Tag Archives: solar cycle

The quiet sun is getting a lot of attention. What are its effect on us?

Summary:  Skeptic websites are agog with confident statements that solar cycles drive much of the decadal variation in Earth’s climate.  Not only is there no clear physical mechanism, but recent analysis suggests that the historical correlation might not exist as well.  Both questions lie on the frontier of science.  Here are some recent papers, a selection from the vast and rapidly growing body of research on the frontiers of knowledge about this vital subject.   As past comments to thei series show, true believers on both sides of the climate wars react to real science like vampires to holy water.  This is the sixth in a series of posts; at the end are links to the other chapters.


This post looks at only the contrary research, that suggesting small solar effects.  This debate lies on the cutting edge of solar and climate sciences.  And it is a debate.  Unlike the child-like views of most websites discussing climate issues, where there are only skins and shirts, right and wrong views, the FM website helps you understand both sides in these debates.  Red emphasis added.

  1. Solar forcings of global temperatures: not big
  2. Solar forcing of global temperature: a small fraction of the total
  3. Solar trends effect on global warming: negligible
  4. Effect of a new grand minimum of solar activity on the future climate on Earth:  small
  5. On the other hand, there is another side to the debate
  6. Effect of cosmic rays on global temperatures
  7. Solar effects on global temperature: not supported by the data
  8. We cannot know the effects of solar variation since experts cannot agree on the solar record
  9. Variations in Solar Irradiance — and Climate
  10. Other chapters in this series
  11. For more information:  other posts about the solar cycle

(1)  Solar forcings of global temperatures:  not big

How Natural and Anthropogenic Influences Alter Global and Regional Surface Temperatures: 1889 to 2006″, Judith L. Lean and David H. Rind, Geophysical Research Letters, 16 September 2008 — Free copy here. Conclusion:

None of the natural processes can account for the overall warming trend in global surface temperatures. In the 100 years from 1905 to 2005, the temperature trends produce by all 3 natural influences are at least an order of magnitude smaller than the observed surface temperature trend reported by IPCC [2007]. According to this analysis, solar forcing contributed negligible long-term warming in the past 25 years and 10% of the warming in the past 100 years, not 69% as claimed by Scafetta and West [2008] (who assumed larger solar irradiance changes and enhanced climate response on longer time scales).

(2)  Solar forcing of global temperature:  a small fraction of the total

“Solar activity and the mean global temperature”, A D Erlykin, Environmental Research Letters, 20 January 2009 — Abstract:

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What can climate scientists tell us about future weather? Part two of two.

Summary:  This is a review of the climate science literature, giving a perspective different than that shown us by the news media.  This is just a selection from the vast, rapidly growing body of research on the frontiers of knowledge about this vital subject.  As past comments to thei series show, true believers on both sides of the climate wars react to real science like vampires to holy water.  This is the fifth in a series of posts; at the end are links to the other chapters.


These posts show a tiny sliver of the wide range of work conducted today in the climate sciences.  This gives a look at what’s happening on the cutting edge of research, so poorly reported by the general news media.

  1. Looking at the big picture:  drivers of the two-centuries-long warming
  2. Causes of the recent pause in warming
  3. We want good forecasts. Can we have them? Can scientists forecast climate trends?
  4. Other chapters in this series
  5. For more information

(1)  Looking at the big picture:  drivers of the two-centuries-long warming

To forecast what is to come we must understand what produced the past trend — warming over the past 2 centuries.

(a)  A clear summary of the situation, although written by an amateur:  “Understanding the Global Warming Debate“, Warren Meyer, Forbes, 9 February 2012

(b) Patterns of change: whose fingerprint is seen in global warming“, Gabriele Hegerl, Francis Zwiers and Claudia Tebaldi, Environmental Research Letters, 7 December  2011 — Excerpt:

Rigorous quantitative analyses of the patterns of change in the temperature of the atmosphere and ocean observed over the past half-century, incorporating all known uncertainties in the observations, in our knowledge of climate variability, and feedbacks, underpin the assessment that most of the warming of the past 50 years is ‘very likely’ (more than 90% likelihood) due to anthropogenic increases in greenhouse gases.

