“The connection to evolution is a culmination of this work.” DTU Director on Svensmark’s new paper

Posted: April 24, 2012 by tchannon in Astronomy, Astrophysics, atmosphere, Carbon cycle, cosmic rays, Ice ages

ImageUPDATE: Local copy of paper added.

Earth has been bombarded with radiation from stellar events as the solar system travels through the Milky Way. This is linked to Earth’s paleo history.

“Research by a Danish physicist suggests that the explosion of massive stars – supernovae – near the Solar System has strongly influenced the development of life. Prof. Henrik Svensmark of the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) sets out his novel work in a paper in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.”
From Royal Astronomical Society press release

Evidence of nearby supernovae affecting life on Earth (link to PDF, no paywall)
Henrik Svensmark
National Space Institute, Technical University of Denmark,
22 April 2012

Observations of open star clusters in the solar neighborhood are used to calculate local supernova (SN) rates for the past 510 million years (Myr). Peaks in the SN rates match passages of the Sun through periods of locally increased cluster formation which could be caused by spiral arms of the Galaxy. A statistical analysis indicates that the Solar System has experienced many large short-term increases in the flux of Galactic cosmic rays (GCR) from nearby supernovae. The hypothesis that a high GCR flux should coincide with cold conditions on the Earth is borne out by comparing the general geological record of climate over the past 510 million years with the fluctuating local SN rates. Surprisingly a simple combination of tectonics (long-term changes in sea level) and astrophysical activity (SN rates) largely accounts for the observed variations in marine biodiversity over the past 510 Myr. An inverse
correspondence between SN rates and carbon dioxide (CO2) levels is discussed in terms of a possible drawdown of CO2by enhanced bioproductivity in oceans that are better fertilized in cold conditions – a hypothesis that is not contradicted by data on the relative abundance of the heavy isotope of carbon,13C.”

Center for Sun-Climate Research at DTU

“The author also thanks the many geoscientists who have provided data and helpful comments, and Nigel Calder for general discussions regarding this work.” Nigel Calder’s web site is in our blog roll to the left.

The general idea is not new; Svensmark has extended the scope in time and fields of evidence, critically stating WHY there is a link, radiation.
In the comments Michele Casati gives a link to a 2005 paper “ICE AGE EPOCHS AND THE SUN’S PATH THROUGH THE GALAXY
D. R. Gies and J. W. Helsel”.

Below is Fig 1 which provides a different and perhaps easier graphic for a layperson.


Post by Tim Channon, co-moderator.

  1. Wayne Job says:

    This posted at WUWT odd I thought this type of work is astrology. Willis is throwing spanners in all directions. This paper is a wonderful start for a new direction and even if it does not entirely pan out, even some of it will kill AGW.

  2. Brian H says:

    The biological pattern is very interesting; it’s during periods of cold-stress that diversity rises. The long warm “fat” periods are stagnation, albeit very high biomass stagnation.

  3. vukcevic says:

    On the WUWT Dr Svalgaard (solar scientist) and Dr. Corbyn (astrophysicist) agree !
    No further comment needed.

  4. Brian H says:

    Both have oxen being gored. Is that what you mean?

  5. Reference :

    D. R. Gies and J. W. Helsel


    We present a calculation of the Sun’s motion through the MilkyWay over the last 500 million yr. The integration is based on estimates of the Sun’s current position and speed from measurements with Hipparcos and on a realistic model for the Galactic gravitational potential. We estimate the times of the Sun’s past spiral arm crossings for a range of assumed values of the spiral pattern angular speed.We find that for a difference between themean solar and pattern speed of p ¼ 11:9 0:7 kms1 kpc1, the Sun has traversed four spiral arms at times that appear to correspond well with long-duration cold periods on Earth. This supports the idea that extended exposure to the higher cosmic-ray flux associated with spiral arms can lead to increased cloud cover and long ice age epochs on Earth.

  6. Joe Lalonde says:


    I’m a skeptic through and through that other factors are not in consideration.
    Our sun greatest heat output is at it’s equator along with the distance difference to the poles.
    Scientists know the sun’s poles are flat as they were observed with the planetary drifting or was it sun tilting??? Hmmm.
    Anyways, the sun has quieted down from spewing massive amounts of materials. In order for our planet not to get too warm, some of those materials has to be picked up by our rotating outer atmosphere which generates a greater barrier and more insulation values.
    Currently we have lost a great deal of our outer atmosphere and the protection of that insulation to the coldness of space on a tilting planet.

