Saturday, September 18, 2010

Is Earth Headed Into a Maunder Minimum?

Here are some bits from an article in the AAAS's Science magazine. It is research by astronomers at the National Solar Observatory in Tucson, Arizona and it is hinting that we may be heading into a Maunder Minimum which is associated with "mini ice ages":
Scientists studying sunspots for the past 2 decades have concluded that the magnetic field that triggers their formation has been steadily declining. If the current trend continues, by 2016 the sun's face may become spotless and remain that way for decades—a phenomenon that in the 17th century coincided with a prolonged period of cooling on Earth.

Sunspots appear when upwellings of the sun's magnetic field trap ionized plasma—or electrically charged, superheated gas—on the surface. Normally, the gas would release its heat and sink back below the surface, but the magnetic field inhibits this process. From Earth, the relatively cool surface gas looks like a dark blemish on the sun.

Astronomers have been observing and counting sunspots since Galileo began the practice in the early 17th century. From those studies, scientists have long known that the sun goes through an 11-year cycle, in which the number of sunspots spikes during a period called the solar maximum and drops—sometimes to zero—during a time of inactivity called the solar minimum.

The last solar minimum should have ended last year, but something peculiar has been happening. Although solar minimums normally last about 16 months, the current one has stretched over 26 months—the longest in a century. One reason, according to a paper submitted to the International Astronomical Union Symposium No. 273, an online colloquium, is that the magnetic field strength of sunspots appears to be waning.

Since 1990, solar astronomers Matthew Penn and William Livingston of the National Solar Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, have been studying the magnetic strength of sunspots using a measurement called Zeeman splitting. Named after the Dutch physicist who discovered it, the splitting is the distance that appears between a pair of lines in a spectrograph of the light given off by iron atoms in the sun’s atmosphere. The wider the splitting, the greater the intensity of the magnetic field that created it. After examining the Zeeman splitting of 1500 sunspots, Penn and Livingston conclude that the average magnetic field strength of sunspots has declined from about 2700 gauss—the average strength of Earth's field is less than 1 gauss—to about 2000 gauss. The reasons for the decrease are not clearly understood, but if the trend continues, sunspot field strength will drop to 1500 gauss by as early as 2016. Because 1500 gauss is the minimum required to produce sunspots, Livingston says, at that level they would no longer be possible.

The phenomenon has happened before. Sunspots disappeared almost entirely between 1645 and 1715 during a period called the Maunder Minimum, which coincided with decades of lower-than-normal temperatures in Europe nicknamed the Little Ice Age. But Livingston cautions that the zero-sunspot prediction could be premature. "It may not happen," he says. "Only the passage of time will tell whether the solar cycle will pick up." Still, he adds, there's no doubt that sunspots "are not very healthy right now." Instead of the robust spots surrounded by halolike zones called penumbrae, as seen during the last solar maximum (photo), most of the current crop looks "rather peaked," with few or no penumbrae.
I will find it hysterically funny if all the activists who have been working so hard to destroy economic progress in order to reduce CO2 were doing this right in the teeth of a mini ice age!

The full paper can be read here. From the introductory section of the paper:
Sunspots are cool dark regions on the solar surface with strong magnetic fields. There have been few direct measurements of changes in the physical parameters of sunspots, but here we present a study which shows that sunspots are becoming warmer and have weaker magnetic fields. The number of sunspots visible on the Sun normally shows an 11-year periodicity, and the current sunspot cycle (cycle 23) had a maximum in 2001, and is entering a minimum phase with few sunspots currently visible. Our data show that there are additional changes occurring in sunspots, independent of the sunspot cycle, and these trends suggest that sunspots will disappear completely. Such an event would not be unprecedented, since during a famous episode from 1645-1715, known as the Maunder Minimum, the normal 11-year periodicity vanished and there were virtually no sunspots visible on the solar surface. Recent studies of the appearance rate and latitudinal drift of sunspots and of the solar magnetic field predict that the number of sunspots visible in future cycles will be significantly reduced. Finally the occurrence of prolonged periods with no sunspots is important to climate studies, since the Maunder Minimum was shown to correspond with the reduced average global temperatures on the Earth.
Here in British Columbia the government has imposed a "carbon tax" to try to price the use of fuels and heating sources so high that people will be forced to either shiver in the cold, pay more, or buy expensive equipment to reduce energy consumption. It will be hysterically and pathetically funny to watch the working poor shivering in the cold as a mini ice age comes on and the government busily collecting a tax that has been imposed to deal with a supposed incipient "global warming" climate change.


thomas said...

