The Sun Has Lost Its Spots

The Sun on January 29, 2009

According to predicted values, there should have been 10 to 20 sunspots last month.

They didn’t happen.

“So what?” you ask.  “Why should we be concerned about sunspots?”

Many scientists believe that variations in the Sun’s activity has a much larger impact on the Earth’s climate than greenhouse gas concentrations. The number of sunspots is one indicator of that activity.

Currently, the Sun is at the minimum point of its nominal 11 year sunspot cycle.  This period is also the transition point from one numbered solar cycle to the next.

The present cycle 23 is one of the longest since cycles started being assigned numbers.  The only one longer was cycle 4 at the beginning of the Dalton Minimum, a period with minimum sunspot activity and reduced global temperatures.  Frigid winters and cold summers during the Dalton Minimum resulted in massive crop failures, famine and death.

Some solar cycle prediction models predict that cycles 24 and 25 will be weak, similar to the Dalton Minimum, with global temperatures dropping as much as 1.5 °C, more than erasing the the rise in global temperatures of the last century.   Some models even suggest a more prolonged period of weak activity.

This cold winter may only be the beginning.

(Read more at popsci.com, an online publication of Popular Science, which I found after I started writing this post.)

climate change, global warming, sun, sunspot, Uncategorized, weather

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • rummuser Jan 31, 2009

    The current hot topic in our town is how this winter has been almost like early summers. We did not really have to take out our serious warm clothes except for a few nights so far. It does not look as though it will get any colder for the rest of the season, which should have normally taken us through to mid March. Climate change?

  • Davina Jan 31, 2009

    Hi Mike. I’m fascinated by astronomy. Thank you for posting this information. With so many elements out of our control in this world, we are truly a miracle to even be here I think.

    Davina´s last blog post..Shopping for Effective Attitudes

  • Mike Goad Jan 31, 2009

    Ramana – Interesting that it’s warm there and that here in the US we have been having one of the more severe winters in recent memory. It’s fairly warm today, so I’m taking care of some outside work.

    Davina – I used to be very interested in astronomy so it’s been kind of fun researching this and trying to figure out what some of scientists are actually saying. With the internet it’s amazing how much information is available and how much there is that disagrees with other materials. For instance, the Intergovernmental Agency on Climate Change says that the current change in solar activity is basically insignificant as it applies to the Earth’s climate. (Of course, they’re only looking at the last 30 years of solar data for that, from what I could see.)

  • WestHighlander Jan 31, 2009

    Repeat after me Algore is Insane

    There has never been any credible evidence for human effects on the climate outside of the well-known local “heat island” effect of city buildings and pavement.

    On the other hand, without any human effort — the place where I’m sitting in suburban Boston has been buried under kilometer ice sheets many many times in the past few million years — and each time it has been uncovered — once again without human participation.

    About 1000 years ago the Vikings temporarily settled near to here and even further north in Maritime Canada — they called this region Vineland for the great grape vineyards that grew well into Nova Scotia. Then about 700 years ago it got cold and the vines and the Vikings vanished.

    More recently in the early 1800’s (1817-1818) New England suffered through the infamous year without a summer when killing frosts occurred during every month. Recently, it has been benignly warm and quite pleasant, although not warm enough for Vineland to return.

    So if humans had no conceivable way of altering the climate in the past centuries — what was left except the Sun and some pesky volcanoes.

  • teeni Jan 31, 2009

    This stuff scares me because I hate the cold. I was kind of looking forward to global warming. **shivers**

  • Mike Goad Feb 1, 2009

    West Highlander – Thanks for visiting my blog. I agree with your comments. I deliberately limited the scope of my post to more recent solar activity and global climate history to keep the post relatively short and to the point…, and Algore IS insane and opportunistic and a hypocrite.

    teeni – It is scary and I’m hoping it’s wrong.

  • mma gear Feb 1, 2009

    This is really interesting and hopefully it does not affect our climate drastically. I really don’t like the cold either!

    mma gear´s last blog post..The Blade Tapout MMA Shorts

  • dcr Feb 1, 2009

    Cooler temperatures around here wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I have a European Mountain Ash tree, still small, but I can’t plant it outside because the summers are too hot for it!