  7. tchannon says:

    Updated the post to include Fig 1 from the paper Michele kindly indicates.

  8. tallbloke says:

    Here’s another page flagged up as of potential interest to the Talkshop by Lucy Skywalker on the WUWT thread, which has some graphs relevant to this discussion. It also contains a lot of other stuff which is interesting, and controversial.


  9. tallbloke says:

    Summary of CERN’s CLOUD progress to date and description of upcoming experiments in 2012


  10. James says:

    Why do is a new form of a virus called a mutation and not an evolution?

  11. Tenuc says:

    Still reading through the paper, which is a bit like a detective novel, except most of the ‘evidence’ is circumstantial.

    I have some reservations regarding the rather small error bars on the paleo data and not sure how good a proxy sea levels are regarding GCRs; also modelling had to be used (extrapolation?) to produce the record. However, there is a consistency across the paper which makes Svensmark’s conjecture compelling.

    This will go down like a lead balloon across the several differ scientific disciplines the paper spans. Will be interesting to observe… :-)

  12. James says:

    What’s going on at Watts up? I read this last night and found it fascinating, I noted Anthony had made it a sticky for several days as he seemed very impressed ny the paper. Just been back and see it has been unstuck and is floating down the page at a rate of knots. Would this be down to Willis throwing his toys out of the pram?

  13. tallbloke says:

    Leif Svalgaard says:
    April 25, 2012 at 9:25 am

    adolfogiurfa says:
    April 25, 2012 at 9:15 am
    Super-Novae decoded

    That people in this day and age can fall for this nonsense is a demonstration of the low science- literacy and gullibility of the populace at large. Sad, indeed. Perhaps you can get tallbloke to sign on to your faith, it seems he will believe anything weird, so you can continue your indulgency over there.

    My reply seems to have disappeared down the WUWT rabbit hole… :)

    Interesting link by the way Adolfo. I wonder what Leif’s explanation for the weird annular ring is… Lol.

  14. tallbloke says:

    Nigel Calder in his intro piece on WUWT:
    “Anyone who wishes to pooh-pooh any piece of it by saying “correlation is not necessarily causality” should offer some other mega-theory that says why several mutually supportive coincidences arise between events in our galactic neighbourhood and living conditions on the Earth.”

    Clearly Nigel doesn’t understand the ‘death by a thousand nitpicks’ modus operandi over there. :)

  15. dp says:

    A topic does not achieve critical acclaim among the huddled morass at WUWT until the self-taught cowboy scientist gives it his imprimatur. He has weighed in and I think he’s not impressed. That creates a dilemma – do we believe the trained physicist or the cowboy, or just stow this away in the developing interests duffel?

  16. Harriet Harridan says:

    All that Willis ever brings is a spade. He’s so keen to bury things, he’ll bury himself again like he did with N&Z

  17. tallbloke says:

    Willis raises some valid points around the uncertainty of some big numbers like just how long it takes the solar system to pass through spiral arms, choice of databases for supernovae, binning choices etc. However, as Nigel Calder pointed out in the intro, the overall argument has strength, and nit-picking at details misses the point. The point is that it’s looking like the best explanation yet for ‘the big picture’.

    Willis brings his stats scattergun to every party and turns it into a showdown. There is a better way.

  18. Willis Eschenbach says:
    April 26, 2012 at 2:21 am

    Lucy Skywalker says:
    April 25, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    … Now I would also like to see you apply this process to Nikolov and Zeller’s mathematical refutation of the current application of the Stefan-Boltzmann equation with regard to grey-body planets. After much head-banging and avoidance, I did finally crack the maths there myself and found the claims held up, and the Second Law too. I had a “chat” with Maxwell. If you’re interested in the “elevator pitch” I can now give (I said I needed time), please email me, I don’t want this wonderful thread derailed.

