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Is the Sun Missing Its Spots? July 21, 2009

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Is the Sun Missing Its Spots?

The New York Times, July 20, 2009


NASA
SUN GAZING These photos show sunspots near solar maximum on July 19, 2000, and near solar minimum on March 18, 2009. Some global warming skeptics speculate that the Sun may be on the verge of an extended slumber.

The Sun is still blank (mostly).

Ever since Samuel Heinrich Schwabe, a German astronomer, first noted in 1843 that sunspots burgeon and wane over a roughly 11-year cycle, scientists have carefully watched the Sun’s activity. In the latest lull, the Sun should have reached its calmest, least pockmarked state last fall.

Indeed, last year marked the blankest year of the Sun in the last half-century — 266 days with not a single sunspot visible from Earth. Then, in the first four months of 2009, the Sun became even more blank, the pace of sunspots slowing more.

“It’s been as dead as a doornail,” David Hathaway, a solar physicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said a couple of months ago.

The Sun perked up in June and July, with a sizeable clump of 20 sunspots earlier this month.

Now it is blank again, consistent with expectations that this solar cycle will be smaller and calmer, and the maximum of activity, expected to arrive in May 2013 will not be all that maximum.

For operators of satellites and power grids, that is good news. The same roiling magnetic fields that generate sunspot blotches also accelerate a devastating rain of particles that can overload and wreck electronic equipment in orbit or on Earth.

A panel of 12 scientists assembled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now predicts that the May 2013 peak will average 90 sunspots during that month. That would make it the weakest solar maximum since 1928, which peaked at 78 sunspots. During an average solar maximum, the Sun is covered with an average of 120 sunspots.

But the panel’s consensus “was not a unanimous decision,” said Douglas A. Biesecker, chairman of the panel. One member still believed the cycle would roar to life while others thought the maximum would peter out at only 70.

Among some global warming skeptics, there is speculation that the Sun may be on the verge of falling into an extended slumber similar to the so-called Maunder Minimum, several sunspot-scarce decades during the 17th and 18th centuries that coincided with an extended chilly period.

Most solar physicists do not think anything that odd is going on with the Sun. With the recent burst of sunspots, “I don’t see we’re going into that,” Dr. Hathaway said last week.

Read the rest here

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Some Documented Solar Influences on Weather July 15, 2009

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Some Documented Solar Influences on Weather

By Joseph D’Aleo, AMS Fellow, CCM
Via ICECAP, Jul 14, 2009

In a number of posts this last year, we have addressed the unusually long and quiet solar cycles. A few weeks back, we noted the sunspot minimum seemed at hand as the month of June started with a series of cycle 24 sunspots and it appeared we would exceed the monthly sunspot number of 3.3 necessary to make the sunspot minimum (the lowest value in 13 month average) November 2008.

Well June despite numerous other small microdots characteristic of this cycle ended up with a monthly average of 2.6 which allowed December to drop from the 1.8 to 1.7 making December the earliest candidate for solar minimum.  July would have to average below 3.5 in order for the minimum to move to January. It is unlikely to move to February as the month August would have to average below 0.5, the number in the month it will replace.

December had a 13 month average sunspot number of 1.7. Only three minima since 1750 had official minima below 1.7 (1913 1.5, 1810 0, 1823 0.1). Of course modern measurement technologies are better than older technologies so there is some uncertainty as to whether microdots back then would have been seen.

In a post Mt, Redoubt, a Quiet Sun and Your Morning Coffee, we showed how the solar cycle seems to have an influence on world production and spot market prices of coffee likely by influencing weather in the tropical growing areas. This year it may be enhanced by a developing El Nino which has similar results (all three favor an erratic monsoon season). Of course, the clueless Heidi Cullen no longer with The Weather Channel has already blamed that on global warming. We (WSI) have forecast that monsoon disruption for our ag clients since April with affects on coffee, rice, and cotton.

SOME OTHER INFLUENCES

ARGENTINA DROUGHT

Lower solar activity has a significant correlation with drought in Argentina. The last two years have seen a devastating drought in that country with major impact on winter wheat, corn and beans.  This year’s drought is expected to produce lowest winter wheat yields in two decades. You can see the drought reflected in the satellite derived vegetation index (NDVI) (Source USDA Spot NDVI) which is a measure of the health of vegetation. The recent NDVI for South America is shown below. Note how the drought has extended into southern Brazil at times (Rio Grande do Sul) although recent rains have helped recharge soil moisture there. You can compare the NDVI with the correlation of precipitation rate with solar flux (Source NOAA CDC).

image
Larger table here.

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Larger image here.

SOUTH AFRICAN RAINFALL

Hydrologist Dr. Will Alexander found in a multi-author study in the Journal of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering, a strong correlation of rainfall and river flow in the Vaal River. He showed a deficit in the three years leading up the minimum and heavy rainfall in the three years following.

image
Larger table here.