    Of course, a lack of summers would be bad. Cooler summers would be fine.

    dcr´s last blog post..What Will the Groundhog See Today?

  • Barbara Swafford Feb 2, 2009

    Hi Mike – Ironically we’re back to having “normal” winter weather – not too much snow and decent temperatures during the daytime – just like we did about years ago.

    I recently heard scientists talking on TV discrediting the whole “climate change” issue. It really makes me wonder what’s true.

    Barbara Swafford´s last blog post..SEO – Are We Getting It All Wrong

  • Dot Feb 2, 2009

    I’m interested in astronomy too. In fact, I’ve been considering starting a website on it, but perhaps popsci has beat me to the punch.

    Can’t agree with you that Al Gore is insane, etc. I have a lot of respect for him, no matter what my opinion of the cause of global warming.

    Our winter has been much colder than usual. A great many days in the 20s and some below. Local folk wisdom has it that nature balances an unusually mild winter, which we had last year, with an unusually cold one.

    Our local paper, the Express, published a photo of the results of an ice storm in Arkansas. I had no idea you guys got ice that far south.

    Dot´s last blog post..About Your Business

  • Mike Goad Feb 2, 2009

    mma gear – I hope it doesn’t either. We might have to move to warmer climates

    dcr – Cooler summers would be nice. That’s why we go somewhere else a lot of the time in the summer. Arkansas in the summer can be brutal.

    Barbara – I guess normal is relative. This “normal” isn’t too bad, until you start getting ice storms. Climate change is real. What I question is how much humans really affect it. I read a lot related to it and I Have a lot more doubts now than when I started.

    Dot – We’ve had a lot of ice storms in the 28 1/2 years since we moved here. Last winter we had one snow storm with 14 inches of snow and a couple of weeks later had another storm with 8 inches. Last year’s weather was not mild in Arkansas.

  • Michelle Gartner Feb 2, 2009

    I read this last night and now on Monday I can’t remember what I was going to say. Mondays have a way with spinning heads.

    I thought this was very interesting that perhaps we should realize that nature always has a bigger hand in shaping the environment then we realize.

    A little FYI- I took Astronomy at the community college to get out of biology. When I transferred to the university to finish up they would not take my Astronomy credits because they did not have a comparable course… so I did not get out of Biology in the long run. (I tried to avoid it because I am very squeamish person about blood etc. Technically I am not sure how I managed to give birth to five children! HA!)

    Michelle Gartner´s last blog post..Vintage Toaster Bacon & High School Wrestling

  • We read Science Magazine, and on the whole scientists are taking the greenhouse effect very seriously. It’s not all junk science. One of the possible effects is more extreme weather. We can’t judge from just one season of course.

    Jean Browman–Cheerful Monk´s last blog post..Taking Delight in Little Things

  • Forgot to thank you for the post. It’s great food for thought.

    Jean Browman–Cheerful Monk´s last blog post..Taking Delight in Little Things

  • Vered - MomGrind Feb 2, 2009

    There’s something strangely reassuring in thinking that these things are beyond our control and are not affected by human behavior. Of course, not all scientists agree this is the case.

    It amazes me how little we really know.

  • Tess The Bold Life Feb 2, 2009

    Hey Mike,
    I moved to Arizona. The hot summer months are nothing compared to the cold, dark winter in the Midwest.

    I believe some if not all of this is in Divine Order. Sometimes to think of this topic is too overwhelming. So I surrender…

    Tess The Bold Life´s last blog post..Change Your Perception with Fun and Laughter

  • Leslie Feb 3, 2009

    I agree with Vered that there’s something reassuring about the NOT knowing everything about these trends – and it’s definitely nice to think that we aren’t completely responsible. But I still feel best doing, living and simplifying in ways that we think might help.
    And I definitely know that if Arkansas winters are going to continue on this ever-icier path, I’m going to need to rethink our thickly wooded yard!

