The Sun is Acting Strangely

History of sunspot number observations showing...
History of sunspot number observations showing the recent elevated activity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Glenn Reynolds linked to this story at about the puzzling behavior of the Sun. I wrote something about the worrisome lack of solar activity since the last cycle almost two years ago and it does not look as if things are getting any better. The Sun ought to be approaching the maximum point of its eleven year cycle but so far this maximum has not amounted to vary much.


“Robert Lee Hotz reports in the WSJ that current solar activity is stranger than it has been in a century or more. The sun is producing barely half the number of sunspots as expected, and its magnetic poles are oddly out of sync. Based on historical records, astronomers say the sun this fall ought to be nearing the explosive climax of its approximate 11-year cycle of activity—the so-called solar maximum. But this peak is ‘a total punk,’ says Jonathan Cirtain. ‘I would say it is the weakest in 200 years,’ adds David Hathaway, head of the solar physics group at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Researchers are puzzled. They can’t tell if the lull is temporary or the onset of a decades-long decline, which might ease global warming a bit by altering the sun’s brightness or the wavelengths of its light. To complicate the riddle, the sun also is undergoing one of its oddest magnetic reversals on record, with the sun’s magnetic poles out of sync for the past year so the sun technically has two South Poles. Several solar scientists speculate that the sun may be returning to a more relaxed state after an era of unusually high activity that started in the 1940s (PDF). ‘More than half of solar physicists would say we are returning to a norm,’ says Mark Miesch. ‘We might be in for a longer state of suppressed activity.’ If so, the decline in magnetic activity could ease global warming, the scientists say. But such a subtle change in the sun—lowering its luminosity by about 0.1%—wouldn’t be enough to outweigh the build-up of greenhouse gases and soot that most researchers consider the main cause of rising world temperatures over the past century or so. ‘Given our current understanding of how the sun varies and how climate responds, were the sun to enter a new Maunder Minimum, it would not mean a new Little Ice Age,’ says Judith Lean. ‘It would simply slow down the current warming by a modest amount.'”


I’m worried. We could be in for another Little Ice Age, which really wouldn’t be much fun at all. Wouldn’t be ironic, though, if all the carbon dioxide we are emitting was the only thing keeping the glaciers from moving south again? I think I read a science fiction book about that once.




Cycle 25

Just when it seems that the global warming hysteria is finally dying down, we have a new catastrophe to worry about, global cooling and a possible new ice age. Or so I read in this article from the Daily Mail.

The supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming is facing an inconvenient challenge after the release of new temperature data showing the planet has not warmed for the past 15 years.

The figures suggest that we could even be heading for a mini ice age to rival the 70-year temperature drop that saw frost fairs held on the Thames in the 17th Century.

Based on readings from more than 30,000 measuring stations, the data was issued last week without fanfare by the Met Office and the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit. It confirms that the rising trend in world temperatures ended in 1997.

Meanwhile, leading climate scientists yesterday told The Mail on Sunday that, after emitting unusually high levels of energy throughout the 20th Century, the sun is now heading towards a ‘grand minimum’ in its output, threatening cold summers, bitter winters and a shortening of the season available for growing food.

Solar output goes through 11-year cycles, with high numbers of sunspots seen at their peak.

We are now at what should be the peak of what scientists call ‘Cycle 24’ – which is why last week’s solar storm resulted in sightings of the aurora borealis further south than usual. But sunspot numbers are running at less than half those seen during cycle peaks in the 20th Century.

Analysis by experts at NASA and the University of Arizona – derived from magnetic-field measurements 120,000 miles beneath the sun’s surface – suggest that Cycle 25, whose peak is due in 2022, will be a great deal weaker still.

According to a paper issued last week by the Met Office, there is a  92 per cent chance that both Cycle 25 and those taking place in the following decades will be as weak as, or weaker than, the ‘Dalton minimum’ of 1790 to 1830. In this period, named after the meteorologist John Dalton, average temperatures in parts of Europe fell by 2C.

