Sunspots bring disappointment to climate change skeptics

A couple of months ago, in “Ice Age predictions are premature”,  I discussed an alternative climate theory that has been exciting anthropogenic climate change skeptics this year.  Climate change, it was argued, was overwhelmingly influenced by sunspot incidence, and the current dying solar cycle 23 had led to a period of quiescence that, if continued, would lead to a minor ice age.

Since then the sun has continued to be alarmingly quiescent–this isn’t unprecedented, but you have to go back about a century to find similar periods.  However,  David Hathaway of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center reports that there has been recent activity, and in October, for the first time, sunspots from the new solar cycle, 24, have outnumbered those from the dying cycle.  Hathaway takes this as a sign that solar cycle 24 is kicking off, but sounds a note of caution: “We’re still years away from solar maximum and, in the meantime, the sun is going to have some more quiet stretches.”

As I noted in my previous piece, the anthropogenic climate change skeptics had been getting quite excited by the quiet sun because they believe this would cause significant drops in global temperature lasting for several decades, similar to the “little ice ages” that accompanied previous long-lasting mimima.  If their hypothesis is right, a small ice age like that would show rather conclusively that existing climate models were grossly inaccurate.   The recent solar activity, which has also produced solar flares. means that the sun probably isn’t as quiescent as some of the solar activity climate change proponents had hoped.  Irrespective of whether their alternative climate theory is correct, we probably won’t get any new data to test it with.

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NASA to hold teleconference about “Conditions On And Surrounding The Sun”

A week or so ago, in “Ice Age Predictions are premature“, I discussed some speculation resulting from observations of the current solar cycle end.  However it’s undeniable that we’re learning a lot about the operation of the sun that we didn’t know.  Just two years ago, NASA’s solar physicists were predicting that the next solar cycle, Solar Cycle 24, would be a very active one, and the first sunspot of the new cycle, in January. 2008 (recognizable because of its location and reversed polarity) was greeted by the Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Panel as conforming to their predictions.  But sunspots since then, apart from a few stragglers from Cycle 23, have been extremely sparse, defying predictions.  Something unusual is definitely happening, although the current solar minimum is far, far from matching the decades-long minima of former centuries as yet.  Time will tell.

Meanwhile, NASA and ESA have announced a teleconference for Tuesday, 23 September, 2008, about recent solar measurements from the two agencies’ joint Ulysses mission.  The solar wind is apparently at a 50-year low.  “The sun’s current state”, they report, “could result in changing conditions in the solar system.”  The briefing will be held at 0630 GMT (1230 EDT), Tuesday.  The panelists are Ed Smith, Dave McComas, and Karine Issautier of the Ulysses project, and Nancy Crooker of Boston University.

Ice Age predictions are premature

A Scene on the Ice

A Scene on the Ice

The internet has been full of speculation about the late start of Solar Cycle 24, with some voices predicting an abrupt drop in global average temperatures associated with a prolonged sun spot minimum, like one that affected temperatures in the early nineteenth century.

While it was quickly rebutted within the mainstream scientific community, the speculation has continued to provide a source of comfort for those who remain skeptical about global warming.

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