In all but one sequence (Vaal River 1965/66, data not available), the three-year totals after the minima of both river flow and sunspot numbers, are substantially greater than the three-year totals before the minima. This information demonstrates the close association between major variations in river flow and corresponding variations in sunspot activity, with a high degree of confidence.

There are several interesting features in this table. There is an almost three-fold, sudden increase in the annual flows in the Vaal River from the three previous years to the three subsequent years. This is directly associated with a six-fold increase in sunspot numbers. The second important point is the consistency in the range of sunspot numbers before and after the reversal. The totals for the three prior years varied between 25 and 60, and the totals of the three immediately subsequent years varied between 250 and 400. It is very clear that these are systematic changes associated with the sunspot minima, and are not random events. (Journal of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering – Volume 49 Number 2 June 2007)

Given this study, one should expect the upcoming three years to be wet as we come off the protracted minimum although perhaps not as wet as some periods if the upcoming cycle is a dud. See much more with correlations with the upper atmosphere and with high latitude blocking (the arctic oscillation has been the lowest of the recent record for the June to mid-July period) in the full post here. Next week’s post is on the El Nino, now official (preview here).

The cool weather has even had an effect on potato and tomato gardens from Ohio to New England.

Sunspot numbers for June 2009 July 5, 2009

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Sunspot numbers for June 2009

Source

Month 2008 2009
Jan 3.3 1.5
Feb 2.1 1.4
Mar 9.3 0.7
Apr 2.9 1.2
May 3.2 2.9
Jun 3.4 2.6
Jul 0.8
Aug 0.5
Sep 1.1
Oct 2.9
Nov 4.1
Dec 0.8

David Archibald on – The State of the Sun – 16th June, 2009 June 20, 2009

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David Archibald on – The State of the Sun – 16th June, 2009

June 16th, 2009 by Warwick Hughes

The Ap Index is heading down sharply.
Ap time series
The F10.7 flux is flatlining. Note that the volatility has gone out of it
F10.7 flux
The rate of decline of the heliospheric current sheet suggests that the month of solar minimum may be still a year off.
heliospheric current sheet  time series
Like the Ap Index, the Interplanetary Magnetic Field recently headed down sharply.
Interplanetary Magnetic Field
The Oulu neutron count is trending up steeply. If the month of solar minimum is still a year off, the neutron count can be expected to continue rising for another two years.
Oulu neutron count
Solar wind flow pressure is going to new lows.
Solar wind flow pressure
Summary
The Sun has gone very quiet and several indicators of activity are still heading down. Solar Cycle 23 may end up being 14 years long. Solar activity modelling that I have recently become aware of suggests that the Sun will have very low activity until 2016.

Sunspot numbers for May 2009 June 5, 2009

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Sunspot numbers for May 2009

Source

Month 2008 2009
Jan 3.3 1.5
Feb 2.1 1.4
Mar 9.3 0.7
Apr 2.9 1.2
May 3.2 2.9
Jun 3.4
Jul 0.8
Aug 0.5
Sep 1.1
Oct 2.9
Nov 4.1
Dec 0.8

BBC News: Scientists blame sun for global warming May 30, 2009

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1998: Scientists blame sun for global warming

Article from BBC news, 13 February 1998

image: [ The Sun is more active than it has ever been in the last 300 years ]

The Sun is more active than it has ever been in the last 300 years

Climate changes such as global warming may be due to changes in the sun rather than to the release of greenhouse gases on Earth.

Climatologists and astronomers speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Philadelphia say the present warming may be unusual – but a mini ice age could soon follow.

The sun provides all the energy that drives our climate, but it is not the constant star it might seem.

Careful studies over the last 20 years show that its overall brightness and energy output increases slightly as sunspot activity rises to the peak of its 11-year cycle.

And individual cycles can be more or less active.

The sun is currently at its most active for 300 years.

That, say scientists in Philadelphia, could be a more significant cause of global warming than the emissions of greenhouse gases that are most often blamed.

The researchers point out that much of the half-a-degree rise in global temperature over the last 120 years occurred before 1940 – earlier than the biggest rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

[ image: Ancient trees reveal most warm spells are caused by the sun]
Ancient trees reveal most warm spells are caused by the sun

Using ancient tree rings, they show that 17 out of 19 warm spells in the last 10,000 years coincided with peaks in solar activity.

They have also studied other sun-like stars and found that they spend significant periods without sunspots at all, so perhaps cool spells should be feared more than global warming.

The scientists do not pretend they can explain everything, nor do they say that attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should be abandoned. But they do feel that understanding of our nearest star must be increased if the climate is to be understood.

