The sun has been very quiet, with a decreasing number of sunspots and flarings since January 2002, and predictions of a return to the higher cycle seen at the end of the 20th century have not verified. But there have been some recent signs of increased sunspots as of early to mid June, but it's too soon to tell if it will prove meaningful.
The calm on the surface of the sun ultimately will have some say in the course of weather across the Earth. For one, if the sunspot pattern does not revitalize soon, and continues for the next few months or years, it is conceivable that a more volatile pattern of trough formation and cold intrusions could occur, with the polar ice caps undergoing some growth and global sea surface temperatures less prone to rise in critical areas.
For instance, with an emerging El Nino the lack of solar energy influx may provide a critical boost of equatorial SSTs from going into the "strong" +ENSO designation. A weak to moderate El Nino episode, against what appears to be a neutral PDO configuration, may mean better capacity for -EPO and +PNA ridge development against an invigorated storm track running close to 30 N Latitude.
That, in combination with better-organized snow and ice fields in northern Canada, may well mean that the character of the upcoming autumn and winter could be far different (yes, longer-lasting and more frequent cold advection cases) than the past three NDJFM periods. The sun has been very quiet, with a decreasing number of sunspots and flarings since January 2002.
An active sun outputs a little more energy, more ultraviolet, which cause warming in the atmosphere through ozone chemistry, and through the diffusion of galactic cosmic rays, which normally cause increased low clouds through ion-mediated nucleation. Fewer cosmic rays mean fewer clouds, more sun. The opposite happens when the sun is quiet as it has been the last few years.
The sun has become more active so far in June with cycles 24 spots in middle latitudes.
This has been an unusual cycle. In 2003 and as late as 2006, NASA was expecting a start to the new cycle in December 2006 and a big cycle 24 peaking in 2010 or 2011. In subsequent releases by NASA, the new cycle was pushed back and estimates for the amplitude decreased.
On Sept. 23, 2008, in a briefing at NASA headquarters, solar physicists announced that the solar wind is losing power. "The average pressure of the solar wind has dropped more than 20% since the mid-1990s," says Dave McComas of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. "This is the weakest it's been since we began monitoring solar wind almost 50 years ago."
This activity came late enough in the month of May, to keep the monthly number for May below the value of 14 months ago of 3.2 that it is replacing in the 13-month running mean. That means the solar cycle minimum can’t be earlier than November 2008, making it at least a 12.5 year long cycle 23. This is about two years later than the early estimates of the solar minimum.
The value needs to fall below 3.4 in June to move the minimum to December. That is still possible if the sunspot group continues to decay as most have done as they crossed the disk in recent months. If it stays below that value, we will likely see the solar minimum in December 2008 as 14 months before that the sun was very quiet with just a sunspot number of 0.5. If not, the minimum will be November.
We added 22 more sun spotless days to the total for this cycle transition, which as of June 1 had now reached an amazing 614 days. We are likely to add additional days and add 2009 to 2007 and 2008 as recent years in the top ten since 1900. Only the early 1900s had a similar 3-year stretch of high sunspot days (1911, 1912, and 1913).
It also marks the longest cycle in 150 years, tying the one that peaked in 1848. You have to go back to the Dalton minimum in 1816 to find a longer cycle 12.7 years. In 3 of the 5 most recent cycles, the sun had rebounded significantly by years 12 and 13 well into the next cycle.
Theodore Landscheidt in New Ice Age Instead of Global Warming warned the decline could continue in solar activity until a Maunder Minimum like level was reached about 2030.
The Russians appear to agree. Khabibullo Abdusamatov of the Russian Academy of Science said he and his colleagues had concluded that a period of global cooling similar to one seen in the late 17th century - when canals froze in the Netherlands and people had to leave their dwellings in Greenland - could start in 2012-2015 and reach its peak in 2055-2060.
The late Rhodes Fairbridge of Columbia University had found with the help of NASA and the JPL, every 179 years or so, the sun embarks on a new cycle of orbits. One of the cooler periods in recent centuries was the Little Ice Age of the 17th century, when the Thames River in London froze over each winter. The next cool period, if the pattern holds, began in 1996, with the effects to be felt starting in 2010. Some predict three decades of severe cold..
Clilverd et al (2006) in a paper “Predicting Solar Cycle 24 and Beyond” found by using an harmonic analysis of the multiple cycle frequencies of solar cycles in a model that correctly has caught the activity the past 250 years with a sunspot number standard deviation of 34. Their analysis suggest cycles 24 and 25 will be the lowest (quietest and thus coolest) in nearly 200 years. The two cycles should be like those of the Dalton Minimum.
Much will be learned the next 5-15 years if the solar cycle decline with cooling temperatures continues. Past studies have shown that sunspot numbers correspond to warming or cooling trends. The twentieth century has featured heightened activity, indicating a warming trend.
Solar activity has shown a major spike in the twentieth century, corresponding to global warming. This cyclic variation was acknowledged by a recent NASA study, which reviewed a great deal of past climate data. The report indicates solar cycles have been impacting Earth since the Industrial Revolution.
Some researchers believe that the solar cycle influences global climate changes. They attribute recent warming trends to cyclic variation. Skeptics, though, argue that there's little hard evidence of a solar hand in recent climate changes.
A new research study from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland looking at climate data over the past century has concluded that solar variation has made a significant impact on the Earth's climate. The report concludes that evidence for climate changes based on solar radiation can be traced back as far as the Industrial Revolution.
Past research has shown that the sun goes through eleven-year cycles. At the cycle's peak, solar activity occurring near sunspots is particularly intense, basking the Earth in solar heat. According to Robert Cahalan, a climatologist at the Goddard Space Flight Center, "Right now, we are in between major ice ages, in a period that has been called the Holocene."
Thomas Woods, solar scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder concludes, "The fluctuations in the solar cycle impacts Earth's global temperature by about 0.1 degree Celsius, slightly hotter during solar maximum and cooler during solar minimum. The sun is currently at its minimum, and the next solar maximum is expected in 2012."
According to the study, during periods of solar quiet, 1,361 watts per square meter of solar energy reaches Earth's outermost atmosphere. Periods of more intense activity brought 1.3 watts per square meter (0.1 percent) more energy.
While the NASA study acknowledged the sun's influence on warming and cooling patterns, however it concluded that man had replaced the sun as the primary cause of current warming patterns.
NASA's own new study acknowledges that solar variation has caused climate change in the past. I don’t know any scientists who disagree with that fact. And even the study's members, mostly ardent supports of AGW theory, acknowledge that the sun may play a significant role in future climate changes. Peer reviewed papers are necessary since it allows the two sides to debate the science and not the politics. Both sides claim flaws in the others methods and/or data. This ongoing process is healthy, as I doubt either side has all the answers. As I said in my global warming position paper a few years ago, we may not have to wait more than 10-15 years for indications of which side is right, the AGW side or the sun and ocean side. Both have made predictions, time will tell.
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