Science & Nature

Update: is Solar Cycle 24 late (a cooling cycle, with famines, etc)?

This is an update to my post of 10 July :  Worrying about the Sun and climate change – cycle 24 is late.  Here is a brief summary of the threat; see that post for details:

Solar cycle #24 is on my list of things to watch.  The next 11-year solar cycle— number 24 — has not yet started.  It is a little late, and getting later.  Nothing significant yet, but it could quickly become a major geopolitical factor.  We may have a problem if it does not start by September.  A late cycle may be a “small” cycle, one with few sunspots and low levels of solar activity.  Such periods have often accompanied periods of cold weather on Earth.  Cooling means famines. 

These reports describe the latest forecasts, from the International Workshop “Solar Variability, Earth’s Climate and the Space Environment“, sponsored by NASA, held 1 – 6 June 2008.

  1. A summary of the workshop’s results.  Here are abstracts of the papers presented.
  2. Global Climate Change: Is the Sun to blame?“, Sami K. Solanki, 3 June 2008
  3. What’s Wrong with the Sun? (Nothing)“, NASA, 11 July 2008 — A rebuttal from staff at NASA.

Excerpts of these reports

I.  Sun goes longer than normal without producing sunspots“, Montana State University News Service, 9 June 2008 — This story is the basis for many news reports, including ScienceDaily.  Excerpt:

The sun has been laying low for the past couple of years, producing no sunspots and giving a break to satellites.

That’s good news for people who scramble when space weather interferes with their technology, but it became a point of discussion for the scientists who attended an international solar conference at Montana State University. Approximately 100 scientists from Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and North America gathered June 1-6 to talk about “Solar Variability, Earth’s Climate and the Space Environment.”

The scientists said periods of inactivity are normal for the sun, but this period has gone on longer than usual.  “It continues to be dead,” said Saku Tsuneta with the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, program manager for the Hinode solar mission. “That’s a small concern, a very small concern.”  {FM:  is this a pun on “small”?}

… Dana Longcope, a solar physicist at MSU, said the sun usually operates on an 11-year cycle with maximum activity occurring in the middle of the cycle. Minimum activity generally occurs as the cycles change. Solar activity refers to phenomena like sunspots, solar flares and solar eruptions. Together, they create the weather than can disrupt satellites in space and technology on earth.  The last cycle reached its peak in 2001 and is believed to be just ending now, Longcope said. The next cycle is just beginning and is expected to reach its peak sometime around 2012. Today’s sun, however, is as inactive as it was two years ago, and scientists aren’t sure why.

“It’s a dead face,” Tsuneta said of the sun’s appearance.  Tsuneta said solar physicists aren’t like weather forecasters; They can’t predict the future. They do have the ability to observe, however, and they have observed a longer-than-normal period of solar inactivity. In the past, they observed that the sun once went 50 years without producing sunspots. That period coincided with a little ice age on Earth that lasted from 1650 to 1700.

II.  Global Climate Change: Is the Sun to blame?“, Sami K. Solanki, 3 June 2008 – He is Managing Director of Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research and Contributing Author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  Summary:

The Earth is heating up. For the last century it has relentlessly grown warmer, in spite of short periods of respite. This global change is leaving its mark and the predictions for the future are not very comforting. As the Earth has heated up, so has the debate on the causes of global change. Opposing camps fight over whether the drivers are man-made or natural.

The prime natural cause for explaining global warming is the Sun. It is a restless star that shows a wide variety of transient and active phenomena, such as the continuously changing hot corona, energetic flares and immense coronal mass ejections. Along with these more violent events, the Sun displays a permanent variation of its brightness, which is thought to influence the Earth’s climate. Paths by which the Sun could affect climate are outlined in this talk and the question is considered to what extent is the Sun responsible for the global warming seen in the last decades.

III.  What’s Wrong with the Sun? (Nothing)“, NASA, 11 July 2008 — A rebuttal from scientists at NASA.  Excerpt:

Stop the presses! The sun is behaving normally.  So says NASA solar physicist David Hathaway. “There have been some reports lately that Solar Minimum is lasting longer than it should. That’s not true. The ongoing lull in sunspot number is well within historic norms for the solar cycle.” … But first, a status report: “The sun is now near the low point of its 11-year activity cycle,” says Hathaway. “We call this ‘Solar Minimum.’ It is the period of quiet that separates one Solar Max from another.”

Although minima are a normal aspect of the solar cycle, some observers are questioning the length of the ongoing minimum, now slogging through its 3rd year.  “It does seem like it’s taking a long time,” allows Hathaway, “but I think we’re just forgetting how long a solar minimum can last.” In the early 20th century there were periods of quiet lasting almost twice as long as the current spell.