    Leslie´s last blog post..Winter storm, 2009, on the rocks.

  • Hannah Feb 3, 2009

    With all due respect, I disagree with your post and some of the comments. Global warming is real and is having a direct negative impact on the Earth. We are destroying our planet, not just through greenhouse gases, but through human overpopulation, overfishing, chemicals that end up in lakes and oceans and a myriad of other negative behaviours. While I have no doubt that the sun has an enormous effect on us, it is our actions that are also turning this planet into a wasteland, much more quickly.
    http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/science/02/02/climate.change.report/index.html
    http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/sciencetech/5-deadliest-effects-of-global-warming/276
    http://www.wwf.ca/conservation/global_warming/

  • XUP Feb 3, 2009

    I like WestHighlander. He speaks sense. I know a lot of stuff that we are now viewing as the end of civilization/the world/etc. is just fear mongering. Centuries of humans have been predicting the imminent end of the world and it hasn’t happened. However, I do believe that we’ve been doing some pretty serious damage the last few years and need to redeem ourselves. The earth is a little like the human body. We can abuse it for a long time without consequences, but sooner or later it’s going to catch up to us

    XUP´s last blog post..I Get Confrontational

  • Jannie Funster Feb 3, 2009

    I agree – fear mongering runs rampant all the time depending on who you listen to.

    What about optimism! Happiness in action!

    And that is one gorgeous ball of burning gas.

    Jannie Funster´s last blog post..Doing It

  • Eric Hamm Feb 3, 2009

    Hey Mike. I just wanted to wish you a happy birthday. 🙂 I have my own opinion on the whole global warming thing, but don’t want to get into it here. I like the post, though. Another option to consider. Eric

    Eric Hamm´s last blog post..How To Recover From A Productivity Meltdown

  • Mike Goad Feb 4, 2009

    Michelle – My astronomy was general science and whatever I’ve picked up through independent study. One of my early desires was to be an astronomer when I grew up. And I do think that nature is the predominant force in climate change.

    Jean – You are certainly welcome. I agree that a lot of scientists are taking it seriously.

    Vered – Yes, we really do not know as much as we think we do.

    Tess – Yes, at times, it is overwhelming…, but I refuse to surrender. I don’t want to accept the current conventional thinking when my gut, knowledge and experience tells be it just doesn’t make sense.

    Leslie – We, too, are looking at our trees in a different light. We have quite a lot of large pines and we lost 7 a little over a year ago in a wind storm.

    Hannah – Thanks for the links. I know the arguments.

    The IPCC is not a scientific organization. It is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change whose role “is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. Review by experts and governments is an essential part of the IPCC process. The Panel does not conduct new research, monitor climate-related data or recommend policies. It is open to all member countries of WMO and UNEP.” IPCC pamphlet

    The IPCC, then, goes into the topic of climate change by pre-assuming that it is caused by humans. Science tainted by presumptions can be poor science. Policy based on scientific presumptions can be disastrous.

    What if they are wrong?

    XUP – WestHighlander has a lot of personal experience and insight in this issue. I agree that we have been doing bad things to many parts of the world, but the effects are generally local.

    Jannie – It is gorgeous, isn’t it?

    Eric – Thanks for the birthday wish and thanks on the comment about the post. It was intended to induce thought.

  • Bunc Feb 5, 2009

    Hmmm.
    First of all the IPCC report was actually compiled by the leading climatologists in the world. It’s hardly a report written by civil servants.

    Second there is plenty of evidence to link atmospheric CO2 levels with climate. Pump up the CO2 and you are pumping up the greenhouse effect. This is pretty basic science.

    Third as well as the sun cycles there are also El Nino and La Nina cycles which have a significant effect on the Americas and on north Atlantic weather patterns. We are in the middle of one of these at the moment if I recall correctly and my recollection is that it’s predicted effects were some cooling and greater precipitation.

    Fourth – there is a massive difference between short term weather cycles of 1 to 5 years and longer term climate changes.
    Please do a GGoogle search on 1) loss of arctic ice cover 2) Antarctic warming ( recently proved 3) Ocean acidification and subsequent coral loss – with implications for marine life.

