Journal to investigate controversial study claiming global temperature rise is due to Earth moving closer to Sun

Argument erupts after paper by UK scientists claims movement of Sun within solar system impacts temperatures on Earth

Harry Cockburn
Wednesday 17 July 2019 20:40 BST
Does the Earth get closer and further from the Sun as the star orbits the centre of mass in the solar system?
Does the Earth get closer and further from the Sun as the star orbits the centre of mass in the solar system? (Getty)

A highly respected science journal has said it will examine how it came to publish a study suggesting the climate crisis and rising temperatures around the world are the result of natural solar cycles and the Earth getting closer to the Sun.

The research, by four UK based academics from Northumbria University, the University of Bradford and the University of Hull, as well as the Nasir al-Din al-Tusi Shamakhi Astrophysical Observatory in Azerbaijan, was published in Scientific Reports.

However, it criticised by scientists for containing “very basic errors”.

The paper’s authors claimed the rise of global average temperatures by around 1C over the last two centuries could be largely due to a combination of cycles of solar activity, as well as the movement of the Sun around the centre of mass in our solar system, known as a barycentre.

This movement changes the distance between the Earth and the Sun at different times, the paper contended.

Over the next 600 years it said temperatures could expect to rise by 3C as a result of the phenomenon.

But physicists have cast doubt on the accuracy of the science, leading the journal to acknowledge the concerns.

Ken Rice of the University of Edinburgh, UK, told The New Scientist magazine that the team had made an “elementary” mistake about the movement of the Earth in relation to the Sun.

“It’s well known that the sun moves around the barycentre of the solar system due to the influence of the other solar system bodies, mainly Jupiter,” he said. “This does not mean, as the paper is claiming, that this then leads to changes in the distance between the Sun and the Earth.”

Professor Rice added: “The claim that we will see warming in the coming centuries because the sun will move closer to the Earth as it moves around the solar system barycentre is very simply wrong."

He urged the journal to withdraw the paper, saying it was "embarrassing" that the article was published at all.

In response to the concerns over the quality of the paper, lead author Valentina Zharkova told The New Scientist the links between warming and the natural cycles of the sun’s activity were enough to prove a pattern of warming, even without the additional impact of changing distances between the Sun and the Earth.

She said: “The close links between oscillations of solar baseline magnetic field, solar irradiance and temperature are established in our paper without any involvement of solar inertial motion.”

She also described Professor Rice as a “climate alarmist”, the magazine reported.

The findings of the paper had already been reported in The Australian – one of Australia’s biggest papers.

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Since the publication of the paper it has emerged Professor Zharkova gave a presentation to the Global Warming Policy Forum – a climate sceptic lobby group founded by former Tory chancellor Nigel Lawson.

The group’s stated aims are to challenge “extremely damaging and harmful policies” envisaged by governments to mitigate anthropogenic global warming.

The group has reproduced The Australian’s article on its website.

Scientific Reports told The New Scientist it had begun an “established process” to investigate the paper it has published.

“This process is ongoing and we cannot comment further at this stage,” a spokesperson said.

The paper remains live on the journal’s website.

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