ore then, in order to assess how sunspots and faculae affect the Sun’s brightness. Data collected from radiometers on U.S. and European spacecraft show that the Sun is about 0.07 percent brighter in years of peak sunspot activity, such as around 2000, than when spots are rare (as they are now, at the low end of the 11-year solar cycle). Variations of this magnitude are too small to have contributed appreciably to the accelerated global warming observed since the mid-1970s, according to the study, and there is no sign of a net increase in brightness over the period.
To assess the period before 1978, the authors used historical records of sunspot activity and examined radioisotopes produced in Earth's atmosphere and recorded in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. During periods of high solar activity, the enhanced solar wind shields Earth from cosmic rays that produce the isotopes, thus giving scientists a record of the activity.
The authors used a blend of seven recent reconstructions of Northern Hemisphere temperature over the past millennium to test the effects of long-term changes in brightness. They then assessed how much the changes in solar brightness produced by sunspots and faculae (as measured by the sunspot and radioisotope data) might have affected temperature. Even though sunspots and faculae have increased over the last 400 years, these phenomena explain only a small fraction of global warming over the period, according to the authors.
Indirect evidence has suggested that there may be changes in solar brightness, over periods of centuries, beyond changes associated with sunspot numbers. However, the authors conclude on theoretical grounds that these additional low-frequency changes are unlikely.
'There is no plausible physical cause for long-term changes in solar brightness other than changes caused by sunspots and faculae,' says Wigley.
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