    The latter is a direct result of more CO2 in the atmosphere which changes the Ph of the oceans.

    fifth – Please observe your local plant/ animal seasonal cycles – have these changed?
    They have gone crazy in the UK with eg spring plants flowering very very early. I could go on. Everything points to climate change.

    Sixth – check out permafrost loss and methane release.

    In Scotland we should be OK. If it gets a bit warmer we might grow grapes. Why should we worry eh?

    Bunc´s last blog post..Gordon Brown – depression or disability?

  • Russia is the one who’s not worried about climate warming. They stand to gain big as Siberia warms up.

    Jean Browman–Cheerful Monk´s last blog post..Taking Delight in Little Things

  • Sara B. Healy Feb 5, 2009

    Mike,

    Thanks for the informative post. Now I know why I’m wearing all my winter clothes…at one time. It’s freezing in Florida. I live in North Florida and we’ve always had a chilly winter, but this one is really COLD. In my town, we reached a record low of 17 degrees (F) last night and will again tonight.

  • Mike Goad Feb 5, 2009

    Bunc – This post was intended to be on the sun and its unexpectedly low activity, not on global warming or the lack thereof.

    Since the comments have gone that way, my views:

    1) Science by consensus is not science or scientific; it’s political.

    2) I’ve seen a lot of things that say warming is caused by CO2. I’ve also seen indicators that show CO2 concentrations follow temperature.

    3) We are in the beginning of a La Nina. Also, the other day, I saw an article that says we are also in the beginning of the cool phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which, if true, should last 20 to 30 years.

    4)Arctic ice has recovered quite nicely over the last couple of years. The “proof” of Antarctic Warming was a single study done in part by Michael Mann, originator of the now discredited “hockey stick” global temperature chart. I’ve read several pieces questioning the study’s techniques.

    I must admit that I don’t know much about ocean acidification. One of the causes of CO2 in the atmosphere is gases coming out of solution as waters warm.

    5) No significant changes in the local plant and animal cycles that I’ve seen, though it varies from year to year. On the other hand, locally, lilacs only bloom after a colder than usual winter, and they’ve bloomed more in the several years. I expect to see a lot of lilac blooms this year.

    6) I’ve not looked much at permafrost loss or the release of methane.

    I don’t think it would be the first time that grapes were grown in Scotland. From what I understand, that occurred during the Medieval Warm Period which spanned a period of time from 900 – 1300 AD. Incidentally, some say that CO2 lags temperature by about 800 years. Can’t say as I believe that, but if it were true, our CO2 rise would be from about 1209 AD, or late in the Medieval Warm Period.

  • Mike Goad Feb 5, 2009

    Jean – I agree that Russia would gain from global warming. I personally would rather see warming as opposed to cooling. Global cooling is scarier to me. I certainly do not want to see it.

  • Mike Goad Feb 5, 2009

    Sara – You’re welcome! and thanks by dropping in to Exit78 and commenting.

  • pieter van pelt Feb 22, 2010

    Hello Mike. I recently read the book ‘The Chilling Stars’ by H. Svensmark and N. Calder, and a period with few or no sunspots means also a period with increased low clouds, due to the weakening of the extended magnetosphere surrounding the earth. This protective shield absorbs cosmic rays (in fact fast moving particles from outer space) who, in turn, are a mayor source of nuclei for the formation of water drops or ice-crystals in clouds. More clouds mean: more refection of incoming sunlight back into space, and hence lower global temperatures. Global warming and cooling is governed for a large part by the sun’s behavior, especially the flux of energetic particles in the so-called solar-wind. We may indeed be in for a prolonged period of cooler climate.

  • Mike Goad Feb 23, 2010

    pieter – While I haven’t read the book, I am somewhat familiar with the theory. There are many who think it wrong, but it actually, to me, makes more sense than the unproven and unprovable hypothesis that global warming is due to rising levels of carbon dioxide.

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