Sunspots may disappear altogether in next cycle.
"We have some interesting hints that solar activity is associated with climate, but we don't understand the association," said Dean Pesnell, project scientist for NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).
(Radar - Gee whiz, fellas, when the sun is less active it gets colder. How hard is that to understand?)
Also, even if there is a climate link, Pesnell doesn't think another grand minimum is likely to trigger a cold snap.
"With what's happening in current times—we've added considerable amounts of carbon dioxide and methane and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere," said Pesnell, who wasn't involved in the suite of new sun studies.
(Radar - YOU don't think?! Good grief! Some of these guys need to be hit over the head with the evidence before they can think at all! Solar activity maps to climate back as far as our records go. CO2 is such a tiny fraction of the atmosphere that it has no impact and the most common "greenhouse gas" is water vapor. Should we tax the ocean?)
Sunspots are cool, dark blemishes visible on the sun's surface that indicate regions of intense magnetic activity.
For instance, 17th-century astronomers Galileo Galilei and Giovanni Cassini separately tracked sunspots and noticed a lack of activity during the Maunder Minimum.
In the 1800s scientists recognized that sunspots come and go on a regular cycle that lasts about 11 years. We're now in Solar Cycle 24, heading for a maximum in the sun's activity sometime in 2013.
Recently, the National Solar Observatory's Matt Penn and colleagues analyzed more than 13 years of sunspot data collected at the McMath-Pierce Telescope at Kitt Peak, Arizona.
They noticed a long-term trend of sunspot weakening, and if the trend continues, the sun's magnetic field won't be strong enough to produce sunspots during Solar Cycle 25, Penn and colleagues predict.
"The dark spots are getting brighter," Penn said today during a press briefing. Based on their data, the team predicts that, by the time it's over, the current solar cycle will have been "half as strong as Cycle 23, and the next cycle may have no sunspots at all."
(Related: "Sunspot Cycles—Deciphering the Butterfly Pattern.")
Sun's "Jet Streams," Coronal Rush Also Sluggish
Separately, the National Solar Observatory's Frank Hill and colleagues have been monitoring solar cycles via a technique called helioseismology. This method uses surface vibrations caused by acoustic waves inside the star to map interior structure.
Specifically, Hill and colleagues have been tracking buried "jet streams" encircling the sun called torsional oscillations. These bands of flowing material first appear near the sun's poles and migrate toward the equator. The bands are thought to play a role in generating the sun's magnetic field.
(Related: "Sunspot Delay Due to Sluggish Solar 'Jet Stream?'")
According to Hill, their data suggest that the start of Solar Cycle 25 may be delayed until 2022—about two years late—or the cycle may simply not happen.
Adding to the evidence, Richard Altrock, manager of the U.S. Air Force's coronal research program for the National Solar Observatory (NSO), has observed telltale changes in a magnetic phenomenon in the sun's corona—its faint upper atmosphere.
Known as the rush to the poles, the rapid poleward movement of magnetic features in the corona has been linked to an increase in sunspot activity, with a solar cycle hitting its maximum around the time the features reach about 76 degrees latitude north and south of the sun's equator.
The rush to the poles is also linked to the sun "sweeping away" the magnetic field associated with a given solar cycle, making way for a new magnetic field and a new round of sunspot activity.
This time, however, the rush to the poles is more of a crawl, which means we could be headed toward a very weak solar maximum in 2013—and it may delay or even prevent the start of the next solar cycle.
Quiet Sun Exciting for Science
Taken together, the three lines of evidence strongly hint that Solar Cycle 25 may be a bust, the scientists said today during a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
But a solar lull is no cause for alarm, NSO's Hill said: "It's happened before, and life seems to go on. I'm not concerned but excited."
(Radar - Sure, why get excited? The Thames might freeze over again and a few more feet of snowfall and a couple of extra months of winter never hurt anyone, right?)
In many ways a lack of magnetic activity is a boon for science. Strong solar storms can emit blasts of charged particles that interfere with radio communications, disrupt power grids, and can even put excess drag on orbiting satellites.
"Drag is important for people like me at NASA," SDO's Pesnell said, "because we like to keep our satellites in space."
What's more, a decrease in sunspots doesn't necessarily mean a drop in other solar features such as prominences, which can produce aurora-triggering coronal mass ejections. In fact, records show that auroras continued to appear on a regular basis even during the Maunder Minimum, Pesnell said.
