Livingston and Penn paper: "Sunspots may vanish by 2015".

From the “I hope to God they are flat wrong department”, here is the abstract of a short paper on recent solar trends by William Livingston and Matthew Penn of the National Solar Observatory in Tucson. It was sent to me by reader Mike Ward.

I previously highlighted a news story on this paper on May 21st, but didn’t have the actual paper until now. If anyone has an update to this paper, which uses data up to 2005, please use the comment form to advise.

Here is the complete paper, and below are some excerpts:

Abstract: We have observed spectroscopic changes in temperature sensitive molecular lines, in the magnetic splitting of an Fe I line, and in the continuum brightness of over 1000 sunspot umbrae from 1990-2005. All three measurements show consistent trends in which the darkest parts of the sunspot umbra have become warmer (45K per year) and their magnetic field strengths have decreased (77 Gauss per year), independently of the normal 11-year sunspot cycle. A linear extrapolation of these trends suggests that few sunspots will be visible after 2015.

Figure – 1. Sample sunspot spectra from the data set. The dashed line is from a sunspot observed in June 1991, and the solid line was observed in January 2002. These provide examples of the trends seen in the data, where the OH molecular lines decrease in strength over time, and the magnetic splitting of the Fe line decreases over time. A magnetic splitting pattern for the January 2002 Fe line of 2466 Gauss is shown, while the June 1991 spectrum shows splitting from a 3183 Gauss field

Figure 2. – The line depth of OH 1565.3 nm for individual spots. The upper trace is the smoothed sunspot number showing the past and current sunspot cycles; the OH line depth change seems to smoothly decrease independently of the sunspot cycle.

Figure 3. – A linear fit to observed magnetic fields extrapolated to the minimum value observed for umbral magnetic fields; below a field strength of 1500G as measured with the Fe I 1564.8nm line no photospheric darkening is observed.

Figure 4 – A linear fit to the observed umbral contrast values, extrapolated to show that by 2014 the average umbrae would have the same brightness as the quiet Sun.

They write: Sunspot umbral magnetic fields also show systematic temporal changes during the observing period as demonstrated by the sample spectra in Figure 1. The infrared Fe 1564.8 nm is a favorable field diagnostic since the line strength changes less than a factor of two between the photosphere and spot umbra and the magnetic Zeeman splitting is fully resolved for all sunspot umbrae. In a histogram plot of the distribution of the umbral magnetic fields that we observe, 1500 Gauss is the smallest value measured. Below this value photospheric magnetic fields do not produce perceptible darkening. Figure 3 presents the magnetic fields smoothed by a 12 point running mean from 1998 to 2005. The ordinate is chosen so that 1500 G is the minimum. A linear fit to the changing magnetic field produces a slope of 77 Gauss per year, and intercepts the abscissa at 2015. If the present trend continues, this date is when sunspots will disappear from the solar surface.

Let us all hope that they are wrong, for a solar epoch period like the Maunder Minimum inducing a Little Ice Age will be a worldwide catastrophe economically, socially, environmentally, and morally.

I’m still very much concerned about the apparent step change in 2005 to a lower plateau of the Geomagnetic Average Planetary (Ap) index, that I’ve plotted below. This is something that does not appear in the previous cycle:

solar-geomagnetic-Ap Index

click for a larger image

What is most interesting about the Geomagnetic Average Planetary Index graph above is what happened around October 2005. Notice the sharp drop in the magnetic index and the continuance at low levels, almost as if something “switched off”.


newest oldest most voted
Notify of

Has there been any interesting change in solar diameter over the past 20 years or so? Last I read the Sun was showing fairly consistent shrinkage of something like 2 seconds per century or something. I am wondering if that has changed significantly over the past decade or so.
My thought being that we know the Sun is a variable star. And we haven’t been observing it for very long in geological time scales. What if it is in a sort of period of oscillation with some hysteresis? What if the current periods of glaciation and interglacials are due to oscillations inside the Sun? What if the shrinks and gets hotter in the interior and after some thousands of years that heat and light makes its way out and the Sun expands slightly until some point is reached where something “turns off” … say some small amount of helium is being fused but the pressure drops to a point where that stops happening and we have only hydrogen fusion again. And at some point the Sun cools and it begins to shrink again and temperatures and pressures rise but it takes longer to re-ignite or re-start whatever was going on. So you could end up with a 10 percent duty cycle of 100,000 years off and 10,000 years on. At some point the temperature and pressure would rise again due to contraction where whatever it is would turn on, and solar output would jump up, bring us out of the ice age until the Sun expanded enough to shut that down again and we go into another ice age.
So I suppose what I am really wondering is that since we know that part of the life cycle of the Sun will be an eventual switchover to fusing mostly helium from mostly hydrogen, maybe that switchover isn’t “clean”. Maybe it starts and “blows itself out” and then starts again but maybe burns just a little longer before “blowing itself out” again and so forth with the helium cycle lasting a little longer each time and so we end up with a situation where the interglacials get a little hotter and/or a little longer each time until there just aren’t any anymore and we really begin to heat up.
Just musing from a bored engineer with nothing better to occupy his time at the moment 🙂


