NASA Headline: Deep Solar Minimum

NASA Science News, Dr. Tony Philips

The sunspot cycle is behaving a little like the stock market. Just when you think it has hit bottom, it goes even lower.

2008 was a bear. There were no sunspots observed on 266 of the year’s 366 days (73%). To find a year with more blank suns, you have to go all the way back to 1913, which had 311 spotless days: plot. Prompted by these numbers, some observers suggested that the solar cycle had hit bottom in 2008.

Maybe not. Sunspot counts for 2009 have dropped even lower. As of March 31st, there were no sunspots on 78 of the year’s 90 days (87%).

It adds up to one inescapable conclusion: “We’re experiencing a very deep solar minimum,” says solar physicist Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center.

“This is the quietest sun we’ve seen in almost a century,” agrees sunspot expert David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center.

see caption

Above: The sunspot cycle from 1995 to the present. The jagged curve traces actual sunspot counts. Smooth curves are fits to the data and one forecaster’s predictions of future activity. Credit: David Hathaway, NASA/MSFC. [more]

Quiet suns come along every 11 years or so. It’s a natural part of the sunspot cycle, discovered by German astronomer Heinrich Schwabe in the mid-1800s. Sunspots are planet-sized islands of magnetism on the surface of the sun; they are sources of solar flares, coronal mass ejections and intense UV radiation. Plotting sunspot counts, Schwabe saw that peaks of solar activity were always followed by valleys of relative calm-a clockwork pattern that has held true for more than 200 years: plot.

The current solar minimum is part of that pattern. In fact, it’s right on time. “We’re due for a bit of quiet-and here it is,” says Pesnell.

But is it supposed to be this quiet? In 2008, the sun set the following records:

A 50-year low in solar wind pressure: Measurements by the Ulysses spacecraft reveal a 20% drop in solar wind pressure since the mid-1990s-the lowest point since such measurements began in the 1960s. The solar wind helps keep galactic cosmic rays out of the inner solar system. With the solar wind flagging, more cosmic rays are permitted to enter, resulting in increased health hazards for astronauts. Weaker solar wind also means fewer geomagnetic storms and auroras on Earth.

A 12-year low in solar “irradiance”: Careful measurements by several NASA spacecraft show that the sun’s brightness has dropped by 0.02% at visible wavelengths and a whopping 6% at extreme UV wavelengths since the solar minimum of 1996. These changes are not enough to reverse the course of global warming, but there are some other, noticeable side-effects: Earth’s upper atmosphere is heated less by the sun and it is therefore less “puffed up.” Satellites in low Earth orbit experience less atmospheric drag, extending their operational lifetimes. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, space junk also remains longer in Earth orbit, increasing hazards to spacecraft and satellites.

see caption

Above: Space-age measurements of the total solar irradiance (brightness summed across all wavelengths). This plot, which comes from researcher C. Fröhlich, was shown by Dean Pesnell at the Fall 2008 AGU meeting during a lecture entitled “What is Solar Minimum and Why Should We Care?”

A 55-year low in solar radio emissions: After World War II, astronomers began keeping records of the sun’s brightness at radio wavelengths. Records of 10.7 cm flux extend back all the way to the early 1950s. Radio telescopes are now recording the dimmest “radio sun” since 1955: plot. Some researchers believe that the lessening of radio emissions is an indication of weakness in the sun’s global magnetic field. No one is certain, however, because the source of these long-monitored radio emissions is not fully understood.

All these lows have sparked a debate about whether the ongoing minimum is “weird”, “extreme” or just an overdue “market correction” following a string of unusually intense solar maxima.

“Since the Space Age began in the 1950s, solar activity has been generally high,” notes Hathaway. “Five of the ten most intense solar cycles on record have occurred in the last 50 years. We’re just not used to this kind of deep calm.”