    Lucy, you never did understand the problems I exposed in Nikolov and Zeller’s work at “The Mystery of Equation 8“. In fact, in that thread you said:

    I get the feeling that there are a number who can see Willis’ limitations who are no longer coming here to post.

    … to which another poster replied about why some people, including Nikolov and Zeller, were no longer posting on that thread …

    Yes, their goose has been well and truly cooked by Willis’s article, their fox has been shot. Anyone with a basic knowledge of science, or in this case,just basic mathematics, is aware that when the number of ‘fudge factors’ exceeds the number of unknowns then any ridiculous proposition can be formalised. It isn’t really a ‘Miracle’. Well done Willis – that’s what I call a game-changer.

    Lucy, have you ever thought that you and Tallbloke do harm to the sceptic cause by promoting nonsense?

    Indeed, the poster was right, you do harm …

    In that post, you also spoke highly of Hans Jelbring and his cockamamie hypothesis that you can get ongoing energy from gravity, a hypothesis that I discussed in Perpetuum Mobile, and that Dr. Robert Brown totally blew out of the water with a formal proof in Refutation of Stable Thermal Equilibrium Lapse Rates. Jelbrings hypothesis was obviously and glaringly wrong. But you, you thought Jelbring’s hypothesis was good, solid science.

    As a result, I fear that my opinion of your scientific abilities can go no lower. Sadly, I must tell you that I have no interest in your explanation of how perpetual motion machines work, or of how we can get energy from pressure as Nikolov and Zeller claim.

    Heck, even Nikolov and Zeller wouldn’t answer my questions. They refused to reply, to defend their work, or to even discuss their work, they ran like vampires at sunrise from the huge problems I pointed out in their work … and now you want me to listen to you explain their brilliant science? Really?

    Thanks, but I’ll pass …



    Raw nerve there, it seems.

    I did not even make most of the claims Willis ascribes to me, nor would I make them. I can appreciate Hans Jellbring without having any opinion at all on his “cockamanie” thesis which I have not studied enough to have an opinion. You just don’t get to be professor, normally, if your ideas are completely screwed-up. Willis’ statements are griping broadsides rather than science. Heck, I had only invited him to look at maths, as per scientific method. But I said I would not derail the thread at WUWT as I felt it did have a lot of good discussion – so “freedom of speech” together with respect for people forces me to bring the matter here for any further discussion. If I aired it at WUWT, the thread could get closed.

    Shame about Willis’ science at this point. Shame about his attitude at this point. Double shame because I still appreciate him elsewhere, his handling of Shakun and Levitus for instance. And I don’t think I was rude to him, in fact I said, honestly, that I’d appreciated his statements.

    It always takes more verbiage to scientifically correct a misstatement than to issue one. This is our perpetual disadvantage, as “transcendental ranting deniers”. And yet, to bring closure on anger, one needs to say less, not more. Hope I’ve just about managed. :)

  19. tallbloke says:

    Hi Lucy, smart move coming here to air your viewpoint. My reply to Willis’ rant (which is of bar-room quality rather than transcendent IMO :) ) is here: https://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/nikolov-zeller-reply-eschenbach/#comment-24092

    He’s obviously in a full state of denial about the completely screwed-up maths he drew his false inferences about Nikolov and Zeller’s theory from, so I guess it’s a waste of breath trying to disabuse him of his ignorance, or to get him to apologize for the abuse he has heaped on Ned, Karl, Hans, you and me.

    C’est la vie. I’m not going to waste my time trying to educate Willis. He’s a SEP. (Somebody Else’s Problem)

  20. Joe Lalonde says:


    Found another answer…as to why the weight of water vapor defies gravity…deals with atmospheric pressure differences. Convection only goes so far and as water vapor cools gravity should pull it back down, but it does not!

  21. Ray C says:

    Prof. Henrik Svensmark knows how important the secondary production of aerosol is to cloud formation. The Ionisation process in the atmosphere is (seems to be) mainly instigated by GCRs. If low cloud formation is increased by this mechanism (even by a small percentage) then the cloud influence on wind speed will increase too. This in turn will increase the production of aerosol from land (giving rise to mineral deposition to fertilise the oceans)and especially an increase in ocean sea salt aerosol flux.. Causing stuff like this;- http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2010/2009GL041320.shtml
    “Observations indicate that the westerly jet in the Southern Hemisphere troposphere is accelerating. Using a global aerosol model we estimate that the increase in wind speed of 0.45 ± 0.2 m s−1decade−1 at 50–65°S since the early 1980s caused a higher sea spray flux, resulting in an increase of cloud condensation nucleus concentrations of more than 85% in some regions, and of 22% on average between 50 and 65°S.”

