Proxy reconstruction of ultraviolet-B irradiance at the Earth’s surface, and its relationship with solar activity and ozone thickness

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Wesley T Fraser
  • William D Gosling
  • C Neil Roberts
  • Barry H Lomax

External organisations

  • University of Munster
  • Open University
  • Oxford Brookes University
  • University of Amsterdam
  • School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Plymouth, UK
  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Nottingham


Solar ultraviolet-B (UV-B) irradiance that reaches the Earth’s surface acts as a biotic stressor and has the potential to modify ecological and environmental functioning. The challenges of reconstructing UV irradiance prior to the satellite era mean that there is uncertainty over long-term surface UV-B patterns, especially in relation to variations in solar activity over centennial and millennial timescales. Here, we reconstruct surface UV-B irradiance over the last 650 years using a novel UV-B proxy based on the chemical signature of pollen grains. We demonstrate a statistically significant positive relationship between the abundance of UV-B absorbing compounds in Pinus pollen and modelled solar UV-B irradiance. These results show that trends in surface UV-B follow the overall solar activity pattern over centennial timescales, and that variations in solar output are the dominant control on surface level UV-B flux, rather than solar modulated changes in ozone thickness. The Pinus biochemical response demonstrated here confirms the potential for solar activity driven surface UV-B variations to impact upon terrestrial biotas and environments over long timescales.


Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Holocene
Early online date12 Sep 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Sep 2019


  • ozone, palaeoclimate, pollen, solar activity, ultraviolet-B irradiance, vegetation