Deep calm was fairly common a hundred years ago. The solar minima of 1901 and 1913, for instance, were even longer than the one we’re experiencing now. To match those minima in terms of depth and longevity, the current minimum will have to last at least another year.

see captionIn a way, the calm is exciting, says Pesnell. “For the first time in history, we’re getting to see what a deep solar minimum is really like.” A fleet of spacecraft including the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), the twin STEREO probes, the five THEMIS probes, ACE, Wind, TRACE, AIM, TIMED, Geotail and others are studying the sun and its effects on Earth 24/7 using technology that didn’t exist 100 years ago. Their measurements of solar wind, cosmic rays, irradiance and magnetic fields show that solar minimum is much more interesting and profound than anyone expected.

Above: An artist’s concept of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Bristling with advanced sensors, “SDO” is slated to launch later this year–perfect timing to study the ongoing solar minimum. [more]

Modern technology cannot, however, predict what comes next. Competing models by dozens of top solar physicists disagree, sometimes sharply, on when this solar minimum will end and how big the next solar maximum will be. Pesnell has surveyed the scientific literature and prepared a “piano plot” showing the range of predictions. The great uncertainty stems from one simple fact: No one fully understands the underlying physics of the sunspot cycle.

Pesnell believes sunspot counts will pick up again soon, “possibly by the end of the year,” to be followed by a solar maximum of below-average intensity in 2012 or 2013.

But like other forecasters, he knows he could be wrong. Bull or bear? Stay tuned for updates.

h/t’s to Pearland Aggie and Joe D’Aleo

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Ray

“To find a year with more blank suns, you have to go all the way back to 1913”
Using the same limit of sensitivity that was used 100-150 years ago, I think we are way above that in term of % of days with no sunspots.
Speaking of sunspots, there has been this huge magnetic “anomaly” on the sun for several days now, and never it got into a visible sunspot stage. It seems that the sun might sink even lower after this burst of magnetic activity for the last few days.

Pops

I blame global warming….

Michael


These changes are not enough to reverse the course of global warming, but…

So they can understand and can predict Earth’s climate, but the Sun? Not so much. It’s a good thing the one doesn’t affect the other!
Speaking of global warming–and this is a completely unrelated aside–just how much warmer are we these days?

MattB

There are no spots on the sun today
its the same blank sun as yesterday

Dell Hunt, Michigan

Question with regards to this point:
“To find a year with more blank suns, you have to go all the way back to 1913, which had 311 spotless days”
Would some of those micro-spots that were counted in 2008 have been included given the 1913 technology?
If so, it is possible that we actually had less solar activity.

terry46

I thought cycle 24 was over? and if so what will cycle 25 be?More of the same.I’m sure hathaway thinks this is not out of the normal cycle .Just move the goal post .

H

Interesting article but nothing really new to readers of this blog.
I had to note when the article threw this piece in “These changes are not enough to reverse the course of global warming” when talking about irradiance which was then later followed by “The great uncertainty (about how long the cycle will last) stems from one simple fact: No one fully understands the underlying physics of the sunspot cycle.”
But this snippet suggests an interesting correlation with late 20th Century warming .. “”Since the Space Age began in the 1950s, solar activity has been generally high,” notes Hathaway. “Five of the ten most intense solar cycles on record have occurred in the last 50 years. We’re just not used to this kind of deep calm.””
I was then looking for the line that “no one fully understands the sunspot cycle’s effects on world climate, but some have speculated a quiet sun could lead to cooling.” I couldn’t see it. Does anyone know where it went?

MattB

For a comprehensive look at days without spots look here
http://users.telenet.be/j.janssens/Spotless/Spotless.html

I think the question we all want to know is how much longer the sun is likely to be blank for?

We were at 510 spotless days on Jan 1.
http://users.telenet.be/j.janssens/Spotless/Spotless.html#Evolution
12 more days and it will go beyond 600 spotless days ….. and it seems to continue.