(c) Trends, change points & hypotheses“, Judith Curry posted at Climate Etc, 7 February 2012 — Excerpt:

Consider the following three hypotheses that explain 20th century climate variability and change, with implied future projections:

I.  IPCC AGW hypothesis: 20th century climate variability/change is explained by external forcing, with natural internal variability providing high frequency ‘noise’.

In the latter half of the 20th century, this external forcing has been dominated by anthropogenic gases and aerosols. The implications for temperature change in the 21st century is 0.2C per decade until 2050. Challenges: convincing explanations of the warming 1910-1940, explaining the flat trend between mid 1940′s and mid 1970′s, explaining the flat trend for the past 15 years.

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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).    Continue reading

Another climate wild card: solar cycle 24, perhaps causing food riots during the next decade

Summary:  Yesterday we asked if food prices will continue to rise, destabilizing the third world?  Today we ask the same question, with the Sun as the suspect.  This takes us to the frontier of science, beyond the cartoon certainties fed to us by the news media.  This is un-news, hidden from the public as these uncertainties challenge the story of human-emitted CO2 as the driver of Earth’s climate.  If the sun continues to slow, and if that cools our world, then the resulting cool phase will send food prices on a one-way trip to the moon, which will rock the world.  But despite the confident assertions on many sceptic website, this remains just speculation.  One of the many shockwaves (low probability, high inpact) scenarios for which we should prepare — but not panic.  Click here for an update; links to additional information appear at the end.

(1)  The Solar Cycle’s influence on Earth’s weather

There is a strong correlation between solar cycles and Earth’s climate.  Slow cycles (low levels of solar activity during the 11 cycle) overlap cool periods of Earth’s climate.  The Little Ice Age overlapped the Maunder Minimum (1645-1715).  There was also cooling during the Spörer Minimum (1460-1550) and and Dalton Minimum (1790-1830).  There is evidence in the geological record of a longer-term relationship (see the references in section six of this FM reference page.

But there is no proven physical basis for that relationship.  Both solar irradiance and the influx of galactic cosmic rays vary little, hence unlikely to have a substantial influence on Earth’s climate.  But the historical correlation remains, even if the cause remains a mystery.   It’s of more than theoretical interest, since the Sun appears to be slowing again.  Will the Earth cool in response.

(2)  Solar Cycle 24

Here is the monthly National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) graph of sunspot activity (the page also shows F10.7cm radio flux, a more direct measure of solar activity). Note the drop in December.  The blue line is the 13 month moving average, centered on the 7th month (i.e., average of 6 months behind and 6 ahead).  It’s tracing a curve far below the forecast of NOAA’s Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Committee as of May 2009, which calls for a maximum of 90 in May 2013.  The Panel’s first forecast (April 2007) called for a peak of 90-140 sometime between October 2011 and August 2012  (the Panel’s experts were divided).



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How good are our global senses, watching our changing world?

Summary:   Our increasingly complex world creates new vulnerabilities.  New factors to watch.  New threats to which we must respond.  Can we manage the necessary coordinated global action?  The cost is trivial, especially compared to that of our wars.  This post examines one serious but little-known threat.


One terrible aspect of early 21st century America is our fascination with shockwaves — high impact, low probability threats — and indifference to likely dangers.  Al Qaeda might conquer Pakistan and get nukes.  The antarctic ice cap might slide into the ocean.  While we worry about these things, our transportation, power, and transportation infrastructures decay — and our communications systems fall behind those of our peers.

There is a  global challenge, similar but potentially worse.  While global gdp grows at rates probably not seen since the invention of agriculture, critical sensory systems remain underfunded.  Perhaps the most serious example:  the global climate measuring system is a joke, making reliable forecasting impossible.  For example, Anthony Watt’s SurfaceStations project has proven that only 10% of the USHCN network (measuring surface temperatures) meet the criteria for a rating of 1 or 2 (error less than or equal to 1 degree C); 69% have the lowest two ratings.  That’s bad, since the US has one of the best networks.  At the other extreme, coverage in Antarctica is sparse — and coverage at the Arctic Ocean is almost non-existent.

The global sensors for less-familar problems are almost nil.  For example, sensors watching solar activity — and scientists studying the results — are grossly underfunded.  As described in this article about space weather forecasting:  “Are We Ready for the Next Solar Maximum? No Way, Say Scientists“, Richard A. Kerr, Science 26 June 2009 — Opening:

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Slowly more evidence emerges, and more scientists speak out about drivers of climate change

Slowly more evidence emerges about the Sun’s influence on Earth’s weather.  Slowly more scientists speak out, challenging the faux consensus about climate change.  Of course, readers of the FM site already know about this.