Hang on – “morally”?? How do you attach morality to a lack of sunspots?
REPLY: From the changes that will occur in governments and populations as they jockey for survival in a colder, disrupted world.

Jeff Alberts

Ultimately these types of things further drive home the point that our existence here is so delicate and at the mercy of forces completely beyond our control. Basically it means we don’t amount to a hill of beans in this universe.

Jim Arndt

Hi Anthony,
A little OT but “NASA’s press office “marginalized or mischaracterized” studies on global warming between 2004 and 2006, the agency’s own internal watchdog concluded.”,2933,362023,00.html


Has anyone looked into Chinese sun spots records during the period surrounding the end of the MWP? Or at the end of the RWP?


On an unrelated note . . . I hear Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras are really great places to shop for land/housing.

Jim Arndt

Hi Anthony, I’ll try again repost if necessary
I started a topic over at the climate audit bb.
We are discussing barycentric, planetary, magnetic and gravitational influences on the sun and our climate. I am going to put some links here but be warned that they may take some reading and some are pretty easy reading. Leif will love these..LOL sarc off. The Hung paper is very interesting but for some reason Saturn is not on there
Theodor Landscheidt’s papers.
Mississippi River Flow
Nile River Flow
Jupiter Saturn cycles
Ching-Cheh Hung
Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio

Pamela Gray

The sun’s magnetic ropes twist up and twist down. Each rotation section twisting on a different rotational speed. When things are really tightly wound, lots of entwined magnetic ropes sprout to the surface and become sunspots. It would seem to me that occasionally, all the twisting rotating speeds rotate into synchrony. When this happens, no sun spots would occur. As the speeds slowly differential once again, sunspots would begin to occur. How long this takes may be what happens during minimums, especially really long cold ones. Just thinking out loud.

Steve Stip

“Ultimately these types of things further drive home the point that our existence here is so delicate and at the mercy of forces completely beyond our control. Basically it means we don’t amount to a hill of beans in this universe.” Jeff Alberts
Jeff, You have it exactly backwards. Yes, our existence is delicately balanced and has been for a long time. I am confident that SOMEONE is keep it balanced for our sake and it ain’t Al Gore.


I would apprecieate Lief’s comments/thoughts on the last graph.


Jim Arndt (17:48:08):
Very interesting -especially liked the Chavratova article on the 178 year solar-jupiter dance and the correlation of disordered solar orbits with solar minima/cooling.


I close my eyes:
I think they’ve seen enough,
Light hurts:
Can anyone switch off the sun?


Switch off the sun the stars and the moon
I have all I need inside of this room


Turn off the sun
Take down the moon
Eliminate the words “I love you”


She lost her soul
And there are no ears to hear her cries
The sun is gone

Even the rocket scientists have trouble predicting sunspot cycles. I keep a few bookmarks in a folder I call “10 inches of partly cloudy” (As a meteorologist, Anthony probably cringes at that title) with really bust forecasts of whatever. The article at has earned its rightful place in that folder. This version appears to have been issued for the dumbed down press…
March 10, 2006: It’s official: Solar minimum has arrived. Sunspots have all but vanished. Solar flares are nonexistent. The sun is utterly quiet.
Like the quiet before a storm.
This week researchers announced that a storm is coming–the most intense solar maximum in fifty years. The prediction comes from a team led by Mausumi Dikpati of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). “The next sunspot cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the previous one,” she says. If correct, the years ahead could produce a burst of solar activity second only to the historic Solar Max of 1958.
A similar news release at is more detailed and has more graphs, but the drift is the same.
REPLY: Sounds like “10 years of partly spotty”. – Anthony


reflections on the blank, pitiless gaze of the sun (thanks to Y.B. Yeats)
The sun ain’t got no spots.
That means it won’t get hot.
If they stay away,
they’ll be cold to pay.
hey! The sun ain’t got no spots.

