Atmospheric data over a solar cycle: no connection between galactic cosmic rays and new particle formation
Aerosol particles affect the Earth's radiative balance by directly scattering and absorbing solar radiation and, indirectly, through their activation into cloud droplets. Both effects are known with considerable uncertainty only, and translate into even bigger uncertainties in future climate predictions. More than a decade ago, variations in galactic cosmic rays were suggested to closely correlate with variations in atmospheric cloud cover and therefore constitute a driving force behind aerosol-cloud-climate interactions. Later, the enhancement of atmospheric aerosol particle formation by ions generated from cosmic rays was proposed as a physical mechanism explaining this correlation. Here, we report unique observations on atmospheric aerosol formation based on measurements at the SMEAR II station, Finland, over a solar cycle (years 1996–2008) that shed new light on these presumed relationships. Our analysis shows that none of the quantities related to aerosol formation correlates with the cosmic ray-induced ionisation intensity (CRII). We also examined the contribution of ions to new particle formation on the basis of novel ground-based and airborne observations. A consistent result is that ion-induced formation contributes typically significantly less than 10% to the number of new particles, which would explain the missing correlation between CRII and aerosol formation. Our main conclusion is that galactic cosmic rays appear to play a minor role for atmospheric aerosol formation events, and so for the connected aerosol-climate effects as well.