Solar Irradiance

Solar Irradiance & Disasters

By: Saumitra Mukherjee, The author is a Professor, School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Global changes due to the influence of extraterrestrial phenomena can be studied by using various satellite based information. An attempt is made in this article to understand the influence of such changes as a cumulative factor to predict some of the natural disasters which would make disaster management more effective.
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High resolution satellite data in integration with other Earth science data has the potential to predict disasters and evolve methodologies for preparedness. Terrestrial factors, such as plate movements as well as extraterrestrial changes of the Sun and Earth’s environment are responsible for global changes (Mukherjee, 2006). Satellite based observations show that periodic monitoring from space may be useful to monitor anthropogenic, terrestrial as well as extraterrestrial changes. A few case studies enumerated below testify that natural disaster research needs a predictive model with inputs from spatial platforms.

Solar Irradiance | Kedarnath Disaster

Climate change manifestations can be seen in the 2013 disaster in Kedarnath. Influence of the sun along with anthropogenic activities may be responsible for the catastrophe. Steep rise in solar proton flux for 12 days (May 15-26, 2013) had been recorded by Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite (Mukherjee, 2014). In the space-weather between the sun and the earth the heat transfer took 20 days and 6 hours to initiate the cloudburst in Kedarnath. During the same period the cosmic ray intensity was recorded at an all time high in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Prior to cloudburst in the Kedarnath area, the abnormal rise of the atmospheric temperature heated the upper part of the atmosphere in the proximity of Uttarakhand. Consequently, an anomalous rise in cosmic rays was recorded. Changes in ionisation affected the abundant aerosols present in the atmosphere that served as the nuclei for cloud formation. Rise in cosmic rays were instrumental in cloud condensation leading to the cloudburst over Kedarnath. Cloudbursts represent one of the strongest and most destructive disasters which, beside considerable losses, lead to many casualties.

A solar storm occurs when protons are emitted by the Sun during a solar flare. Unusual proton flux has shown the potential to excite the magnetic field and preferred alignment of protons along that line, exhibiting a geospatially aligned heating on Earth. I propose a hypothesis, being postulated for the first time, on the mechanism of heat transfer from a charged proton to the upper and lower atmosphere of the earth, based on its possible magnetic alignment over the Kedarnath area. Large reduction of solar proton induced heat radiation at the Earth’s surface lowers atmospheric warming, increases atmospheric stability and slows down hydrological cycle and reduces rainfall during monsoon, while increased solar proton can reverse the mechanism. Near the Uttarakhand-China border the SO rich aerosol presence before the cloudburst further proves this hypothesis (Mukherjee, 2014).

The hypothesis provides new insights into the influence of the Sun and anthropogenic activities on cloudburst as the manifestation of climate change. The model is a radical departure from previous thought, but is consistent with existing observations and warrants testing in future studies.

Earthquakes Precursors

Various types of earthquake lights have been reported before, during and after severe earthquakes. Earthquake lights have been reported before Matsushiro swarms (central Japan) during 1965-67. Also, during the Pattan earthquake (Pakistan) of December 1974, forest officers and doctors far away from the earthquake epicenter observed earthquake lights in the sky (Enomoto et al., 2017; Mukherjee, 2009). Before the occurrence of Jabalpur earthquake (India), 1997, a light was also seen in the sky (Jain et al., 1997). Experiments have been conducted at the University of Western Ontario, London (Canada) to understand the possible mechanism of earthquake lights where it was suggested that adsorption of water could be thought of as a source of energy (Mukherjee, 2009). However, this theory proved to be inadequate to explain the occurrence of light from the sky.

Occurrence of lights during earthquakes may be explained by the sunspot activities during solar maximum. The Earth has a magnetic field with north and south poles. The magnetosphere prevents most of the particles from the sun, carried in solar wind from hitting the earth. Some particles from the solar wind, however, can enter the magnetosphere and are forced by the magnetic field to move around the earth. Several times a day, the magnetosphere undergoes a disturbance called a sub storm. As the sub storm grows, most of the solar wind energy is dissipated within the magnetosphere, ionosphere and upper atmosphere producing auroras. The waves and currents often result in problems with communications, power supplies and spacecraft electronics.

