The solar radiation is the fundamental source of energy that drives the Earth's climate and sustains life. The variability of this output certainly affects our planet. In the last two decades an enormous advance in the understanding of the variability of the solar irradiance has been achieved. Space-based measurements indicate that the total solar irradiance changes at various time scales, from minutes to the solar cycle. Climate models show that total solar irradiance variations can account for a considerable part of the temperature variation of the Earth's atmosphere in the pre-industrial era. During the 20th century its relative influence on the temperature changes has descended considerably. This means that other sources of solar activity as well as internal and man-made causes are contributing to the Earth's temperature variability, particularly the former in the 20th century. Some very challenging questions concerning total solar irradiance variations and climate have been raised: are total solar irradiance variations from cycle to cycle well represented by sunspot and facular changes? Does total solar irradiance variations always parallel the solar activity cycle? Is there a long-term variation of the total solar irradiance, and closely related to this, is the total solar irradiance output of the quiet sun constant? If there is not a long-term trend of total solar irradiance variations, then we need amplifying mechanisms of total solar irradiance to account for the good correlations found between total solar irradiance and climate. The latter because the observed total solar irradiance changes are inconsequential when introduced in present climate models. (c) 2005 COSPAR. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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