Solar Wind Control of the Earth's Electric Field

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Science  30 May 1980:
Vol. 208, Issue 4447, pp. 979-990
DOI: 10.1126/science.208.4447.979


The sun-weather problem is placed within an electrical framework subject to experimental investigation. An explanation is suggested for how solar variability modulates the earth's electric field. The solar wind velocity is inversely correlated with the electrical potential of the ionosphere, a measure of the overall intensity of the earth's fair-weather atmospheric electric field. In seeking a physical cause of this relationship, galactic cosmic radiation was studied and it was also found to be inversely correlated with solar wind velocity. Thus, the earth's electric field intensity which is maintained by worldwide thunderstorm currents—a meteorological phenomenon—varies in phase with cosmic radiation. Since cosmic radiation is the primary source of atmospheric ionization, these findings support a proposed mechanism in which solar control of ionizing radiation modulates atmospheric electrification and thus possibly cloud physical processes. If the latter occurred, atmospheric energetics would be affected. Sun-weather research need no longer only consist of statistical correlations; an experimental approach is described. Establishment of a proposed geoelectric index would add a new dimension to solar-terrestrial studies.