    This could be one reason for the Antarctic maintaining its ice level, by this substantial negative climate feedback, natural aerosol production.
    Whatever is the cause of an increasing wind speed, like declining solar influence and therefore increased GCRs, an increase in aerosol production will follow and so more cloud will form with ‘knock on’ effects.
    Isn’t that the gist of what Prof. Svensmarks is saying, or am I missing something?

  22. Thanks Rog for that rather fuller deconstruction over on the N&Z thread. I only would restate your sentence

    You, Willis, are a disgrace to the principle of fairly and courteously conducted scientific debate


    You, Willis, are have, at this point, been a disgrace to the principle of fairly and courteously conducted scientific debate. This does not lessen my respect for the demolition work you did on Shakun and Levitus; but it does heighten the need to check each of your statements carefully to see if they are inspired defence of science or angry defensive bad science.

    The problem seems to come on the frontiers. Svensmark is frontier-but-not-too-much; but SSB, EU, challenges to the Second Law, and challenges to GHG-as-prime-warmer are too much for WUWT’s energies. I am so sympathetic to their limits from a human, emotional POV – but absolutely not from a truly scientific POV, which needs constant care as to both humility and openness to the Universe as mystery, as well as courtesy, discernment, and recognition of one’s own limits of knowledge. All too often brilliance in one direction goes with bad behaviour in another.

    I’ve been mulling over preparing a series of “transcendental denialist rants” on Scientific Method, the Second Law and Clark Maxwell (it has been wonderful to discover Clark Maxwell as a carrier of both scientific excellence and generosity of spirit), and my perception of the virtues and limits of Science-by-Blog.

    I fear that my opinion of your scientific abilities can go no lower

    I have to admit that Willis has hit my kickstart reflexes again. Thanks, Willis, thanks :)

  23. Harriet Harridan says:

    Nice reply TB. It’s such a shame that Watts obviously puts so much (misplaced) faith in Willis. N&Z’s theory ticks so many boxes for me.

    So Willis think it’s curve fitting. Maybe it is. What’s wrong with that? If the equation works, is proved to work in multiple cases, over time, empirically, then it works. Isn’t that how many theories were devised in the first place? I’m sure that over time N&Z’s theory will develop and respond to any well founded criticism – that’s how it’s supposed to be. But it’s a tragedy that unfounded criticism from a self-anointed ‘genius’ like Willis stops the momentum of publicity.

    Willis’ attitude stinks. Watts made a big mistake when he appointed him gatekeeper.

    I can understand that Watts wants to keep things mainstream. There’s enough wrong with traditional climate theory for him to stick to that as a productive hunting ground, but to dismiss theories that can add to our understanding (revolutions in the case of N&Z, great correlations in the case of Svensmark) is extremely short-sighted. Notice now he disowned Scafetta when Willis chipped in? This is despite Scafetta’s paper holding very well so far wrt temperatures.

  24. Harriet Harridan says:

    Went to find the Scafetta reference page at WUWT to post here. It’:

    Here’s what you get:
    “Not Found

    Apologies, but the page you requested could not be found. Perhaps searching will help.”

    No further comment needed.

  25. tallbloke says:

    Hi Harriet,

    Anthony Watts threatened to take down the Scafetta prediction during the last WUWT debate on solar-planetary relationships when things didn’t go as planned for the naysayers. I suppose it’s an embarrassment for Anthony when the prediction carries on showing good skill when you’ve declared the underlying relationship to be nonsense.

  26. tallbloke says:

    By The way,
    The final comment on that WUWT thread before Anthony made the thread closure speech was made by Leif Svalgaard, and it’s well worth reproducing here:

    Leif Svalgaard says:
    April 17, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Steve P says:
    April 17, 2012 at 12:59 pm
    As we can see only 5% of the theorized universe, I’d say our ignorance is massive. Better to keep an open mind.

