Saturday, August 1, 2015

Solar Cycle News Update - The Best Days Are Behind Us

Every six months I do an update on the status of the solar cycle.  Last January (actually February 1) I declared the peak was over and we're in the slide to minimum.   The last six months confirm that, and NOAA is declaring that peak was in April of 2014 with a smoothed sunspot number (SSN) of 82 (in the notes under the "Details" tab on this page).  You can see that our smoothed sunspot numbers are running below the prediction curve in red.
Farther down the NOAA page, it can be seen that the amount of geomagnetic storming has actually increased compared to most of the earlier parts of the cycle.   I can't say I understand that, but the "tribal knowledge" in amateur radio circles is that geomagnetic disturbances tend to be common in the declining years of a sunspot cycle.  The previous cycle (23) peaked at the end or 2002; current Ap levels (Planetary A-Index) are higher than any time since late '07.

As I've posted before, 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 are more sparse than what's available now.  Since no living scientist has seen a cycle this weak, expect all predictions to be even less accurate than usual.

That said, an interesting prediction follows.  The next cycle, 25, has been the subject of predictions of very low activity since before this one started.  I've read predictions of an SSN of 67 for cycle 25 (compared to 82 for this peak).  At the recently completed meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society, Professor Valentina Zharkova of Northumbria University presented results for a new model of the Sun’s interior dynamo at the meeting that points to lower numbers than that.
Our Sun has an approximately 11-year activity cycle. During peak periods, it exhibits lots of solar flares and sunspots. Magnetic bubbles of charged particles (coronal mass ejections) may burst from the surface during this period, streaming material into space. These ejections can affect satellites and powerlines on Earth. During lull periods, such activity may almost stop altogether. But the 11-year cycle isn’t quite able to predict all of the Sun’s behaviour — which can seem erratic at times. Zharkova and her colleagues (Professor Simon Shepherd of Bradford University, Dr Helen Popova of Lomonosov Moscow State University, and Dr Sergei Zarkhov of Hull University) have found a way to account for the discrepancies: a ‘double dynamo’ system.

The Sun, like all stars, is a large nuclear fusion reactor that generates powerful magnetic fields, similar to a dynamo. The model developed by Zharkova’s team suggests there are two dynamos at work in the Sun; one close to the surface and one deep within the convection zone. They found this dual dynamo system could explain aspects of the solar cycle with much greater accuracy than before — possibly leading to enhanced predictions of future solar behaviour. “We found magnetic wave components appearing in pairs; originating in two different layers in the Sun’s interior. They both have a frequency of approximately 11 years, although this frequency is slightly different [for both] and they are offset in time,” says Zharkova. The two magnetic waves either reinforce one another to produce high activity or cancel out to create lull periods.

... Their predictions using the model suggest an interesting longer-term trend beyond the 11-year cycle. It shows that solar activity will fall by 60 percent during the 2030s, to conditions last seen during the Maunder Minimum of 1645-1715. “Over the cycle, the waves fluctuate between the Sun’s northern and southern hemispheres. Combining both waves together and comparing to real data for the current solar cycle, we found that our predictions showed an accuracy of 97 percent,” says Zharkova.

The model predicts that the magnetic wave pairs will become increasingly offset during Cycle 25, which peaks in 2022. Then during Cycle 26, which covers the decade from 2030-2040, the two waves will become exactly out of synch, cancelling one another out. This will cause a significant reduction in solar activity. “In cycle 26, the two waves exactly mirror each other, peaking at the same time but in opposite hemispheres of the Sun. We predict that this will lead to the properties of a ‘Maunder minimum’,” says Zharkova.
I'm wary of predictions for another Maunder minimum, on general principles.  It was severe and we simply don't have detailed data records of what the preceding cycles were like.  Nothing like the solar instrumentation we had 50 years ago, let alone now.  That tells me the prediction can't be based on very solid data from repeatable instruments.  Still, even a prolonged minimum that isn't that severe seems like it could be really bad.  It seems any deep sunspot minima correlates with colder temperatures.  Despite what the alarmists say about Global Warmening (or whatever they call it this week), mankind has done better in warm periods than in the cold periods in our history (huge pdf alert - but fascinating reading). 

