New views on climate change
28 January 2011
On 16 November Professor Joanna Haigh, Chair of Atmospheric Physics and Head of the Department of Physics, gave the Friends of Imperial lecture on the sun and climate change. Joanna’s research group has found that solar activity plays a greater role in the climate of middle latitudes than the tropics, and that an important factor driving this response is the absorption of solar ultraviolet radiation in the stratosphere. Stephen Maine, Mechanical Engineering Workshop Technician (Physics), describes his experience of the event.
“With lots of conflicting data about climate change in the media, I decided to go along to this event to find out more about the causes. Joanna’s lecture was packed with information and she explained how data obtained from the Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment (SORCE) – a NASA-sponsored satellite mission that provides state-of-the-art measurements of incoming total solar radiation – combined with data on the chemistry of the atmosphere suggests that less solar radiation reaches lower altitudes when the sun’s activity is higher. Additionally the data suggests that solar influence on climate is ‘top down’ via UV radiation from the sun warming the atmosphere. Previously the main driver of the effects of variations in solar activity on atmospheric temperature was thought to be ‘bottom up’ from changes in visible light radiation warming the earth’s surface.
It was a fascinating lecture, crammed with graphs and stats. I have been to a couple of Friends of Imperial lectures before but the Q & A sessions have rarely been so animated and passionate. In the Friends of Imperial customary fashion, after the lecture we adjourned for drinks and nibbles and further debate ensued – now we are all experts on climate change!”