(See "Solar Flare Sparks Biggest Eruption Ever Seen on Sun.")
Instead, he said, the unusual changes to the sun's activity cycles offer an unprecedented opportunity for scientists to test theories about how the sun makes and destroys its magnetic field.
"Right now we have so many sun-watching satellites and advanced ground-based observatories ready to spring into action," Pesnell said. "If the sun is going to do something different, this is a great time for it to happen."
It’s the Sun, stupid!
By Willie Soon, solar and climate scientist
5 Mar 09 – (Excerpts) "The amount and distribution of solar energy that we receive varies as the Earth revolves around the Sun and also in response to changes in the Sun’s activity. Scientists have now been studying solar influences on climate for 5000 years.
"Chinese imperial astronomers kept detailed sunspot records. They noticed that more sunspots meant warmer weather on Earth. In 1801, the celebrated astronomer William Herschel noticed that when there were few spots, the price of wheat soared – because, he surmised, less “light and heat” from the Sun resulted in reduced harvests.
The price of wheat soared! As I've been saying all along, I fear that
we'll be fighting in the streets for food long before we're covered by ice.
"Between 1645 and 1715, sunspots were very rare and temperatures were low. Then sunspot frequency grew until, between 1930 and 2000, the Sun was more active than at almost any time in the last 10,000 years. The oceans can cause up to several decades of delay before air temperatures respond fully to this solar “Grand Maximum.” Now that the Sun is becoming less active again, global temperatures have fallen for seven years.
More active than at almost any time in the last 10,000 years!
"We have known for nearly 80 years that small changes in solar activity can cause large climatic changes. Where sunlight falls, for how long, and with what effect, determine how climate will respond.
"The most recent scientific evidence shows that even small changes in solar radiation have a strong effect on Earth’s temperature and climate.
"In 2005, I demonstrated a surprisingly strong correlation between solar radiation and temperatures in the Arctic over the past 130 years. Since then, I have demonstrated similar correlations in all the regions surrounding the Arctic, including the US mainland and China.
"The close relationships between the abrupt ups and downs of solar activity and of temperature that I have identified occur locally in coastal Greenland; regionally in the Arctic Pacific and north Atlantic; and hemispherically for the whole circum-Arctic, suggesting that changes in solar activity drive Arctic and perhaps even global climate.
"There is no such match between the steady rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration and the often dramatic ups and downs of surface temperatures in and around the Arctic.
"I recently discovered direct evidence that changes in solar activity have influenced what has been called the “conveyor-belt” circulation of the great Atlantic Ocean currents over the past 240 years. For instance, solar-driven changes in temperature, and in the volume of freshwater output from the Arctic, cause variations in sea surface temperature in the tropical Atlantic 5-20 years later.
"These previously undocumented results have been published in the journal Physical Geography. They make it difficult to maintain that changes in solar activity play an insignificant role in climate change, especially over the Arctic.
"The evidence in my paper is consistent with the hypothesis that the Sun causes climatic change in the Arctic.
"It invalidates the hypothesis that CO2 is a major cause of observed climate change – and raises serious questions about the wisdom of imposing cap-and-trade or other policies that would cripple energy production and economic activity, in the name of “preventing catastrophic climate change.”
"Bill Clinton used to sum up politics by saying, “It’s the economy, stupid!” Now we can fairly sum up climate change by saying, “It’s the Sun, stupid!”
Willie Soon is a solar and climate scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center
for Astrophysics. This is his personal opinion based upon 18 years of scientific research.
See entire paper:
Thanks to Mike Kidd and Hans Schreuder for this link
The only good news about all this? Real scientists ought to own up to the truth that fossil fuels are not going to cause a global catastrophe, so we should drill and dig and get all the coal and gas and oil we can and use it to power our industry right now because, ten years from now, we might all be very dependent upon our good old furnaces to keep the cold out! A sound economy always drives new answers to old problems. Edison didn't need a government grant to build a light bulb. Newton didn't apply to the King of England for a salary to live on while he made his many discoveries.
So be carefree and go for it! Build those power plants! Drill for oil. Make stuff, load them up on big rigs and set those big boys out on the open road! When the rainy days come let's be rainy day people. When it snows? Build snowmen! We were on a warming cycle for awhile there but that is now receding into the past. Time to get ready for cooling and make sure your legislators understand that Manmade Global Warming is a scam not a science. It's an easy phrase to remember. Scam not science.