Atmospheric Sciences Research Spotlight

How the Solar Wind May Affect Weather and Climate

The Sun's influence on the Earth's climate is complicated, but researchers are slowly figuring out how the solar wind can indirectly affect clouds over the poles.

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The Sun plays a large role in providing the Earth with light and heat, but its more subtle effects on the Earth’s weather, climate and atmospheric processes are still a mystery. Scientists are especially puzzled by how the solar wind—streams of plasma ejected from the Sun—affects the Earth’s climate system.

Earlier research found that the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF)—which is the magnetic field swept Earthward by the solar wind—causes certain effects in the Earth’s ionosphere. However, how those ionospheric changes may influence climate dynamics remains relatively unknown.

Lam, et al. present new research into the correlations between changes in the IMF and atmospheric pressure anomalies found in the Earth’s polar troposphere, modulated by a global circuit of electrical current continuously moving between the ionosphere and the surface of Earth. The researchers were specifically investigating whether the Mansurov effect, which is a response in atmospheric pressure to changes in the IMF, involves cloud physics and can thus have a wider effect on weather and climate.

Using national records of high resolution data, the authors tracked instances over 4 years when certain changes in the IMF correlated with pressure anomalies above the Earth’s poles. The authors saw effects in the lower troposphere, which were driven by electric potential difference between the ionosphere and the Earth’s surface, days sooner than in the mid-to-upper troposphere. The findings support the idea that the Mansurov effect is linked with changes to cloud microphysics, which can then in turn have an effect on meteorology. (Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1002/2014GL061421, 2014)

—JoAnna Wendel, Staff Writer

Citation: Wendel, J. (2015), How the solar wind may affect weather and climate, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO022311. Published on 15 January 2015.

© 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0