Bill Livingston sent me the same file yesterday, I was a awaiting his permission before passing it on to you. I think there are snippets of a slightly more recent version that stretches the data back in time a bit. I don’t think there’s anything with newer data plotted, but the data may be logged. I did ask how they are doing with measuring sunspecks, but haven’t heard back.
The thing I find fascinating are the linear trends and the non-coupling to the 11 year cycle. It’s unfortunate that there is so little to compare it to and less idea of what’s behind it. The trend could suddenly change and sunspots could reassert their glory or cycle 24 could finally get rolling only to fade into a Maunder-style minimum a few years later.


The only problem with these extrapolations is they look an awful lot like the sort of global warming extrapolations that we’ve been treated to. We all know just how error-prone extrapolation can be.
Look at fig. 3. The authors are extrapolating a 6 year trend (2000 to 2006) out an extra 9 years to 2015. If they extrapolated 9 years the other way (back to 1991) they’d be dead wrong.

Dodgy Geezer

“a Little Ice Age will be a worldwide catastrophe economically, socially, environmentally, and morally…”
Most of these I can understand. But ‘morally’?
Perhaps you are concerned that when people wrap up warm under the sheets they might get up to naughty things…?
REPLY: If such a minimum materializes, and we see crop failures and food shortages, watch for the moral change in the way certain governments deal with the proble,

Jack Simmons

I hope we don’t get a serious sunspot minimum.
In any event, I like the proposal I heard somewhere, might have been here, to label the next sunspot minimum the Al Gore minimum.
Another note:
My comments regarding the role of the sun in climate were not posted on Dot Earth. This was also my response to the charge I was one of the “scurrilous, industry-paid denialists, come here to spread confusion among the uninitiate.”
It would appear if you believe the sun might have something to do with the climate, you’re not allowed to talk to others about it.

Pierre Gosselin

Honestly, I was hoping a Dalton Minimum to be in the works in order to shut up the sophomoric AGW scientists. Indeed the mitigation programs these alarmist climate brats have been advocating would be far worse for humanity than what a Dalton Minimum cold possibly muster.
However, even I would prefer not to see future generations have to go through Maunder-type Minimum, as the aftermath would be worse than what even Al Gore could bring us.
Still, I’m not going to lose any sleep over this, as this is just another worst case scenario. I seriously doubt this will materialise.

You are right, of course, about extrapolations being risky business. In fact, the same thought occurred to me regarding the “global warming” theory being so dependent on extrapolations.
However, a few differences are worth noting:
1. Livingston and Penn are careful to couch their summary not as a prediction but as an “if” … as with “… if the present trend continues, this date is when sunspots will disappear from the solar surface.” As I see it, they are merely presenting what they know and examining one possible outcome if the current trends continue. That seems reasonable to me. It’s interesting data and shows one possible significant outcome.
2. Livingston and Penn base their extrapolations on actual data. The IPCC extrapolates from model results built on assumptions (not proven) using models that cannot accurately predict current climate from past data. Consequently, IPCC projections/extrapolations are worthless as they have been historically misused in the summary reports. IPCC takes things further by attempting to put a label on naked guessing that sounds like valid statistical estimations of likelihood. This is effective technique for dealing with journalists and politicians. It is also nothing but old-fashioned propaganda; it certainly isn’t science. But wrapped in mounds of data and charts, it’s evidently enough to fool those same journalists and politicians.
But your basic point is well worth keeping in mind with any extrapolation. I appreciate the caution that Livingston and Penn have evidently placed on theirs.
For amusement, imagine if there were a UN-sponsored organization, the IPSC (change “Climate” in IPCC to “Solar”), tasked with finding a solar cause for global cooling. This paper would be sufficient to be featured in IPSC reports as well as Science, Scientific American, Nature, etc., etc., and it would have been full of dire warnings of future glacial advances. Media would pounce on the extrapolations as valid predictions. Politicians and journalists might be advocating burning more fossil fuel in order to counteract the solar influence on global climate cooling.

Yesterday upon the Sun
I spied a spot that wasn’t fun.
It wasn’t there again today.
I wish that spot would stop its play.
Oh no – I’ve been infected too!


IMHO, this falls into the same category as AGW-prognosticators’ theories.
It is an attempt to predict the future, based on woefully inadequate data, extrapolating from past cycles which proved to be relatively unpredictable, using recent data to extrapolate in a largely linear fashion.
In short: it falls into the same logical and scientific traps which besets AGW.
There are some things we can say about this subject, with relative assurance: – the absolute number of sunspots are presently very low;
– our limited observations suggest that, with a slight lag, periods of lower sunspot activity might coincide with less recorded high temperature extremes.
– in the past, the present rate of sunspot activity has tended to indicate that we are towards the bottom of the present “cycle”;
– within our very small number of observations, this current bottoming is not particularly short;
– we have data on far too few cycles to know whether or not this is a typical cycle, nor whether the average 11 year cycle is valid;
– there are over 90,000 eleven year periods per million years.
I dislike “future machines” almost as much as many people dislike the uncertainty and unpredictablility of tomorrow.
IMO, those who simply use past graphs/frequencies/data/etc. in an attempt to predict the future are not employing the scientific method (there is no hypothesis, which might be disproven or supported), but merely extrapolating.
Extrapolation is an interesting (some would say existential) pastime, but it is not science – even when enhanced via supercomputer.

