Update about the weather on the Sun. Perhaps coming soon to Earth, visible in your local supermarket.

Summary:  The current fad for “black swans” just reflects our disinterest in non-consensus thinking.  We prefer the clear stories the news media tells us about poorly understood things (both natural and social phenomena).  We would be less often surprised if we would only open our vision to see things on the borders of the known.  One example may be in front of our eyes right now:  extreme weather on the sun perhaps driving up food prices.

NOAA has posted January’s solar activity to its graphs.  The count of sunspots shows continued slowing.  If there is a connection between low solar activity and earth’s climate (see the previous post for details), then the Earth is due for years — perhaps even 2 decades — 0f cold weather and high food prices.

Although not a professional climate scientist, David Archibald forecast a slow cycle with a maxima of aprox 50 sunspots in “Solar Cycles 24 and 25 and Predicted Climate Response“, Energy and the Environment, March 2006.  A year later the first forecast from the NOAA Solar Cycle Prediction Panel predicted a cycle peaking at 90-140 sunspots.  And the winner is:  Archibald.  Mother nature does not care about credentials.  NOAA does not publish updated forecast, but NASA does.  Here is their latest prediction (3 February 2011):

Current prediction {sic} for the next sunspot cycle maximum gives a smoothed {13 month average} sunspot number maximum of about 58 in July of 2013. We are currently two years into Cycle 24 and the predicted size continues to fall.

More important, as Archibald predicted, so far cycle 24 tracks cycle 5 — the Dalton Minimum — as shown in this graph (source here; data through November 2010).  The years of cycle 5 were cold, although the causes remain unclear (volcanos contributed, perhaps like those erupting in Kamchatka now).   

Sunspot counts provide a rough guide to solar activity, useful since the record goes back to 1700.  A more accurate measure is the emission of energy at wavelength of 10.7 cm (update:  this is the operational metric, for example when forecasting drag on satellites).  It also shows low activity.



The relationship between solar cycles and Earth’s climate is speculative, on the edge of current knowledge (despite over-confident assertions by laypeople). For a summary that there is no relationship in historic times see “Has the Sun’s Output Really Changed Significantly Since the Little Ice Age?“, Leif Svalgaard (researcher at Stanford), 27 May 2010.

Some posts about the solar cycle and the sun’s influence on Earth’s weather 

To see links to the science literature about this subject go to section six (About the relationship of earth’s climate and extra-terrestrial factors) on the FM reference page Science & climate – studies & reports.

Posts about food on the FM website:

  1. Important news about the global food crisis!, 1 April 2008
  2. A view from Indonesia of the food crisis, 3 April 2008
  3. Stratfor warns about the global food crisis, 18 April 2008
  4. What you probably do not know about China’s food crisis, 21 April 2008
  5. Higher food prices, riots, shortages – what is going on?, 29 April 2008
  6. A modest proposal for solving the global food crisis, 30 April 2008
  7. Weekend reading about the Food Crisis, 17 May 2008
  8. Teach a man to fish, and you understand what we have done wrong in Haiti, 23 May 2008
  9. “Food scares are exaggerated, but good copy for the media”, 28 May 2008
  10. Is global food production peaking?, 13 January 2010
  11. Fertilizer overuse destroying Chinese soil, 18 February 2010
  12. About the coming large rise in food prices, 12 November 2010
  13. More about rising food prices (perhaps one of the big trends of the next decade), 13 November 2010
  14. Will food prices continue to rise, destabilizing the third world?, 31 January 2011 — About La Nina.
  15. Another climate wild card: solar cycle 24, perhaps causing food riots during the next decade, 1 February 2011
  16. Update about the weather – on the Sun. Perhaps coming soon to Earth., 9 February 2011

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