They talk about the lack of sun spots but they dont mention that this solar cycle is the longest since the 1790s which predated the Dalton Minimum, a very cold period.
It is incredible to think that with several hundred years of data that shows the direct correlation between changing solar activity and global temperatures that more scientists do not give credit to the sun for causing the warming of the 1980s-1990s and the subsequent cooling of the past decade.
With the oceans now entering a cooling phase, and the sun with such low activity, watch out, it is going to get cooler and already is.

Hoi Polloi

The sun might be flaming out?

Rhys Jaggar

So: the Sun has had 5 intense cycles of waxing and waning.
Wouldn’t you need a good night’s sleep after a night of passion like that?

James Griffin

How can they state this is not enough to stop Global Warming….they are incapable of scientific analysis without repeating the mantra.
We have’nt had a BBQ in three years and have just experienced a very cold winter…and the previous one was not exactly tropical with major ice formations returning to the Arctic and good skiing all over.
But it is “still warming”.
Is this calculated by empicial data based science…..or James Hansen’s computer?

JamesG

This jumps out at me:
“Five of the ten most intense solar cycles on record have occurred in the last 50 years”
That’s news to me. ie the same 50 years of unprecedented warming which is unequivocally due to ghg emissions according to the IPCC? I guess the signature is wrong. Then again, add a little aerosol cooling in the dips et voila.

Mark K

Obviously, it’s just saving itself for the big world ending blow up in 2012 predicted by the Mayan Calendar (or lack thereof).

hareynolds

As discussed, I am getting NO traction with this idea, but I keep repeating it if only for the Comedy of Repetition:
The Gore Minimum.
There, I said it.
And while you’re at it, Albert, keep that Nobel handy. Another couple of really bad winters (or say a DC blizzard on the Cherry Blossoms), and they might want it back. I’m cereal.
Anybody want to speculate what it would mean. climatologically, if the folks in Colorado are correct and we’re spotless for say a decade? Just wondering.
Good news is that thanks to technical advances in “tight shale” production, natural gas is now hovering around $4 per thousand cubic feet (roughly equvalent to $24/barrel oil), so the US is likely in good shape for plenty of clean-burning fuel.
The Bad News is that if this Spotlessness goes on for a while, we might want to be burning something a little less clean (ie spew-up some particulates and aerosols) to warm-up the planet. Buy Coal.

vg

Sorry to be so pedantic but again Mr David Archibald was right. I would follow his advice n this matter from now on LOL…

pmoffitt

It would be interesting to look at the “randomness” and extreme scientific positions held about the sun currently as the author acknowledged with the beginning of global warming consensus in the late 80s. How much randomness occurs in directed versus nondirected scientific opinion? It is interesting the author felt compelled to say the sun’s current state would not impact global warming-or felt the need to qualify this statement in any way (time/duration impact etc) It perhaps reveals the depth of “sensitivity” to saying anything that may be construed as contrary to the current AGW scientific paradigm.

David Ball

Shouldn’t the phrase be “correlation is sometimes causation”? Just sayin’,…

pmoffitt

David Ball (14:15:27) :
Shouldn’t the phrase be “correlation is sometimes causation”? Just sayin’,…
Certainly a more elegant way of saying it- the scientists in me tries to at least appear unbiased

SlicerDicer

Question with regards to this point:
“To find a year with more blank suns, you have to go all the way back to 1913, which had 311 spotless days”
Would some of those micro-spots that were counted in 2008 have been included given the 1913 technology?
If so, it is possible that we actually had less solar activity.
I still say that MUST BE DONE!! this is our one shot to pull out technology from that day and test the theory… if we do not we will be doomed to lose it.. compare results and prove..
I do not have the financial resources to do it or I would.. I keep hoping eventually people will stop asking and somebody will do it 🙂

Robert Wood

Let’s see Five of the ten most intense solar cycles on record have occurred in the last 50 years
and it’s gotten a teensy-weensy bit hotter. However, although we have to go back 100 years to find similar minimas
These changes are not enough to reverse the course of global warming
Of course! “There is no reason to PANIC, ladies and gentlemen; that is not an elephant in the room.”