Hathaway has studied international sunspot counts stretching all the way back to 1749 and he offers these statistics: “The average period of a solar cycle is 131 months with a standard deviation of 14 months. Decaying solar cycle 23 (the one we are experiencing now) has so far lasted 142 months–well within the first standard deviation and thus not at all abnormal. The last available 13-month smoothed sunspot number was 5.70. This is bigger than 12 of the last 23 solar minimum values.”

In summary, “the current minimum is not abnormally low or long.”


Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

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For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp relevance to this topic:

Posts on the FM site about posts about the solar cycle:

  1. Worrying about the Sun and climate change: cycle 24 is late, 10 July 2008
  2. Update: is Solar Cycle 24 late (a cooling cycle, with famines, etc)?, 15 july 2008
  3. Solar Cycle 24 is still late, perhaps signalling cool weather ahead, 2 September 2008
  4. Update on solar cycle 24 – and a possible period of global cooling, 1 October 2008
  5. This week’s report on the news in climate science, 7 December 2008
  6. Weekend reading recommenations about climate change, 13 December 2008
  7. An important new article about climate change, 29 December 2008
  8. My “wish list” for the climate sciences in 2009, 2 January 2009
  9. About the recent conference ”Solar Activity during the onset of Solar Cycle 24″, 3 January 2009

14 replies »

  1. So now I’m confused. The warmer temperatures of the last couple of years = global warming or hotter solar cycle? Or am I oversymplifying…
    Fabius Maximus replies: Has there been a warming trend in the last couple of years? The surface station network is almost useless for these types of measurements. It was not designed for this purpose, and is not operated according to its own standards (even in the US, and less so in most of the world). See for evidence about the US network.

    These measurement issues go to the heart of the climate change debate. They are much more serious and problematic for pre-20th century data, of course.


  2. Uh huh…

    It appears my question was poorly formed. Has any supposed global warming (real or otherwise, regardless of the faulty data [faulty data is still data, and is still accurate in its faultiness]) been caused by rising amounts of CO2 gas (the greenhouse effect) or by this solar cycle?
    Fabius Maximus replies: That’s the key question. So far as I can tell, in order to determine causation we need better data and far more understanding of the dynamics of the global climate engine.

    Concealment of data and models — very common in climate science — does not help, making replication and criticism almost impossible:
    * “CSIRO adopts Phil Jones’ Stonewall Tactic“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 15 July 2008.
    * “NOAA Response to March 2007 FOI Request“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 8 July 2008.
    * “Climate Audit and NOAA FOI Policy“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 3 July 2008.
    * “E-Mail, “Personal” Records and Privacy“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 2 July 2008.
    * “Fortress Met Office continued“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 23 June 2008.
    * “Fortress CRU #2: Confidential Agent Ammann“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 20 June 2008.
    * “Fortress CRU“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 20 June 2008.
    * “Fortress Met Office“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 20 June 2008.


  3. It’s sad that the sciences have become slaves to money and must now have ‘the most, best, latest, greatest data’ that no one else has in order to secure funding. I’d love to see a chart of the proportion of GDP (or the Federal Budget) spent on R&D (non-defense related) in the 20th century, and then compare it to the proportion of GDP (or the Federal Budget) spent on Social Welfare programs. I imagine the two graphs overlaid might be a nice big X.


  4. The problem I see with the NASA rebuttal is a matter of data set size. Their argument that the dormant period between cycles 23 and 24 is “well within the first standard deviation and thus not at all abnormal” is not very compelling. The data set used to determine the average cycle length and the “standard deviation of 14 months” encompasses the cycles of the Dalton Minimum, the very period of time we are concerned that our Sun is imitating.

    So, saying that the current pause is “within the first standard deviation” does nothing to address or counter the concerns that the Sun may be entering a prolonged dormant period, along with the resultant climatic issues this may cause. To be blunt, the article was pointless.
    Fabius Maximus replies: thank you for this helpful comment!


  5. I think the point of confusion with the NASA rebuttal is the use of the word “normal.” That word is difficult to apply to anything pertaining to climate, because there is no such thing as “normal” climate. Sure, you can take a few decades or even a century or two of data, drop a plumb line through it, and call the result a “norm,” but is it really? Excursions outside the “norm” like the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Optimum are no less “normal” than the oft-cited 20th century benchmarks of “normal.” For periods of tens of thousands of years, “normal” was pack ice in the Gulf of Alaska and snow on the ground three or four months out of the year on the Florida panhandle.