Before the occurrence of catastrophic Kutch earthquake in January 26, 2001, IMAGE spacecraft captured an invisible magnetic tail over Gujarat (Mukherjee, 2008). This is a major precursor of an earthquake. A sudden rise in electron flux was observed and recorded 36 hours before the earthquake. This phenomenon has been observed in various parts of the Earth 36 to 24 hours before earthquake occurrence. In fact a total of 65 earthquakes reportedly occurred on January 26, 2001 (the National Earthquake Information Centre of the United States Geological Survey records that globally, on an average, about 55 earthquakes occur daily). Earth directed coronal mass ejection produced a suspected invisible tail of electrified gas. IMAGE spacecraft spotted the tail, which streams from Earth towards the Sun (Beasley and Steigerwald, 2001). It may be interesting to observe the relationship between earthquakes globally, estimated planetary K (Kp) indices, electron and X-ray flux.

Air Pollution and Solar Eclipse

The effects of a total solar eclipse were observed in China on July 23, 2009—which was recorded by the SOHO satellite—showing a direct correlation between cosmic ray intensity, heliophysical and atmospheric variation during a solar eclipse.

Atmospheric parameters such as cloud cover, SO2 and NO2 and aerosol concentration in the air of China and its surrounding areas showed the formation of condensation centers and a change in transparency and temperature of the atmosphere too. A gradual increase in the concentration of aerosol, cloud cover and cloud density was recorded from July 20-23, especially in the regions over Guangzhou, Hong Kong and North Korea. During the same period, a slow rise in NO2 was recorded.

Thus, the observational data suggests that episodic change in the Sun may influence terrestrial climate. Direct correlation of cosmic ray intensity and electron flux in Sun-Earth environment has been done with the aerosol, cloud cover, NO2 and SO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. It will be essential to monitor the global cosmic ray intensity in different locations of the earth along with the variation of electron flux on regular basis to correlate the aerosol, cloud cover, NO2 and SO2 concentration to comprehensively understand atmospheric changes and pollution over space and time.


There is an overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest that solar storm events, during which an unusually high number of protons are emitted by the Sun, are likely to result in (temporary) changes in the magnetic field of the earth. Using satellite data to study solar activity may therefore prove effective in predicting disasters such as earthquakes, cloudbursts and more. However, research on solar irradiance, solar flares or periods of solar inactivity remains a niche area, in need of further probing.


Beasley D. and B. Steigerwald, 2001. NASA’s Image Reveals Earth’s Invisible Magnetic Tail, NASA Space News, January 8.

Enomoto Y., T. Yamabe and N. Okumura, 2017. Causal mechanisms of seismo-EM phenomena during the 1965–1967 Matsushiro earthquake swarm, Scientific Reports, 7, DOI: 10.1038/srep44774

Jain S. K., C. V. R. Murthy, J. N. Arlekar, R. Sinha, A. Goyal and C. K. Jain, 1997. Some Observations on Engineering Aspects of the Jabalpur Earthquake of 22 May 1997, EERI Special Earthquake Report: EERI Newsletter, 32(2).

Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado, 2003. Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment: Total Solar Irradiance Data, Available at:

Mukherjee S., 2014. Extra Terrestrial Remote Sensing and Geophysical Applications to Understand Kedarnath Cloudburst in Uttarakhand, India, Journal of Remote Sensing & GIS, 3(3).

Mukherjee S., 2009. Sun-Earth-cosmic connection to understand early warning of Earthquakes, Earth Science India¸ 2: 83-93.

Mukherjee S., 2008. Cosmic Influence on the Sun-Earth Environment, Sensors, 8(12): 7736–7752 .

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