Mars and Earth, for instance, have experienced periodic ice ages throughout their histories.

“Man-made greenhouse warming has made a small contribution to the warming seen on Earth in recent years, but it cannot compete with the increase in solar irradiance,” Abdussamatov said.

By studying fluctuations in the warmth of the sun, Abdussamatov believes he can see a pattern that fits with the ups and downs in climate we see on Earth and Mars.

Abdussamatov’s work, however, has not been well received by other climate scientists.

“His views are completely at odds with the mainstream scientific opinion,” said Colin Wilson, a planetary physicist at England’s Oxford University.

“And they contradict the extensive evidence presented in the most recent IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report.” (Related: “Global Warming ‘Very Likely’ Caused by Humans, World Climate Experts Say” [February 2, 2007].)

Amato Evan, a climate scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, added that “the idea just isn’t supported by the theory or by the observations.”

Planets’ Wobbles

The conventional theory is that climate changes on Mars can be explained primarily by small alterations in the planet’s orbit and tilt, not by changes in the sun.

“Wobbles in the orbit of Mars are the main cause of its climate change in the current era,” Oxford’s Wilson explained. (Related: “Don’t Blame Sun for Global Warming, Study Says”[September 13, 2006].)

All planets experience a few wobbles as they make their journey around the sun. Earth’s wobbles are known as Milankovitch cycles and occur on time scales of between 20,000 and 100,000 years.

These fluctuations change the tilt of Earth’s axis and its distance from the sun and are thought to be responsible for the waxing and waning of ice ages on Earth.

Mars and Earth wobble in different ways, and most scientists think it is pure coincidence that both planets are between ice ages right now.

“Mars has no [large] moon, which makes its wobbles much larger, and hence the swings in climate are greater too,” Wilson said.

No Greenhouse

Perhaps the biggest stumbling block in Abdussamatov’s theory is his dismissal of the greenhouse effect, in which atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide help keep heat trapped near the planet’s surface.

He claims that carbon dioxide has only a small influence on Earth’s climate and virtually no influence on Mars.

But “without the greenhouse effect there would be very little, if any, life on Earth, since our planet would pretty much be a big ball of ice,” said Evan, of the University of Wisconsin.

Most scientists now fear that the massive amount of carbon dioxide humans are pumping into the air will lead to a catastrophic rise in Earth’s temperatures, dramatically raising sea levels as glaciers melt and leading to extreme weather worldwide.

Abdussamatov remains contrarian, however, suggesting that the sun holds something quite different in store.

“The solar irradiance began to drop in the 1990s, and a minimum will be reached by approximately 2040,” Abdussamatov said. “It will cause a steep cooling of the climate on Earth in 15 to 20 years.”

Read more at news.nationalgeographic.com

Comments (3)

  • Avatar

    Rosco

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    Ed, as usual we disagree.

    I thought the blackbody temperature was a significant measure and on that score the Moon wins 270 to 254. Besides what does an average mean ? (I really don’t think the “blackbody” temperature has any real meaning)

    A supposed scientist said -“But “without the greenhouse effect there would be very little, if any, life on Earth, since our planet would pretty much be a big ball of ice,” said Evan, of the University of Wisconsin.”

    I find that absurd as we know the Moon reaches temperatures of over the boiling point of water proving one simple fact – the enormous power of the solar radiation.

    Yes the period of time the Moon is exposed to the solar radiation is longer BUT IF the temperature were NOT 100 K or so at sunrise it would reach high temperatures significantly more quickly. It may even approach the currently observed maximum – who knows ?

    If the lunar surfaces radiated at the observed rate for a mere 12 hours the temperature drop would be less than 20 degrees C. That happens to the air temperature in desert locations on Earth regularly in summer – the surface temperatures change far more rapidly because our atmosphere removes surface heat by contact and convection.

    Surely no-one can dispute this fact ? It is why machinery has convective cooling devices we mistakenly call “radiators” – without such devices or fins as used on motorcycles no motor would last more than a few minutes if it relied on radiative cooling alone.

    On the other hand the significantly more powerful solar radiation would heat at a significantly higher rate. 1288 W/m2 albedo adjusted solar radiation has far more power than the radiation from an object at 388 K.

    Neither of us knows what temperature the Moon would be if it had a 24 hour period but I do know it is unlikely to ever reach the low temperatures it does and thus in my mind it would likely be much higher.

    All I do know is in the Lut desert in Iran Landsat measured a surface temperature of 70.7 degrees C. We know there is very low levels of greenhouse gases in the desert locality and we all know temperatures decrease dramatically at night in desert localities.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see a temperature of 70 degrees C recorded on the equatorial lunar surfaces if it had a 24 hour period nor would I be surprised to see minimum temperatures at or near 0 degrees C rather than the huge swings observed.

    I was simply highlighting how stupid that statement was with some facts.

    Besides the oceans hold an enormous amount of “heat” – far more than the atmosphere.

    And then we get back to the argument of how does a transparent atmosphere “shed” the heat it accumulates ?

    If one adopts the standard climate science argument that 99.9% of the atmosphere doesn’t absorb IR and by some twisted thinking it doesn’t radiate IR as well then how does it “shed” the “heat” it absorbs continually ?

    To say it doesn’t absorb “heat” is stupid – try telling that to the camels.

  • Avatar

    Rosco

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    Climate “scientists” are among the stupidest people on Earth !

    Evidence ? How about this:-

    “But “without the greenhouse effect there would be very little, if any, life on Earth, since our planet would pretty much be a big ball of ice,” said Evan, of the University of Wisconsin.”

    Funny how the temperature of the lunar surfaces with no atmosphere let alone any “Greenhouse effect” manage to exceed the boiling point of water.

    The Moon is subject to similar solar radiation as is Earth except that Earth’s atmosphere significantly REDUCES the amount heating the surface !

    I suspect that if the Moon’s period was similar to Earth’s 24 hour period the average temperature on the Moon would be significantly higher.

    The Moon has a long time to cool from the peak temperatures caused by the solar radiation – if the temperature at dawn was significantly higher due to a much reduced cooling period it would probably still approach the maximum temperatures measured whilst rarely if ever dropping anywhere close to zero C except at the poles.

    How these people can say on one hand Earth without the “greenhouse effect” would be a snowball and then turn around and claim that adding another 0.012% of a “greenhouse gas” which transmits almost 100% of all infra-red radiation except for a few wavelength bands at the extreme hot and cold bands of the wavelengths emitted by any object at Earth’s ambient surface temperatures can cause a catastrophic runaway “greenhouse effect” simply beggars belief !

    Just how gullible are people to believe this BS ?

    • Avatar

      Ed Bo

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      Average lunar surface temperatures are far below that of earth even though, as you note, the moon has lower solar albedo.

      You say that “The Moon has a long time to cool from the peak temperatures caused by the solar radiation”. By the same token, the moon has a long time to heat up from the low temperatures cause by radiating away energy directly to deep space.

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