  1. It’s the Sun, stupid“, Lawrence Solomon, National Post, 21 May 2010 — “Solar scientists are finally overcoming their fears and going public about the Sun-climate connection”
  2. Are cold winters in Europe associated with low solar activity?“, Mike Lockwood et al, Environmental Research Letters, April-June 2010
  3. Low solar activity is blamed for winter chill over Europe“, Rasmus E Benestad, Environmental Research Letters, April-June 2010

At the end are links to other posts about solar influence on Earth’s climate, and links to articles about this in the scientific literature.

Quote of the day

“We can’t predict the climate on Earth until we understand these changes on the sun”
— Jeff Kuhn (source), the first U.S. solar scientist to win the Humboldt Award (source)


(1)  “It’s the Sun, stupid“, Lawrence Solomon, National Post, 21 May 2010 — “Solar scientists are finally overcoming their fears and going public about the Sun-climate connection”

Four years ago, when I first started profiling scientists who were global warming skeptics, I soon learned two things: Solar scientists were overwhelmingly skeptical that humans caused climate change and, overwhelmingly, they were reluctant to go public with their views. Often, they refused to be quoted at all, saying they feared for their funding, or they feared other recriminations from climate scientists in the doomsayer camp. When the skeptics agreed to be quoted at all, they often hedged their statements, to give themselves wiggle room if accused of being a global warming denier. Scant few were outspoken about their skepticism.

No longer. Scientists, and especially solar scientists, are becoming assertive.

(2)  “Are cold winters in Europe associated with low solar activity?“, Mike Lockwood et al, Environmental Research Letters, April-June 2010

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Peer reviewed science: breakthroughs about the sun’s impact on Earth’s climate

Solar cycle 24 remains missing in action, as NASA reports today:  “Are Sunspots Disappearing?” — Excerpt:

The sun is in the pits of the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century. Weeks and sometimes whole months go by without even a single tiny sunspot. The quiet has dragged out for more than 2 years, prompting some observers to wonder, are sunspots disappearing?

“Personally, I’m betting that sunspots are coming back,” says researcher Matt Penn of the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in Tucson, Arizona. But, he allows, “there is some evidence that they won’t. … Sunspot magnetic fields are dropping by about 50 gauss per year … If we extrapolate this trend into the future, sunspots could completely vanish around the year 2015.”

… If sunspots do go away, it wouldn’t be the first time. In the 17th century, the sun plunged into a 70-year period of spotlessness known as the Maunder Minimum that still baffles scientists. The sunspot drought began in 1645 and lasted until 1715; during that time, some of the best astronomers in history (e.g., Cassini) monitored the sun and failed to count more than a few dozen sunspots per year, compared to the usual thousands.

“Whether [the current downturn] is an omen of long-term sunspot decline, analogous to the Maunder Minimum, remains to be seen,” Livingston and Penn caution in a recent issue of EOS. “Other indications of solar activity suggest that sunspots must return in earnest within the next year.”

The famous and controversial Livingston – Penn appears below as article #1; their new EOS article is #2.

Possible implications of a quiet sun for Earth

What does an quiet sun do to Earth’s climate?  The historical record suggests global cooling.  For example, the Maunder Minimum overlapped the Little Ice Age. But scientists had both little evidence and fewer explanations.  That’s slowly changing, with an accellerating drumbeat of research results in recent years.  Slowly they begin to understand the mechanisms at work.

Here are several articles.   The first two look at the solar cycle, the rest at its effects on Earth.  No answers yet, just cutting-edge science.  For each is a summary for laypeople, then the abstract of the article.  At the end are links to previous articles about the solar cycle and us.

Previous articles like this provoked firestorms, as pro-global warming zealots mocking these scientists.  For examples see High school science facts prove global warming! Skeptical scientists humiliated by this revelation!  As before, I suggest that folks with such urges directly contact these scientists.


(1-a)  New Solar Cycle Not Packing Much Punch“, The Arizona Daily Star, 19 May 2008 — Description of the controversial Livingston and Penn paper predicating a “small” solar cycle, probably meaning a cold cycle.  Excerpt:

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