  6. Nu sunspots in august (2008) so far! The Sun is taking it’s time and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.
    Fabius Maximus replies: As NASA has said, these cycles do not run like a watch. If no cycle 24 activity by the end of March, then the odds of a “small” (i.e., probably cold) cycle become significant. But the cycle could start in 2009 and still be within historical averages.


  7. Yep …. that is why Global Warming policy is focused on CO2. Politics “can” do something about CO2, whether or not it is the cause of climate change.

    In contrast, it CAN’T do squat about the Sun, hence, no reason to go about the task of flushing our a solar mechanism regarding Climate … it can’t lead to legislation and tax monies.

    I hate to inform Hathaway .. but this next minimum will be named the Landscheidt Minimum! He predicted this years ago. Maybe the NASA elitist may take a closer look at the Shaker Theory of Jose and Landschiedt, as opposed to just poo-pooing it as the rants of an Astrologer Lunatic.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Solar science is an intensely active field. Hard science, advancing rapidly, with many hotly contested field. The next ten years will probaby generate new and powerful insights that tell us much about the history and future of our civilization.

    Theodor Landscheidt (1927-2004) is described in Wikipedia as “Theodor Landscheidt (an author, astrologer and amateur climatologist.” That does mean he is wrong, but that he is outside the mainsteam of solar science.


  8. If you think, as I do, that the current science and prediction of the sunspot cycles is somewhat ambiguous and perhaps not reliable, why not read a new and controversial hypothesis which can be found on the website of M.A. Vukcevic and follow link “solar current”.

    Assessment from the “solar science establishment”: pure coincidence. My view: the nature is adverse to a coincidence; it is ruled by a cause and the consequence.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thanks for the link. Unfortunately it says little to someone with little knowledge of these things. Here is an article on Vukcevic’s theory:
    * “‘Maverick’ sunspot heralds new solar cycle“, New Scientist, 7 January 2008.


  9. Is SC24 overdue or suppressed by a subcycle?

    There is a great deal of discussion and some concern about slow appearance of SC24. This is not unusual, the past records show similar delayed occurrences, some much longer. There are even cycles with false starts. Also in the same category of events should be included cycles with double peaks of which there were 2-3 in the most recent past. This might appear odd that a delayed start, false start or double peak should be events with the same cause.

    Numerical analysis for all of the 23 solar cycles appears to show presence of a short-term sub-cycle with period of about 400 days, easily observed during the more intense part of the normal cycle.
    If a trough of sub-cycle coincides with start of a new cycle (as may be case at the present) then start could be suppressed up to 200 days, alternatively if a peak of sub-cycle coincides with 11 year minimum than a false start may appear (e.g. 1766, 1799, 1890, 1976). Double peak will occur if sub-cycle’s trough occurs at peak of the main cycle (e.g. SC22 and most notably SC23).

    If this is of interest, you can find graphical representation for all 23 cycles on my website; select the link for SOLAR SUBCYCLE.
    Please note that lover part of the scale is magnified by factor of 2 (two) for easer perception, ignore minus sign.


  10. This is only a theory, of course, just as is the prevailing but nonetheless theoretical solar nuclear furnace core supposition. Overwhelming and diverse evidence strongly suggests there is no nuclear fusion taking place in the sun’s core.

    Instead, the sun, like its dormant companion Jupiter has a large planetary core surrounded by an abyssal sea of liquid hydrogen, metallic at the point it impinges upon the terra firma core.

    Above the liquid hydrogen sea is a layer of hydrogen gas, all of which is encapsulated by the relatively thin, roiling plasmasized photospheric sheath. The predominant reaction taking place in the photosphere is molecular hydrogen being converted to atomic hydrogen and back to molecular again under the influence of immense electrical forces.

    The only fusion taking place in the sun is in the photosphere where fresh molecular hydrogen gas breaches through the photosphere we call a sunspot. In the process of the freshly emerging hydrogen being converted from molecular to atomic and back again, it becomes entrained in powerful concentric magnetohydrodynamic flows that can be described as nothing less than a natural solar cyclotron!!

    One need only examine the highest resolution images of a sunspot from the 1 meter Swedish Solar Telescope at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands for confirmation that below the clearly defined photosphere is nothing more than a dark gaseous interior! See this page at The Institute for Solar Physics, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

    I have a theory as to what causes sunspots that is inextricably interwoven with the above theory of the sun’s actual composition.


  11. In ireland it snows every 11 years, every minimum you could say. I’ve been watching the sun now for a while and have a feeling its going to sleep for a while. It will explain alot of things once poeple get their head around the physics.

    Things such as the eygyptian and mayans living for 30,000 years and more. C14 dating has it science in this cycle and its like looking for a tree ring that dissapears. the only problem is the the tree ring is 29,500 years in length.

    We are in for some interesting years ahead.


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