However, it is also possible that the new solar energy slump could be as deep as the ‘Maunder minimum’ (after astronomer Edward Maunder), between 1645 and 1715 in the coldest part of the ‘Little Ice Age’ when, as well as the Thames frost fairs, the canals of Holland froze solid.

Global cooling, with a loss of agricultural productivity, would be worse than global warming, which might be beneficial. The problem with this sort of calamity is it is natural so there is little need for carbon trading schemes or international conferences. In fact, one might suspect, though some of the researchers mentioned try their best to deny it, that nature, especially that big ball of gas 93 million miles away,  plays a far greater role in climate change than humanity could hope to have.

There is more to the article. I would like to copy these graphs. I hope they don’t mind.

I think I am going to go outside and emit some greenhouse gases.

More on the Solar Storm

There are some pictures of the active region at as well as some information here and here.

I hope they don’t mind if I use this picture, but I thought it was interesting.

See how small the Earth is compared to a sunspot.

Here is a picture of the whole region.

And a warning.

That region is pretty feisty, and the odds of us getting more flares from those spots are pretty good. The Sun’s rotation is currently taking them toward the center of the disk, where a good sized explosion is then directed toward us, and particle waves from the blast can then interact more efficiently with our magnetic field. We may be getting aurorae from them, and if things go well that’s all we’ll get! A big blast can damage satellites, and even put astronauts on the ISS at risk. We on the ground are pretty safe, since the Earth’s air absorbs the radiation — that’s why we have to launch satellites like SDO into space, so they can detect that energy in the first place!

However, a big blast can shake the Earth’s magnetic field, inducing a current in the ground that can actually overload power lines. We can get blackouts from such things, and it’s happened before. This is a real problem that can do millions or even billions of dollars of infrastructure damage (including money in the economy lost during the blackout). I know a lot of solar physicists are concerned about this eventuality, and are trying to get both the power companies and the government to take it seriously. I hope they do. We’re still approaching the peak of the solar cycle sometime in mid-2013 or so, and flares like the one Saturday will most likely be more common.

Although, I am actually glad the Sun is getting more active. There were practically no sunspots during the period known as the Maunder Minimum, from 1645-1715, which coincided with the Little Ice Age. This last solar cycle, the Sun seemed to be a little too quiet and there was some speculation that we might be entering into another minimum.

Here is a chart of sunspot activity over the last few centuries. It is probably a better indicator of global climate changes than human carbon emissions, but don’t tell Al Gore that.


An Ice Age?

From Hot Air. Apparently more scientists are concerned that a decrease in solar sunspot activity could cause the Earth to grow colder. The last such extended period was the Mauder Minimum, which lasted from about 1645-1715 and coincides with the Little Ice Age.

According to three studies released in the United States on Tuesday, experts believe the familiar sunspot cycle may be shutting down and heading toward a pattern of inactivity unseen since the 17th century.

The signs include a missing jet stream, fading spots, and slower activity near the poles, said experts from the National Solar Observatory and Air Force Research Laboratory.

‘This is highly unusual and unexpected,’ said Frank Hill, associate director of the NSO’s Solar Synoptic Network.

‘But the fact that three completely different views of the Sun point in the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation.’

So now we should put all the carbon we can in the air, or maybe not.

Don’t buy your mukluks for Florida just yet.  This is still a hypothesis, not yet an immutable fact.  The NSO and USAFRL still needs to conduct research to see whether a new Maunder Minimum will come, or if this sunspot cycle has just hiccuped. (NASA notes in a sentence that The Register didn’t include that “The connection between solar activity and terrestrial climate is an area of on-going research.”)  That will take at least a couple of years to see what direction solar activity takes and what its impact on global temperatures might be, so no one should rush into policy “solutions” for climate in either direction.  Of course, this is also good advice for AGW hysterics who have been predicting the end of the world in the other direction for 20 years, and whose predictions have so far all failed to materialize.

Of course, if those AGW advocates suddenly convert to Maunder Minimists, why do I have the sneaking suspicion that the same solutions — central control of energy production and usage, elimination of fossil fuels — will be pushed?

I’m sure they any solution they come up with will involve them telling us how to live.