“sunspot expert David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center”
PLEASE! David Hathaway may well have a PHD in solar physics, but is hardly any more of an expert on sunspots than me. Dr Hathaway seems to crave the spotlight, and sometimes that way bites one in the backside. He would be better off spending his free time studying the sun instead of proofreading his constantly incorrect predcitions. Being wrong 20 straight times about the sun since 2006 should cause his “expert” label to be removed. Honestly, he should be embarrassed with himself.

MattB

vg (14:13:24) :
Sorry to be so pedantic but again Mr David Archibald was right. I would follow his advice n this matter from now on LOL…
For me that is why his book is showing up in the next few days. Too bad I will probably have the only copy in Nebraska.

Robert Wood

hareynolds @ 14:11:33
I second The Gore Minimum tag. He can ad it on his mantlepiece collection, alondsied his Oscar and Nobel Prize.
It will have much more value though, for ever in the future providing an ironic warning to all charletaines and Elmer Gantries.
Can we also nominate Hansen, or Mann, for an Ignobel Prize?

pmoffitt

Per Tucker (14:40:25)
Being wrong never impeded Paul Ehrlich’s career- in fact for Ehrlich- prize money could be correlated with the number of times one is shamelessly wrong.
Sun spots are one thing- Ehrlich said we are all supposed to be dead. Nor did it impede the career of his coauthor on doom prediction- John Holdren our current Science Advisor

Dustin

Shouldn’t the phrase be “correlation is sometimes causation”? Just sayin’,…

That is exactly the way it is, you just phrased it in positive terms instead of negative. See: Correlation does not imply causation

Robert Wood

SlicerDicer @ 14:32:16
Leif has a colleague who is attempting to do just that, I believe. Perhaps he could post on progress and ask for financial support.
A thousand $10 donations go a long way.

“To find a year with more blank suns, you have to go all the way back to 1913, which had 311 spotless days”
Wasn’t it around about 1913 when the early 20th century warming began.

Jeff Wiita

Hi hareynolds,
In an earlier discussion, if I remember right, I found out that the most popular name for the minimum would be the “Landscheidt Minimum,” not the “Gore Minimum.” However, if the minimum causes a new cold period, there was a lot of support for calling the cold period the “Gore Cold Period” or the “Hansen Cold Period.” And, if there is social unrest from the cold period, there was support for calling the social disturbance the “Gore Pessimum” or the “Hansen Pessimum.”
Jeff Wiita

Pearland Aggie

to call it the Gore Minimum would be almost like canonizing the charlatan!
I think it should be the Archibald Minimum 🙂

Pearland Aggie

one thing that seems to be lost in the TSI discussion…it looks like the baseline for this minimum is lower than the previous two by a fair amount. interesting….

Pearland Aggie

Archibald has updated his previous paper with the latest data….
SOLAR CYCLE 24: EXPECTATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
http://www.davidarchibald.info/papers/Archibald2009E&E.pdf

philw1776

Just because Hathaway has been wrong in his predictions he needen’t be trashed. In science you advance a hypothethis based upon what is known and extrapolating to testable predictions. When nature, far more often than not, confounds your predictions you come up with a new model that attempts to explain the data. It takes stones to post predictions publicly. Only if a scientist clings to a clearly falsified hypothethis should he/she be castigated.

Skeptic Tank

Clearly man-made phenomena. I mean, what else could it be? Count me as the first ASM (Anthropogenic Solar Minimum) alarmist.

pmoffitt

per philw1776 (15:23:24) :
agreed with submitted proviso

Sandw15

Jeff Wiita (15:03:30)
“However, if the minimum causes a new cold period, there was a lot of support for calling the cold period the “Gore Cold Period” or the “Hansen Cold Period.” ”
What about the Little Gore Ice Age? (or the Gore Little Ice Age?)