    That we with confidence can make the statement that we only see 5%, I’d say that our knowledge is massive.

    . :) PMSL :)

  27. Harriet Harridan says:

    There’s room to the left of your site for a Scafetta widget… :-) You’re the right host for it.

  28. Leif Svalgaard says:
    April 17, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Steve P says:
    April 17, 2012 at 12:59 pm
    As we can see only 5% of the theorized universe, I’d say our ignorance is massive. Better to keep an open mind.

    That we with confidence can make the statement that we only see 5%, I’d say that our knowledge is massive.

    > We can see a whole 5%? Oh that means we know everything. I mean I can see 5% of an apple and can say with my ‘massive’ knowledge that it has no stalk, never grew on a tree, has no seeds and is exclusively green. Sorry Lief but you just made yourself a 100% ignoramus in my eyes…

    “According to Plato’s Apology, Socrates’ life as the “gadfly” of Athens began when his friend Chaerephon asked the oracle at Delphi if anyone was wiser than Socrates; the Oracle responded that no-one was wiser. Socrates believed that what the Oracle had said was a paradox, because he believed he possessed no wisdom whatsoever. He proceeded to test the riddle by approaching men considered wise by the people of Athens—statesmen, poets, and artisans—in order to refute the Oracle’s pronouncement. Questioning them, however, Socrates concluded that, while each man thought he knew a great deal and was wise, in fact they knew very little and were not wise at all. Socrates realized that the Oracle was correct, in that while so-called wise men thought themselves wise and yet were not, he himself knew he was not wise at all, which, paradoxically, made him the wiser one since he was the only person aware of his own ignorance. Socrates’ paradoxical wisdom made the prominent Athenians he publicly questioned look foolish, turning them against him and leading to accusations of wrongdoing.”

    Humanities arrogance never ceases to amaze me.

    plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

  29. James says:

    I think it is sad that Anthony bigged up this paper, made it a sticky becuse he thought it worthy until Willis came along and pricked the balloon. Then Anthony backed down to accomodate his First lieutenant.

  30. dp says:

    Anthony’s own “sticky” comment in that topic suggests otherwise, and in fact he did exactly what he said he would do. But to explore this further, I have no doubt the cowboy, if criticized by Anthony – particularly for his more interesting eye-rolling math analyses, would pull no punches with a counter-attack as that is his pattern. Nobody is immune to his ego. His contributions are net positive but the ego problem is always just below the surface. And even that has been done before:

  31. Just posted at WUWT

    Lucy Skywalker says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    April 27, 2012 at 11:53 am


    I’ve followed all your links in your reply, and the links behind those, right to the end so I now understand the whole root-system that threw up your “sport” focussing on Jelbring whom I only mentioned in passing, and not even to say whether or not I actually agreed with his paper. Please note, he is a professor. Now you noted elsewhere the presence of professors on the thread – Robert Brown being one of course – with the implication that their word should not just be instantly dismissed – with which I agree.

    My comments for now are “Hare and Tortoise”.

    And my offer is still open. I do however think you were unnecessarily rude and unscientific in your reply, despite your claims that I am the unscientific one. But I still think you are a genius when it comes to questioning material in already-accepted stuff, like Levitus and Shakun. And your speed, wow! Just that your abilities are not always on the mark, and new science is where your blind spots show most.


  32. tallbloke says:

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    April 26, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Yes, and since I’m banned from your site, I can’t answer

    That’s a lame excuse. Nikolov and Zeller were denied a chance to reply to your faulty maths and unwarranted ad hominem attack on them here at WUWT, but that didn’t prevent them answering your “cockamanie” ‘Mystery of equation 8′ post by demolishing its serial maths errors in the linked post at the Talkshop. If you had a reply you would have posted it here at WUWT by now.

  33. tallbloke says:

    Steven Mosher says:
    Yes. I dont know how his decision gets past peer review. I would expect at least a cursory test about how his conclusions hold up if you accept the other databases. That is just grade school sensitivity testing. testing your analytical decisions 101. Its brain dead NOT to do this test.

    You have 3 possible data sources. You dont just pick one and say the other two are ‘no different”

    You run the math with all three and SHOW that your choice of one doesnt matter.

