June 10, 2008
Delay In Next Solar Cycle Continues

Our sun is being a slacker.

BOZEMAN -- 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.

The climate always changes. Natural forces will cause big climate changes even if humans do not interfere.

The 11 year sun spot cycle reminds me of women who fear pregnancy and wait for their late menstrual cycle. We are late on the warming part of the solar cycle. Have you started to worry yet?

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.

Cold weather would shorten growing seasons and therefore reduce crop yields. Cold weather would also raise heating costs and other costs associated with winter such as plowing. All this would happen while the world oil production declines.

But I'm not talking about the late start of the next sun cycle to alarm you. Oh no. Why get alarmed about something that would make for an exciting science fiction adventure movie?

The bleak truth is that, under normal conditions, most of North America and Europe are buried under about 1.5km of ice. This bitterly frigid climate is interrupted occasionally by brief warm interglacials, typically lasting less than 10,000 years.

The interglacial we have enjoyed throughout recorded human history, called the Holocene, began 11,000 years ago, so the ice is overdue. We also know that glaciation can occur quickly: the required decline in global temperature is about 12C and it can happen in 20 years.

The next descent into an ice age is inevitable but may not happen for another 1,000 years. On the other hand, it must be noted that the cooling in 2007 was even faster than in typical glacial transitions. If it continued for 20 years, the temperature would be 14C cooler in 2027.

By then, most of the advanced nations would have ceased to exist, vanishing under the ice, and the rest of the world would be faced with a catastrophe beyond imagining.

Suppose another ice age started. Think about all the massive desperate large scale engineering efforts that would be undertaken in order to prevent the enormous disaster that would befall us.

But how to heat the planet? Cooling it is a lot easier. How to prevent a new ice age? Anyone come across some good proposals on this? A massive release of methane into the atmosphere perhaps?

What, me worry? Anthony Watts summarizes the latest data on planetary cooling.

Confirming what many of us have already noted from the anecdotal evidence coming in of a much cooler than normal May, such as late spring snows as far south as Arizona, extended skiing in Colorado, and delays in snow cover melting, (here and here), the University of Alabama, Huntsville (UAH) published their satellite derived Advanced Microwave Sounder Unit data set of the Lower Troposphere for May 2008.

It is significantly colder globally, colder even than the significant drop to -0.046°C seen in January 2008.

The global ∆T from April to May 2008 was -.195°C

2008 1 -0.046
2008 2 0.020
2008 3 0.094
2008 4 0.015
2008 5 -0.180

Compared to the May 2007 value of 0.199°C we find a 12 month ∆T is -.379°C.

I like being able to walk to work in June without working up a major sweat. So far it doesn't seem like a problem to me.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 June 10 10:44 PM  Climate Trends

Some guy said at June 10, 2008 11:37 PM:

Dude, have you read the Niven/Pournelle/Flynn book "Fallen Angels"? I thought it was a pleasant little bit of slightly self-indulgent hyperbole when I read it a few years ago, but WOW how things change!

rsilvetz said at June 11, 2008 12:28 AM:

Of course, if they learned to do literature searches they would find the references showing that nutation and precession of the Earth in its orbit are the primary variables defining major Ice Ages, and the lesser Ice Ages related to the impact of the lunar orbit on Earth. Old knowledge in the astrophysics community....

Tim said at June 11, 2008 6:26 AM:

Lets say worse case scenario, the ice age is coming. Okay even ignoring the huge increase in CO2 that would be produced by people burning more fuel(coal, oil natural gas) to try to keep warm consider this: http://www.redcolony.com/art.php?id=0101050 super greenhouse gases thousands of times more potent than CO2. If it would work on Mars don't see why it wouldn't work on Earth. Imagine factories all over the world pumping out millons of tons of this, over years. Seems to me it would dampen the effect of any ice age cooling.

pond said at June 11, 2008 9:56 AM:

This post really did confuse me. Is it really that much cooler this year? The Watts link goes to a study measuring 'temperatures in the lower troposphere' but is that really the same as 'global temperatures'?