13 February 1998

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/56456.stm

Update: Sun and Ice April 16, 2009

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Update: Sun and Ice

From ICECAP

By Joseph D’Aleo, CCM

The sun remains in a deep slumber.

image

Today we are 15 days into April without a sunspot and with 603 sunspotless day this cycle minimum, 92 already this year.  2009 at this rate, is likely to enter the top 10 years the last century along with 2007 (9th) and 2008 (2nd) this summer.

image

If it stays quiet the rest of this month, the minimum can be no earlier than November 2008, at least a 12.5 year cycle length. I believe January 2009 is a better shot to be the solar minimum as sunspot number would have to be below 0.5 in June 2008 to prevent the running mean (13 month) from blipping up then. April needs only to stay below 3.2 and May 3.4 to get us to January. This would be very like cycles 1 to 4 in the late 1700s and early 1800s, preceding the Dalton Minimum. That was a cold era, the age of Dickens and the children playing in the snow in London, much like this past winter.

image

THE ARCTIC AND ANTARCTIC ICE STORY

As for the ice, we hear in the media the hype about the arctic and Antarctic ice. The arctic ice we are told is more first and second year ice and very vulnerable to a summer melt.

image

Actually the arctic ice is very 3rd highest level since 2002, very close to 2003, in a virtual tie to last winter and the highest year according to IARC-JAXA. The anomaly is a relatively small 300,000 square km according to The Cryosphere Today.

There was much attention paid in the media to the crack in the Wilkins Ice sheet bridge. It was not even reflected as a blip on the Southern Hemisphere ice extent, which has grown rapidly as the southern hemisphere winter set in to 1,150,000 square kms above the normal for this date and rising rapidly.

image

The net GLOBAL sea ice anomaly is also positive, 850,000 square km above the normal. See full PDF here.

Sunspot numbers for March 2009 April 11, 2009

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Sunspot numbers for March 2009


Month 2009 2008
Jan 1.5 3.3
Feb 1.4 2.1
Mar 0.7 9.3
Apr 2.9
May 3.2
Jun 3.4
Jul 0.8
Aug 0.5
Sep 1.1
Oct 2.9
Nov 4.1
Dec 0.8

Source

‘Curious’ Why The Sun Has Been So Dim Lately April 10, 2009

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‘Curious’ Why The Sun Has Been So Dim Lately

Via ICECAP

By Mish Michaels, WBZ Boston

“The Sun is the all encompassing energy giver to life on planet Earth,” said Dr. Willie Soon, an Astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

image

And these days the sun is getting a lot of attention from scientists.

“The Sun is just slightly dimmer and has been for about the last 18 months,” said Dr. Soon. “And that is because there are very few sunspots.”

Sunspots are giant islands of magnetism on the Sun and the appearance of sunspots runs in 11 year cycles. When sunspots are abundant during the cycle, it is called the “solar maximum” and when there are few sunspots, it is considered to be the “solar minimum.”

Track changes in sunspots

“Right now we are in the deepest solar minimum of the entire Space Age,” stated Dr. Soon. “In fact, this is the quietest (fewest sunspots) Sun we have had in almost a century.”

image

And those lack of sunspots have a link to our climate.

“When you have a lot of sunspots, there is a lot more light energy coming from the Sun and that tends to warm the Earth,” added Dr. Soon.”When the Sun produces less sunspots, it essentially gives up less energy to the Earth’s climate system.”

And less energy means a cooler planet.

“There were very few sunspots in 2008 and by all measures, 2008 was a cold year,” said Dr. Soon. And that link between temperatures on Earth and sunspot activity can be picked out many times from past history.

image

“For example, from 1645 to 1715 there were no sunspots and it was a very, very cold period for our planet. Most call it the “Little Ice Age,” said Dr. Soon. “Based on my research, I tend to be in support of a very, very strong role by the Sun’s energy input as a climate driver. If you were to ask me about the role of CO2, I would say its very, very small,” he added.

In fact, Dr. Soon sees this historic solar minimum as an opportunity to reframe our understanding of Earth’s climate system.

“If this deep solar minimum continues and our planet cools while CO2 levels continue to rise, thinking needs to change. This will be a very telling time and it’s very, very useful in terms of science and society in my opinion,” concluded Dr. Soon.

Get a video about the Sun’s connection to Earth’s Climate: The general public can purchase the original Unstoppable Solar Cycles DVD here And teachers only can receive/purchase the school version here.  See story here.

See video interviews of Dr. Soon on Why the Sun is Dimmer These Days and the possible effects here.

Small new sunspot developing – 26 March 2009 March 26, 2009

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Small new sunspot developing – 26 March 2009

From SolarCycle24.com

Update: The Solar X-Ray flux is starting to move somewhat. Nothing major, however the area on the eastern limb may just have a sunspot with it. A B2 flare took place followed by a B3 flare from this area (I believe).

Just as the region on the eastern limb looks promising, a small new sunspot has formed high in latitude with Cycle 24 magnetism. Picture is below.

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Small Sunspot in formation (March 26)