This is very interesting research and theory especially in light of discussions we had recently in our home about the southwest indians; the Hohokam, Anasazim and Mogollon. I was, in that conversation, trying to recall what I had been taught in my high school southwest history class and we started googling around on the topic.. I found this one plus some other ones that led me to still believe that changes in climate led those peoples to abandon their homes. Here is the paragraph from that article that concerns what I was looking for at that time:

"The climate of the past 2,000 years includes several notable global events including the Medieval Warm Period from 1000 to 1350 A.D. and the Little Ice Age from about 1450 to 1850 A.D. Both are implicated in the mystery of the Anasazi collapse at the close of the thirteenth century. In the Southwest, higher average summer temperature and precipitation persisted from 950–1130 A.D. and prolonged summer droughts occurred from 1130–1180 A.D."

In other articles higher temperatures and then very erratic weather are cited for the people leaving the area in the late 1300's to 1400 A.D.. I think if not for the technologies of today; very few people would be living in southern AZ.

Anyway I have felt for many years that much of the weather or climate that we see these days is cyclical, but that does not mean that we should not be concerned or at least aware of the climate, but we should realize that in the current cycle that there could be very erratic weather, but how would you be prepared for it even if you knew this but didn't know what specifically was coming?

There are several different studies and theories (some crackpot prophecies) about the coming weather conditions... Maybe the indians of the southwest who disappeared into mystery had these in their day and believed or did not believe?

RYviewpoint said...

Thomas: The mania about "global warming" likes to tell a tale of Goldilock's weather that suddenly over the last 40 years has become "runway global warming" due to CO2 emissions. But you are right, there are lots of studies that show great climate swings in the past. That's why a number of scientists -- a minority, but a thoughtful minority -- question whether current warming is AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) or just another cycle in a varying climate.

The discovery of ENSO (El Niño/La Niña-Southern Oscillation) that periodically affects weather around the globe was made a century ago Gilbert Walker.

Walker also discovered the NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) about 90 years ago.

There is also an Arctic Oscillation which was only discovered a dozen years ago.

These are all cycles in weather which contribute to larger climate cycles. There are surely many more of these weather cycles of lesser extent just waiting to be discovered. Along with cyclic phenomena such as:

- Milankovic cycles

- oscillations in solar intensity

- the solar system entering/exiting regions of galactic cosmic rays

These create the varying climate which isn't purely cyclical or predictable, but which has shown great variation in the past. Distinguishing the recent warming from the natural cycles is a challenging task. And on top of that is the fact that human alteration of the earth (our mini-terraforming by forest destruction, irrigating deserts, release of dust, urban heat island effects, etc.) and you have more factors that confuse any "signal" in the weather. Those who confidently assert that CO2 "causes" global warming reduce great complexity to a single cause. It is just a bit too incredible for my taste.

I think the article "My Global Warming Skepticism, for Dummies" by Roy Spencer, climatologist and Principal Research Scientist for the University of Alabama in Huntsville, the U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. and senior scientist for climate studies at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, is a good antidote to simplistic reasoning about global warming. I heartily recommend his book Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians and Misguided Policies that Hurt the Poor. It is written with no special prerequisite for a science education. It is directed at the average intelligent general reader and will give you pause and prevent you from being caught up in "global warming" hysteria.

thomas said...


What is sad is that it should be a scientific discussion or debate, not a political issue or something involving skepticism or fanatical delusion; Factual data should be the only "ammunition" and not propaganda spread by people with something to gain. If tree rings, for instance, indicate previous periods of dry hot weather then that should be part of the discussions and theories. Of course humans always have ulterior motives and ambitions, so I don't know if we can ever have the truth in any matter. I have my prejudices and emotions that cause me to believe certain things that may not be supported by fact. I guess its a good thing I am not in any sort of position of authority.

RYviewpoint said...

Thomas: You are right. It should be simply a scientific issue. But political types have seized on it. The environmentalists love it because it creates a doomsday scenario which justifies an all out commitment (fanatics never like partial commentments or the recognition that life requires us to divide our attention and rank our responses).

As for scientists, even they are guilty of fanaticism. The fight between England and the continent over the creation of the calculus is a good example. England spent 300 years teaching calculus using the awkward notation of Isaac Newton. The European continent held Leibnitz to be the inventor and ignored Newton's contribution. But Leibnitz's notation is far superior for learning and using the calculus. So the fanaticism mean students in the English speaking world spent 300 years with a difficult and unnecessary notation. Sad.

Oh... by the way, I did enjoy the material you pointed out on the American southwest. I was aware of the Anasazi. Back around 1970 I remember walking through an abandoned Anasazi village in New Mexico. Beautiful stone work. I understand that the modern Pueblo are the descendants of the old Anasazi.