Everybody in North America (mostly the skeptics) are saying how cold it was, and they point to those record snowfalls in China, too. But then comes a report saying that winter 2007-8 was the third warmest on record, and that the temps in Europe and Great Britain in January were all time highs. And I read that the coolness of North America was just the result of a strong La Nina condition, one likely to last a few years.

Again, looking at the chart of the U Alabama Huntsville troposphere measurements, we see that 2007 was down so low that it all but wiped out the 20th century's temperature gains. But then James Hansen at NASA says that 2007 was the second hottest year in the record books, and only just below 1998; indeed, 2007 may have been the hottest year recorded.

So, are these people measuring different things? Is the troposphere temperature a better future indicator of the effect of sunspots on terrestrial temperatures in the years to come? Or is Watts just cherry-picking and trying to deceive us all with one data point? Or is James Hansen putting his career reputation on the line, and doing a bit of cherry-picking himself?

James Bowery said at June 11, 2008 10:39 AM:


It doesn't seem fair, but it's the cold, hard truth — accent on cold: While Seattle hasn't seen a 70-degree day in more than two weeks, Fairbanks, Alaska, has had six of them in the past 10 days.

Just about everyone, it seems, is toastier than we are. You've heard of International Falls, Minn., the self-proclaimed "Icebox of the Nation?"? It's had four days this month in the 70s, topped off with a pleasant 75 on Sunday.

Across the Atlantic, the northern destination of Oslo, Norway, has been passing the 70-degree mark nearly every day recently, while even the Siberian city of Tomsk, Russia, hit the 70s last weekend.

Meanwhile, shivering Seattle residents, hearing about snowplows back at work on Snoqualmie Pass this week, probably have only dim memories of the 77-degree high of May 24, the last time the mercury crept into the 70s here.

philw1776 said at June 11, 2008 1:25 PM:

Anthony Watts' site www.wattsupwiththat.com is an excellent resource for tracking the solar cycle or lack of same. He also has great reports on "how NOT to set up a temperature measurement station" illustrating how structures, asphalt and other developments have created heat islands distorting the 'official' temperature measuring stations. A fun and informative blog.

Randall Parker said at June 11, 2008 6:43 PM:


One problem with the super potent green houses known as the perfluorocarbons is that they last tens of thousands of years. Unless you know you need to heat up the planet for tens of thousands of years their use might create big long term problems.

We need shorter duration yet highly potent green house gases. Or we could turn deserts barren black with a special coating.

K said at June 11, 2008 6:55 PM:

The current whatever-it-is rather cooler decade after a very hot 1998 is a blessing. As some others have noted, we have not had huge volcanic events to confuse matters. We have also not had unusual solar behavior until the last year or so.* Now the sun is very quiet. It will be good if it remains quiet for years so solar influence can be better evaluated.

Here is my understanding of the measurement situation:

The five big agencies measuring world temperature divide into two sets. The two agencies using satellite measurements agree pretty well and are reporting the lowest temperatures. And two of the three agencies using ground sensors produce similar results but the third is reporting higher results.

The agency GISS that does not agree makes more use of algorithms to infer temperatures where there are few measuring stations i.e. the Arctic, some parts of Africa and Asia and S. America.

I can't get very excited about differences. The causes will be found and the measures will converge. If the differences are technical they will be corrected. If they stem from attitude or self-interest then change will come with retirements and new leaders.*

IMO Watts did a great service in leading a detailed examination of US weather stations. Many were not properly sited and/or the records were poor. What effect that had is certainly arguable but who really wants science to proceed from poor records? Beyond the weather station program he has branched out to related topics and has been mistaken at times. But what he does is always clearly explained and can be assessed on merit.

* Which reminds me that the Smithsonian insisted for decades that Langley built the first flyable airplane. Their big problem was that the plane didn't fly. But Langley had been funded by them, was a great scientist/engineer, and they were certain his design was good. What today's assessment of Langley's efforts I can't say.

pete said at June 11, 2008 7:14 PM:

Variation of total irradiance during an eleven year solar cycle is 0.1%.
Variation of short wave (UV) irradiance is 1.5%.

