Sunspot Update – Still Waiting For The Cycle To Start

| April 30, 2008

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Back on March 5th of 2008 and February 10th, I pointed out that we were still missing sunspots. In fact in the weeks since then we have seen a few small sunspots appear, some that were judged to be part of the new cycle, and some part of the old cycle. This was quickly argued over, and it seems the general consensus is that everyone is waiting for the new cycle to get going.

As of today, there are zero sunspots on the face of our local star. This has been an unusual quiet period that may have broad implications for our environment and enjoyment of our planet. While most of the world is going ga-ga over “Earth Week” and trying to out green each other, the threat of a period of decreased solar radiation is becoming more real.

For everyone waiting for things to get really hot (Global Warming after all) the danger that it might get quite a bit colder instead keeps increasing slowly but steadily. From NOAA: Can an increase or decrease in sunspot activity affect the Earth’s climate?

Times of maximum sunspot activity are associated with a very slight increase in the energy output from the sun. Ultraviolet radiation increases dramatically during high sunspot activity, which can have a large effect on the Earth’s atmosphere. From the mid 1600s to early 1700s, a period of very low sunspot activity (known as the Maunder Minimum) coincided with a number of long winters and severe cold temperatures in Western Europe, called the Little Ice Age. It is not known whether the two phenomena are linked or if it was just coincidence. The reason it is hard to relate maximum and minimum solar activity (sunspots) to the Earth’s climate, is due to the complexity of the Earth’s climate itself.

It is now May of 2008, and the new sunspot cycle was to begin in late 2006 to mid 2007. Clearly the sun is taking a breather, and we should devote some fraction of study into what implications that might have to our climate.

Back in March of 2006 (that’s right – 2 years ago) the know-it-alls had this prediction that was published in the New Scientist:

Bumper sunspot crop forecast for next solar cycle

The next 11-year sunspot cycle will be late but strong according to a new computer prediction. The model used was virtually spot on when applied retrospectively to “forecast” the last eight solar cycles.

“We predict the next cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the last cycle,” says the model’s creator, Mausumi Dikpati, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s High Altitude Observatory in Boulder, Colorado, US.

[Later in the article]

The new results contradict those of a model published in 2005 that found the next cycle could be the weakest in 100 years. Leif Svalgaard, a member of the team behind that model, says the key difference boils down to one simple thing: “How long does the Sun remember its magnetic field?”

Based on the last 12 cycles, “large cycles usually start early”, Hathaway told New Scientist. He expects the cycle to begin in late 2006 or early 2007: “We’re anxiously awaiting the appearance of those first spots in the new cycle.”

What can we learn from this? Firstly that our science on this subject and thousands of others is far from complete. That means you must take predictions like the one cited above, and rises in global temperature due to greenhouse gases with a grain of salt.

The last 20 years have seen a rise in predictions based off of models. As computing power has increased more and more science people have stopped doing real science and started doing mathematical “models” in an attempt to short cut to an answer. This can sometimes work with fairly simple systems. Where it falls to pieces are in large scale dynamic systems with millions of billions of variables, most of which have not been identified. As a result we end up with pseudo-scientists applying more or less linear predictions to dynamic systems. This is always a good plan for getting it wrong.

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Category: Climate Change, Main, Space

About the Author ()

Bruce Henderson is a former Marine who focuses custom data mining and visualization technologies on the economy and other disasters.

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