A potential cold period coming is doubly important with the release of some data this week which shows that when the data adjustments made to the US climate database are removed, it can be seen the US has already been in a mild, century-long cooling trend.  The "global warming" disappears. 
I keep saying there really is man-caused global warming, but it's not mankind.  The man causing global warming is James Hansen, formerly of NASA Goddard, who adjusted all the data.  All for some pieces of silver (well, a whole lot more than 30 pieces of silver) from George Soros' well-funded groups

My interest in solar activity grew out of the shortwave radio listening hobby I started when I was about 13 years old.  That was in the cycle right after the strongest one on record, the peak from the late 50s.  Solar activity acts to increase the density of the ionosphere, which raises the frequency at which radio waves are bent back to Earth.  Following the highest frequency that will propagate between two points, the Maximum Usable Frequency or MUF, is generally the way to hear (or talk with) the farthest points with the lowest loss of signal.  If you're a radio listener or ham it gives you the best shot at those far points.  It's only in the last 20 years or so has it seemed that the solar cycle might affect things like our food supply, and life in general.



  1. I have read several articles about the coming "Maunder Minimum". I spent 25 years as an Air Force Forecaster and one of my more enjoyable duties was molding new "model readers" into beginner Forecasters. One of the bad habits that is part of human nature (for beginner wx guessers) is the tendency to forecast world record events. I always warned the new troops to check the climo and if their forecast exceeds the record, go back and check your data because your forecast is wrong. Having that as a guide has served me well over the years, but I also understand that records DO happen. I was on ground zero at Hunter AAF in March 93 for the "Storm of the Century" and had to convince a full bird to end his exercise early because a once in a lifetime storm was coming to rain on his parade. The good news was that he believed me and the even better news was that I was right on my forecast (whooHoo, sweated bullets on that one). Having said all that, all of the big brains out there are agreeing with the science (though a significant percentage disagree on the amplitude and consequences) of the forecasted "Maunder Minimum". It will be quite an interesting event especially for the Global Warming crowd...How will they square the un-hide-able cooling temps with their apocalyptic snake oil routine and still keep those pieces of silver flowing their way? One thing I will interject, while the Soros money is quite appealing, the scam has grown far bigger than what he can fund, they have tapped Big Gov resources and their ability to print money for approved projects. Since the Global Warming crowd actually promotes Bigger and more intrusive Big Gov, we see a positive feedback loop which feeds on one another.

    MSG Grumpy

  2. MSG Grumpy - lots of good stuff there, so thanks. When I read "molding new "model readers" into beginner Forecasters." I immediately saw you were the real deal in this subject, and "whooHoo, sweated bullets on that one" just underlines it. While I don't even play a forecaster here, let alone on TV, I read the local guys all the time and they are perfectly honest about saying one model or the other is too optimistic or too pessimistic, and perfectly honest about showing that it really does come down to expert judgement.

    I get a little skeptical when I hear someone saying something like they did about another Carrington event. A few years ago, someone said we had a one in eight chance of another Carrington event between then (was it '12?) and 2020. Something that has happened once is recorded history is going to happen again, now? And in the weakest cycle in 100 years?

    The problem with Global Warming crowd is that they're a bunch of model readers, if not outright video gamers. We've seen them twist and turn any unexpected fact and then come out and say it fits their models. Yesterday I was reading them justify the record antarctic ice levels, which they had always predicted were going away, as being predicted by their models. So do their models say ice is going to increase or decrease? It can't do both at the same time. Yet they claim both. And no matter what happens, they either claim they predicted it or adjust it away.

  3. Greybeard, how do you know we've had only one Carrington event in history? Before the widespread use of telegraph lines, we wouldn't even have noticed a Carrington event. I'm not saying this to argue, I'm just pointing out that they may be more common that we think.

  4. JoeFromSidney - it's something I've thought about quite a bit. There are some interesting historical observations that others have tried to correlate to similar magnitude events in the past. A couple of years ago, a couple of researchers investigating an unusual concentration of C14 around the year 774AD, concluding a flare 20 times the size of the Carrington event was the cause (see here). There's record in Britain of an atmospheric phenomenon that could correlate with this possible flare, a "red crucifix" in the air. I assume anything vaguely cross-shaped would have been described as such but I leave the original wording.

    Still, while I don't know how rare such flares are, it's still true that the Carrington is largest flare in recorded history, and the largest flare observed in the space age was the one on 11/4/2003 as the previous cycle was winding down. The 20th century was a very highly active period for the sun. I would expect if such flares were common, we would have observed more of them during the 20th century.

    The stuff that bothers me is when, like in 2013, somebody says "oooh, we just missed getting hit by another Carrington level flare" when there wasn't even a particularly powerful flare at all. (see here).

    Solar-geddon talk. Hype. Even NASA gets in on it, although I suspect their motive is more "look how important we are! Don't cut our funding!".