Forest takes up 8% more of short wave irradiance than pasture does.

Global deforestation happens at an annual rate of 0.2%.

As opposed to solar cycles, the loss of forests is a man made trend dating back over several centuries.

If a 50 year long lack of sunspots was enough to trigger a small ice age between 1650 and 1700 AD, what do you think a cumulative solar energy conversion loss of 0.2% per annum can cause in the long run?

Would you really just worry about the sun's next solar maximum being overdue for a couple of years?
I tend to believe that if it wasn't for the manmade addition of greenhouse gases and more water vapour in the atmosphere, we'd be sitting around in a rather unpleasantly cold environment already.

.........precession of the Earth in its orbit are the primary variables defining major Ice Ages....
Milankovich was aware that this was just one of several factors, since it turns out that ice ages do not recur every 26,000 year, nor do they seem common in other geological epochs.

Toadal said at June 11, 2008 9:22 PM:

If you care to follow our suns daily diary of sunspots, solar flux, solar wind, and similar data, feel free to access the NASA\NOAH solar data aggregation site: http://www.solarcycle24.com/

David Tufte said at June 11, 2008 11:34 PM:

I live in the high desert of southwestern utah (5900 feet).

I tolerate, but I'm not a fan of hot weather.

But this "summer" is starting to annoy me. We start cooling off steadily starting in about 4 weeks, and I don't think we've hit 85 yet. Normally by this time we'd be in the high 90's every day. Last week, we rescheduled our daughters water party until tomorrow, and they're forecasting a high of 68.

Phil said at June 12, 2008 12:00 AM:

It's year two of a La Nina event. That in itself is enought to slightly depress spring temperatures.

The worrying thing is the temperature rises we're likely to see when the sun "wakes up".

IIRC, solar variation is responsible for changes of at most 0.3 degrees Celsius at the earth's surface.

Man-made climate change will a far greater factor over the coming decades (and centuries).

Brett Bellmore said at June 12, 2008 3:01 PM:

"IIRC, solar variation is responsible for changes of at most 0.3 degrees Celsius at the earth's surface."

CO2, directly, doesn't do much either. As I understand it, CO2 is supposed to very marginally increase global temperatures, which increases evaporation, and the increased H2O in the atmosphere accomplishes the real work of warming the planet. Theoretically anything that caused a warming or cooling of comparable magnitude would invoke the same amplification.

Randall Parker said at June 12, 2008 6:39 PM:


I think IPCC projections of future CO2 levels are not realistic because world oil and natural gas production will both plummet in the next 10 years and beyond.

The biggest CO2 question in my mind: How much coal do we have left?

Phil said at June 12, 2008 11:31 PM:


Others have dealt with the coal issue better than I. Suffice it to say nature's already sequestered a lot of carbon in the form of coal, and we'd be totally stupid to reverse that. To claim that we'll sequester the CO2 from coal consumption is ingenuous at best.

There's a time lag between emissions and effects, so things would keep getting worse if we stopped consuming fossil fuels today.

We need 60%+ cuts in fossil fuel consumption to get anywhere near an equilibrium state of CO2 in the atmosphere. It'll be a while before peak oil achieves that for us.

So, things are still going to get a lot worse before they get better.

Randall Parker said at June 13, 2008 6:46 PM:


We might not have as much coal left as most believe. Richard Heinberg has written a pretty good review of the arguments for lower coal reserves. He covers the National Academies Of Sciences report, the Energy Watch Group Report, and the arguments of of David Rutledge and Jean Laherrère on the subject of Peak Coal. I read these guys and think IPCC projections of future CO2 emissions are unrealistic.

Ken said at June 14, 2008 5:38 PM:

I think there's plenty enough coal to make lots more CO2 for the near future - and with oil prices so high, turning it into oil will happen soon. I think that will more than make up for any reduction in oil use.

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©