    Sheesh. Why do you think we folks demanded that mann try his method with BCP held out or with Tiljander held out. This is just basic.

    Svensmark does indeed do the computation (see fig 4) and finds that the average of the three data sources most closely matches the database he then chooses to use in the remainder of the paper. Seems rational to me. Willis ‘me toos’ this comment from Mosh later in the thread.

    The WUWT style ‘instant rebuttal’ of papers which scientists of high calibre have spent long months and years working on is becoming increasingly embarrassing IMO.

  34. tallbloke says:

    I’ve just finished re-reading this paper carefully. It’s a superb piece of work which the detractors on WUWT could never emulate the quality of in a thousand years. Henrik Svensmark has produced the best ‘big picture’ to date of climate, the biosphere, its evolution and their relationship with the local cosmos through which the solar system has percolated for the last 1/2 billion years.

    This paper offers interdisciplinary vision and balance, with strong contributions towards an improvement in d18O paleoproxies, a better understanding of the causes of sudden sealevel regressions and a clearer idea of the role of externally forced environmental change leading to biodiversity shifts.

    Beyond this, at the philosophical level, Henrik lifts our minds to broader horizons, and helps to cut a swathe through the blinkered obsession with the terrestrial atmosphere shown by climatologists. It is important, but can now be seen in the context of bigger driving forces:- The passage of the solar system through the galactic spiral arms, the planetary forces shaping the Milankovitch cycles and resonating with solar variation, and the supernovae which cause deep and rapid cooling of the climate.

    Congratulations to Henrik Svensmark on the publication of this tour de force in a prestigious journal. We owe him a debt of gratitude for his insight, perseverance against the vicious and petty minded opposition he has endured, and for the quality of his work freely shared.

  35. Wayne Job says:

    Thank you Roger, my thoughts exactly.

  36. tallbloke says:

    Leif Svalgaard says:
    April 28, 2012 at 5:37 am

    tallbloke says:
    April 28, 2012 at 3:46 am
    The Loschmidt paradox is still unresolved after 120 years

    The Big Bang takes care of that. Of course, if you are a Big Bang d*nier, then you set yourself up for the ‘paradox’.

    The big bang theory is dead, but its zombie still staggers around trying to strangle all opponents. It’s coterie of gatekeepers and guardians can ban dissidents from using the big telescopes, but still the evidence accumulates as enterprising youngsters find better ways to use the smaller ones to confirm the crucial experiment and add further empirical evidence to it.

    Interesting that you use the ‘D’ word with impugnity here on WUWT. Anthony used to frown on that. You have defined yourself now.

  37. Agile Aspect says:

    The Loschmidt paradox is still unresolved after 120 years

    The Big Bang takes care of that. Of course, if you are a Big Bang d*nier, then you set yourself up for the ‘paradox’.


    Both of these statements are incorrect.

    The Loschmidt paradox was resolved by noting at that the atomic or microscopic level the process is reversible even if the macroscopic process is irreversible.

    This is the basis for Gibbs probabilistic formulation of statistical mechanics which replaced Boltzmann’s H theorem.

    Ironically, the epitaph on Boltzmann’s tomb was Gibbs probabilistic formulation of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (which is conceptually completely different from Boltzmann’s H theorem.)

    The big Bang is a conjecture which creates more issues than it resolves. And a conjecture can’t be used to falsify the 200 years of empirical evidence supporting the 2nd Law.

    The current low entropy of the Universe and the 2nd Law can however be used to question the validity of the Big Bang conjecture…

    As usually, Leif may be outstanding in his field, but when it comes to anything outside of his tunnel vision or physics, that’s where he belongs – out standing in a field.

  38. Agile Aspect says:

    tallbloke says:
    April 27, 2012 at 11:27 pm


  39. Wayne Job says:

    To Tallbloke and Lucy Sky Walker I too have tried to Temper Willis, it is a tad difficult. He is no doubt a free thinker, but he needs to be aimed at a target that his expertise will bear fruit. I have made a couple of suggestions but he ignores me. He made a good job of explaining how our tropics work as an imput thermostat. I asked him to explore the other four thermostats, the two temperate zones and the two polar zones. This would be right up his alley but no reply.