S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

The Sun’s Energy


The folderol re global warming, i.e. climate change, focuses, on-the-whole, on man’s pollution of the atmospheric.  I would suggest that this notion is misguided.  All energy and life on our planet emanates from the sun—a cauldron of nuclear fusion (H-bombs).  Let’s explore how much of the sun’s energy reaches the earth—93 millions-miles distant.

Astrophysicists calculate that our sun fuses 620 metric-tons of Hydrogen per second—an amount of energy beyond our imagination.  Of this gigantic energy flow, approximately 4.0 exajoules per year reach our earth.   Translating this number into everyday language, it’s a 4 followed by 18 zeros—a number so large that it has almost no meaning to the everyday citizen.

Let’s define a “joule.”  It is the amount of work (i.e. energy) required to produce one Watt of power in one second—that is, one Watt-second.  We’re familiar with the term “Watt”: a 60-Watt light bulb, for example, and we have a notion of the amount of light and heat it produces—it’s energy output.

Skipping lots of mumbo-jumbo mathematics, I would estimate that each square foot of our planet gets about 5 Watt-hours of the sun’s energy per day.  And that dear reader, is lots and lots of energy.  You may well ask, “What’s this got to do with global warming.”

This energy from the sun heats our plant and the oceans—which cover about 71 percent of the earth’s surface.  Variations in this heating, caused by sun flares, and other changes, precipitate variations in the earth’s world climate.  Let’s explore just two of the resulting phenomena. Changes in the Pacific Ocean’s water temperature produce two significant weather events: El niño and La niña.

El Niño, briefly, is the unusual and prolonged warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean’s surface temperature.  Such warming causes weather changes world-wide: for example, it diverts the prevailing direction of the Easterlies, generates monsoons in Asia, and warming in Latin America.  In the northern states of the USA, its effect in the winter is warmer and dryer weather and less snow.  In the southwestern and southeastern states, the weather is cooler and wetter.

La niña, briefly, is the cooling of the water that causes the trade winds in the eastern Pacific to intensify and cold upwelling along the equator and the west coast of South America, and for the trade winds to intensify.  Sea surface temperatures along the equator can fall as much as seven degrees Fahrenheit below normal.  In the USA, the result is above-average precipitation and cooler weather in the northern states.  In the southwest and southeast states it’s warmer than normal and there is less precipitation, and there’s an above average chances for hurricanes in the Atlantic and typhoons in the Pacific.

Accordingly, I would posit that man-made atmospheric pollution has near insignificance in global warming—if there is such an unnatural condition.  It is variations in the sun’s massive energy that bathes our planet that causes abnormal wet and cool weather, and dry and warm conditions.


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