Cycle 24 starts,
The spots are just tiny specks.
Then invisible.


What? You get paid? and here I’ve been a denialist for free. How do I get paid?

There once was a spot from Hi-Lat
that looked like a bug had gone splat.
But then the penumbra
did merge with the umbra
and that made the Sun’s face go flat.

Oh dear, this is one of the first limericks I’ve managed to write.
After moving to Eastern Massachusetts in 1974 I thought of writing a limerick that rhymed Boston with Lost in, but it took years before I could rhyme those. (Austin)
There once was a lady from Austin
who moved to the fair town of Boston.
Her maps she did spurn
she took a wrong turn
and joined all the folks who were lost in.

Evan, I’m holding you responsible for this. You better save me a page in your forthcoming bestseller of dark poetry.


One minor nit to pick. The modelers do have actual data behind their projections. The 0.6C temp increase over the last century.
The big difference is that, as Anthony has demonstrated, the temperature record is so badly polluted with micro-site, UHI, land use change, equipment change and lack of maintenance, etc. issues, as to be close to useless. In my opinion.
The data on sunspots and solar magnetism do not suffer from such problems.


#2 is an excellent one.

Pamela Gray

The paper presents a delicious opportunity to quantify this downturn data, not just graph trend lines. Let’s not forget the mathematical formulas for many types of energy producing phenomena (thank you Einstein). The sun has many features that are known and can be quantified. It is just a matter of time before these observations yield to a chalk board filled with calculations of magnetic rope twisting, the inertia produced by such twisting, and thus the calculated rotation speed of the various sections of the sun into union and disunion. All these calculations will lead to magnetic/energy changes that can be predicted decades in advance. Once the relationship between magnetic changes and earth’s atmosphere is understood (cosmic ray cloud seeding?), the world will move on to the next great mystery.

Bill Illis

While the Sun is a variable star, it is important to remember it is also a remarkably stable star.
Temperatures declined somewhat during the Little Ice Age and the Dalton Minimum but it appears to be limited to 1 degree (1.5 degrees at the extreme) in decline.
Changes in Earth’s orbit appear to have much more influence on the climate (in the recent history versus long-term geologic history) where we have changes in temperature of as much as 6.0C throughout the ice ages.
The most likely culprit (not the Sun) would be less tilt of the Earth (less warming in high latitudes in the summer months leading to snowpack not completely melting leading to glacier build-up, leading to lower insolation, leading to an ice age. etc. ) A more eliptical orbit also results in the Earth being farther from the Sun in the northern hemisphere’s summer, leading to less melting of the snowpack in the summer etc. etc. leading to a greater ice age in the northern hemisphere than the south.
Milankovitch versus solar cycles to explain the ice ages.

Denis Hopkins

How odd! I have heard so many AGW stories it never crossed my mind that Hansen et al were being denied access to the media by NASA
as reported in the LA times today.,1,1985984.story

That’s really interesting. I agree with Jeff Alberts that our existence is dwarfed by what happens around us in the universe, but I see this as a positive circumstance. Speaking of morals, for us to gain a degree of humility, for us to believe in something much bigger than ourselves to which we’re subject, whether that’s through religion or science, is a healthy thing. And check out my CARTOONS by clicking on my name link.


I fail to see how a linear extrapolation is at all justified. Pick any previous downward trend, extrapolate it until it reaches zero, did that zero occur? Pick any previous upward trend, extrapolate until the whole sun is one sunspot, did that occur?


Couple Questions: Was this published? And (in the same way I am with the warm-alarmists) shouldn’t we be cautious about linear extrapolation? The warm-alarmists do this with the Arctic sea-ice melt all the time and it isn’t quite correct.
Cold-Alarmists can’t co-opt the methods of the warm-alarmists. Worst-case scenarios almost never happen in reality.

[…] according to a paper from National Solar Observatory reseachers William Livingston and Matthew Penn, there is a very good possibility, based on studies, that the Sun – our life force – will no longer […]


Bob is 100% spot-on with his IPSC analogy. Hail, head, BANG!