Dave The Engineer

The people at NASA are stuck in their global warming paradigm, they are blind to any facts that contradict their paradigm. Ten years from now we will be able to taunt and ridicule them. That is of course if any of us have survived the twin horrors of an anti-capitalist government and a little ice age. Have a good day. 🙂

Ray

Jeff Wiita (15:03:30) :
““Gore Pessimum” or the “Hansen Pessimum.””
I am sure it will soon be the Gore-Hansen Pendullum, because Climate Change also includes Global Cooling, or whatever the universe throws at us that will make the climate change. They will always be right, just swigning from one side and the other of the issue. We may call them, the Great Swingers.

Pearland Aggie

from the Archibald paper…
Archibald (2006) predicted that climate during the forthcoming Solar Cycles 24
and 25 would be significantly cold. As at late 2008, the progression of the current
23/24 solar minimum indicates that a severe cool period is now inevitable, similar
to that of the Dalton Minimum
. A decline in average annual temperature of 2.2° C
is here predicted for the mid-latitude regions over Solar Cycle 24. The result will
be an equator-ward shift in continental climatic conditions in the mid-latitudes of
the order of 300 km, with consequent severe effects on world agricultural
productivity.

talk about putting predictions out for everyone to see…..also:
Based on our understanding of the interaction of solar and terrestrial processes, the
following projections are made for a number of climate-related physical processes:
1. Month of Solar Cycle 23/24 minimum: July, 2009
2. Year of Solar Cycle 24 maximum: 2016
3. Amplitude of Solar Cycle 24: 45
4. Temperature Decline Solar Cycle 24: 2.2° C
5. Oulu Neutron Count Monthly Peak: 6,900
6. Month of Oulu Neutron Count Peak: July, 2010
7. Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Level: Relatively flat 2010 – 2030

Mark

Michael: “Speaking of global warming–and this is a completely unrelated aside–just how much warmer are we these days?’
http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/hadsst2sh/from:1998/plot/hadsst2sh/from:2001/trend/plot/hadsst2gl/from:1998/plot/hadsst2gl/from:2001/trend
What’s interesting is how the great southern oceans are leading the cooling, which is consistent with Svensmark’s theories. Looking at the cosmic ray data, if Svensmark is right we’re going to be cooling for some time to come if the 24 maximum is lower than 19 which it looks more and more like it will be. Then comes cycle 25 with the potential for even less activity. Thank god I like skiing!

Mike McMillan

JamesG (14:02:44) :
This jumps out at me:
“Five of the ten most intense solar cycles on record have occurred in the last 50 years.” That’s news to me. ie the same 50 years of unprecedented warming which is unequivocally due to ghg emissions according to the IPCC? I guess the signature is wrong.

Robert Wood (14:38:46) :
Let’s see. Five of the ten most intense solar cycles on record have occurred in the last 50 years and it’s gotten a teensy-weensy bit hotter. However, although we have to go back 100 years to find similar minima

.
This was noticed 5 years ago by the Max Planck Institute, and they went back 8000 years. Here’s the 2004 article from Aviation Week:
http://i44.tinypic.com/2hnv1iq.jpg
.

Pearland Aggie

A serious question for all the smart folks out there….assuming the Archibald prediction or some variant of 2.2C cooling happens, has anyone see any data on the practical implications of such an event? I mean, will we still need our air conditioners here in Houston in August and should we expect ice every winter? I’ve never seen a prediction of how such cooling might affect, say for the sake of argument, the continental U.S.

