Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Second Peak to Solar Cycle 24?

It's time to take my semiannual look at our pathetic solar cycle:
While the activity peaks in December have brought the monthly values up to the red "Predicted values" line, those are the short term values.  It seems possible these current high Smoothed Sunspot Numbers (SSN) will give the cycle a double peak, like the one visible on the left from cycle 23, only much lower in value.  The blue line is the smoothed monthly values and while that line lags three months (it won't reach to January until March), my "Mark I Eyeball" says the SSN will go up to around 65 or 70, while the predicted number is 85.  If you haven't read my drivel on this topic previously, the predicted peak number was revised downwards continuously from about 2008 until this cycle actually started.

This is the weakest solar cycle in 100 years, which means no living solar scientist has seen a cycle this weak, and our records of what the sun was doing back then have much less data than is now available.  The optimistic view is that we surely learn new things about solar physics:
Speaking on the weak solar activity, Leif Svalgaard of Stanford University told reporters that "none of us alive have ever seen such a weak cycle. So we will learn something."
To adapt some of what I wrote back last January to today, the prolonged minimum between cycle 23 and 24 was the second longest since the Dalton minimum of the early 1800s.  The thing is, the low activity may not be ending there.  In the '90s, astronomers Dr.s William Livingston and Matthew Penn of the Kitt Peak observatory in Arizona noted that their readings on the intensity of sunspots were trending downward.  They checked data many times and plotted trend lines.  Once they saw the lines, they published a paper showing that by 2015 there may be no sunspots left at all.  The paper was not well received, which is fine, but about a decade later they gathered another ten years' worth of data, reanalyzed everything and concluded they were right the first time.  (summary pdf here)  It's important to say they may well be wrong, but completely independent predictions from NASA and others are saying the next cycle, 25, is going to be even weaker than this one, and may approach quiet sun levels at its peak.  Which is to say the cycle simply may not happen

What does this mean to us?  Several things.  First the good news: those dire predictions you read about a killer solar flare taking out everything are much less likely than before - and it wasn't very likely to start with.  The other side is much less positive.  Prolonged solar minima have happened before, and they are associated with mini-ice ages.  I use the tentative language because humans simply haven't been able to measure sunspots for most of history.  In extended solar minima, the growing seasons become shorter and weather changes to become less friendly to crops.  In general, the worst times for human survival in history have been in failed, cold growing seasons, not "global warmth" (huge pdf alert).   Widespread food shortages are a real possibility.  And while people talk of the possibility of a real ice age, not a mini-ice age, I think we don't know enough about how those start to talk with any credibility. 


  1. Ironically a mini-ice age is so much more devastating to humans and all other living thing then a warming cycle is. There is a very real risk to all of us if this becomes a prolonged cooling cycle. Disease, famine and human suffering. It will be interesting to see what the left's agenda will be once they finally accept global cooling to replace the global warming mantra. I'm betting it will be the same, that is higher taxes, more government and funding for scientific studies.

  2. Yep, this cycle has been a bust.

    HF propagation isn't as good as it was during the last one, although radios have improved to offset some of the lack of sunspots.