That October, 2007 “step” is reminiscent of the result of changing instruments/locations/conditions at weather stations. Could an instrumentation or data processing change be involved?
The “morally” topic should be taken very seriously. During the Maunder Minimum, “witch trials” were implemented to find and punish those responsible for bad weather and crop failures. Ever hear of the crime of “weather cooking?” It was some people’s bad luck to boil their clothes (an old method of doing the wash) just before some bad weather and get accused of causing it. I think this is where the image of the “witches cauldron” comes from. Now think about the warmists who are already calling for criminal trials for “carbon polluters” in our current comfortable time. What might they foment in truly hard times?
I believe the name of the next solar minimum is already spoken for as the Landscheidt Minimum. Some researchers have been forecasting its likely onset for some years now. I hope they’re wrong.


What’s to worry about? The sun is just a very large light bulb, but not the energy saving type.


Bob: you’re right, the authors do put in some “if’s”. My point is that it’s a giant if. It should be in 48pt bold. I guess I wasn’t too clear that I think the IPCC predictions are also little more than linear extrapolations (dressed up with supercomputer climate modelling), and they don’t seem to be panning out. Why should we expect the sunspot/magnetism extrapolations to do any better?
Still, interesting stuff.


the real fact of the matter is that if the charts proved correct, no sun spots at all in 2015, worldwide temperatures drop by, let’s say 5 degrees over 1999, too many people have too much invested in global warming to admit that it’s a fraud. We could be seeing consistent freezes in Orange county CA, with actual snow caps in the Hollywood Hills, and people will still be running around, calling it an aberration, insisting that the world is actually getting warmer, in spite of the evidence we saw before our eyes.

Richard deSousa

I hope they’re wrong too. If the sunspots do disappear and we enter another Maunder Minimum the catastrophic results will see the planet’s population plummet as hundreds of millions will die from the next mini ice age – starvation due to food production plummeting; deaths due to the cold climate – the old will be the first to be affected, then the sick and infirmed. Yeah, I hope Livingston and Penn are wrong.

1990 – 2005 6 years of data
2006 – (Jan.) 2015 9 years extrapolation
Where are the updates? 2006, 2007, 2008 (1/2) data?
1990 – (Jun.) 2008 8.5 years of data
(July) 2008 – (Jan.) 2015 6.5 years of extrapolation

Alan S. Blue

Up to date graph of the sunspots here. From NOAA/SWSP, up to May 31.

Mike Ward

I’m not sure what all the excitement is about. An extrapolation to zero is never mentioned in any of the graphs. It only mentions either “minimum observed” or “contrast to a quiet sun.” Paraphrasing Steve Martin, panic is not pretty. The paper is a study on formulae applied to collected data, with a deduction to fixed measurable points. How I read it: if x happens then this feasible y will happen. I’m not a solar scientist, but I can read. Maybe a better title would have been ‘Sun may become magnetically dormant by 2015.”
Please don’t throw a bunch of scientific lingo at me. I wouldn’t understand it anyway. I just want to see Al Gore, shivering and penniless on a corner, “Will eat crow for heat.”
Mike Ward
Dallas, TX


Just testing!


Which is worse – letting the pied piper lead us into a somewhat poorer carbon salvation in a relatively warm world, or living through a cooling cycle amidst a global die-off of Maunder minimum scope?
Maybe we’ll see both. It certainly looks like that right now. The silence from the AGW crowd regarding the obvious lack of solar activity and ocean/atmosphere cooling does not bode well.
Barring any major re-adjustments of the temperatures (not a certainty by any means), I am pretty sure that it will take at least another year of cooling to convince a significant portion of scientists and the press that something major is happening. Whether politicians will then follow is another thing, as they tend to take a long time to get anything done (look at the push back on biofuels).

D. Quist

Tom in Texas.
Math please: Figure 2 in the report covers 1990-2005, 15-16 years of data. That trend is pretty powerful as it does go through one and a half cycles.
The two other figures, 3 and 4, do look a little odd with the data going in the opposite direction before ~2000, compared to the trendline after. I do agree, what was the data from 1990 to 2005 for “magnetic fields” and “observed umbral contrast values”? Why cut it off at 1998?
It is always more powerful if a claim (figure 1) can be backed up with additional observations (figure 3 and 4), if they would cover the same time period, or depending on what is being measured, use the same base reference.
One always have to be on ones toes with these reports.


While I agree that extrapolation is risky, for corroboration there is the fact that the “solar conveyor belt”, which predicts activity one cycle out, has slowed to the point that NASA has reported it “off the charts”.
There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.