Claude Harvey

Does anyone see a peculiar disconnect here?
First, Dr. Hathaway released an article contending the sun was behaving most abnormally (a couple or three years ago) in which he observed that the “big conveyor belt had shut down”.
Then, more recently, Hathaway released a series of assurances that there was nothing unusual about the sun’s most recent behavior during the minimum and assuring us that cycle # 24 was poised to take off any day.
Then, NASA released a proposal to study the current minimum in which it used descriptions such as “extraordinary”, “lowest ever recorded”, “near record levels”, etc.
Now we hear from these same people that, “The current solar minimum is part of that pattern. In fact, it’s right on time.”
Over the years, I have learned that when I see and hear series of contradictory messages coming out of some bureaucratic organization on some big issue of the day, it means that someone of authority within the organization is struggling (partly unsuccessfully) to maintain control of the organizational agenda. There is a power struggle underway.
Smack in the middle of this latest release lies an answer to what the core of that unraveling agenda may be. Out of nowhere and completely out of context plops the following message: “These changes are not enough to reverse the course of global warming, but there are some other, noticeable side-effects.” I also notice that Dr. Hathaway, the usually cited NASA expert on sun matters is not the author of this latest release.
I believe we can safely conclude that Dr. Hansen is starting to experience some difficulty in forcing reputable scientists within NASA to “carry his water”.

philw1776 (15:23:24) :
“Just because Hathaway has been wrong in his predictions he needen’t be trashed. In science you advance a hypothethis based upon what is known and extrapolating to testable predictions. When nature, far more often than not, confounds your predictions you come up with a new model that attempts to explain the data. It takes stones to post predictions publicly. Only if a scientist clings to a clearly falsified hypothethis should he/she be castigated.”
Okay, I’ll play. Hathaway’s hypothesis and prediction are clearly incorrect. One doesn’t need to wait until the end of SC24 to know this. Hathaway’s lack of openness in admitting he is incorrect shows a distinct lack of stones, don’t you think? It takes no stones or predictive power whatsoever to move the goalposts of your prediction each quarter as if you’ve had an epiphany. I castigate Hathaway for exactly the reason you say allows one to castigate him. For clinging to knowingly false hypothesis’ and predictions.

Pearland Aggie

This is awfully interesting…from Roger Pielke, Jr.
The Thune Amendment
http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/the-thune-amendment-5096
The ability of Congressional legislation on cap and trade to result in actual emissions reductions was dealt a serious blow yesterday. An Amendment was introduced by Senator John Thune (R-SD) on the Budget Resolution and its text is as follows:
To amend the deficit-neutral reserve fund for climate change legislation to require that such legislation does not increase electricity or gasoline prices.
What is this? Climate change legislation cannot increase electricity or gasoline prices? The entire purpose of cap and trade is in fact to increase the costs of carbon-emitting sources of energy, which dominate US energy consumption. The Thune Amendment thus undercuts the entire purpose of cap and trade.
What was the vote on the Thune Amendment? 89-8 in favor of the Amendment, 48 Democrats and 41 Republicans. Only 8 members of the Senate were willing to go on record saying that they support the purpose of a cap and trade bill, to make carbon-emitting energy more expensive. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) voted for the Thune Amendment had this to say:
Any kind of cap-and-trade system that comes forward will not raise energy and gas prices.

Steven Hill

NASA is comical at best…..wow, what an amazing announcment. Why don’t they add in that they totally missed it, instead of it’s normal. Let’s face it, most of the Government is ran by total liars now.
Government Motors
USPS
AIG
All losing billions of taxpayer dollars

Psi

Claude Harvey (15:47:35) :
Smack in the middle of this latest release lies an answer to what the core of that unraveling agenda may be. Out of nowhere and completely out of context plops the following message: “These changes are not enough to reverse the course of global warming, but there are some other, noticeable side-effects.” I also notice that Dr. Hathaway, the usually cited NASA expert on sun matters is not the author of this latest release.
I believe we can safely conclude that Dr. Hansen is starting to experience some difficulty in forcing reputable scientists within NASA to “carry his water”.

Your analysis sounds “spot on” to me. I also noticed that particular sentence and the way it encodes the assumptions under which the organization is, unfortunately, still operating.

mickey obrien

Perhaps this is an opportune moment to share this graphic:
http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3599/3397934482_39460c7dc7_o.jpg