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Space Science

Sunspots May Be Different During This Solar Minimum 95

Posted by kdawson
from the too-much-clearasil dept.
PhreakOfTime writes "According to Bill Livingston and Matt Penn of the National Solar Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, sunspot magnetic fields are waning. The two respected solar astronomers have been measuring solar magnetism since 1992. Their technique is based on Zeeman splitting of infrared spectral lines in radiation emitted by iron atoms in the vicinity of sunspots. Extrapolating their data (PDF) into the future suggests that sunspots could completely disappear within decades." To motivate their interest the researchers mention the Maunder Minimum, which occurred beginning in 1645 and coincided with the coldest part of the so-called "Little Ice Age." Sunspot counts during this period were as low as 1/1,000 of the numbers seen in modern times.
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Sunspots May Be Different During This Solar Minimum

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  • It seems we may be heading towards another ice age. Time to start buying up some of that precious offshore land! Global climate change, whether caused by humans or natural processes is not something to be feared but something to be profited from.

    Speaking of global change. The Slashdot front page still hasn't changed the appearance of that +- bar yet. Does anyone think it looks good? Has anyone found it to be functional?

    When sunspots stop occurring, we're in for some global cooling. Perhaps this could revers

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This should counteract global warming.

    • global warming was done by us in order to survive the next ice age(there will be none as the extra greenhouse gases will trap more of the heat, so even what should be an ice age would be normal weather) infact thats why our fossil fuels are running out now, they were planned in such a way that the reserves would end at a time near the beggining of the ice age...
  • by pc486 (86611) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @05:25AM (#29162141) Homepage

    Extrapolating? Sounds like a job for Randall Munroe! http://xkcd.com/605/ [xkcd.com]

  • I presume...he knows what he's talking about!
  • by teac77 (1152415) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @05:50AM (#29162215)
    Some look at ice core samples. Others count sunspots. This suggests that we will have "lower than average global temperatures". Call me a heretic, but I think that we get better data from counting sun spots.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by BrightSpark (1578977)
      I agree. Check out this background website which helps to show how the cycles are developing. http://www.predictweather.co.nz/assets/articles/article_resources.php?id=89 [predictweather.co.nz] I am sure counting sunspots was not as sophisticated in the 1700s but it was still straightforward so the science should be solid. The risk is in drawing cause and effect conclusions. Our atmosphere gets a real bashing from the distortion to the Van Allen belt caused by solar emissions. Sound principals to show how this affects climate a
      • If they had claimed it was the position on Saturn an Jupiter in the sky I might have said they have a point. But they go on about orbital inclination and eccentricity which I doubt could influence sun spots. I think this is correlation by spreadsheet. Not real.

    • No, you misread that. It's lower than expected now. But still too hot.

      Wait until it's not lower than expected anymore. Then it will be too hot to even call it too hot.

      Have fun roasting in denial!

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by maxume (22995)

        I plan on boiling in demississippi.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Have fun roasting in denial!

        Personally, I'm not going to worry until and unless I can do so while sipping a nice, light wine from a Scottish vineyard and nibbling on a sharp Greenland Chedder. These were both possible during The Early Medieval Warm Period, [wikipedia.org] but quickly became impossible during The Little Ice Age that followed. The climate is always changing; sometimes it's getting warmer, sometimes cooler. Deal with it and stop pretending that mankind has any meaningful effect on it.

        • by Abcd1234 (188840)

          Ahh, the ol' "GW could be good for us!" meme. Yeah, fuck the people who live on the coasts, or who subsist on farms that'll no longer be located on arable land. I'm sure moving billions of people will be easy and result in absolutely no hardship, right?

          • I mentioned this to a friend of mine. [jerrypournelle.com] His reply was, "I guess, then, that we didn't survive the Early Medieval Warm Period or the Roman Warm. Here's a hint for you: yes, the ocean's currrently climbing up the coast, but it's been doing that, as far as we can tell, for 12,000 years, possibly longer. AFAICT, we've survived so far, using less technology than we have now. I, at least, find it reasonable to expect us to continue to survive. YMMV and clearly does.
            • by Abcd1234 (188840)

              Yes, and during the Medieval Warm Period and Roman Warm, assuming they are even comparable (and I haven't checked to find out), there was 7 billion people on the planet that we have to worry about.

              Tell your friend he's a moron.

              • Tell your friend he's a moron

                You tell him; his address is on the site I linked to. I'm sure he'll read it, and you may even get a response back giving you (among other things) a very precise definition of the term "sarcasm."

    • by 4D6963 (933028)
      Yeah, sure, nothing tells us better about the effects of human activity on Earth than looking at something that human activity cannot affect high in the sky.
    • However global temperatures are still rising [metoffice.gov.uk] while sunspot activity is decreasing that only gives us breathing space. When sun spot activity increases again and global temperatures increase driven upwards by both solar and man made factors.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by sumdumass (711423)

        Still rising is a misnomer. The data in that graph ended in 2006 and doesn't reflect anything present or the past two years. More accurately would be the global temperatures were still rising until 2006. But again, that was before the solar cycles switched and these observations.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by metaforest (685350)

      Oh FFS, we are talking about a net change in arriving solar radiation of less than 0.1% over 11 year cycles, and though its likely there are some larger fluctuations that modulate the 11 year cycle, we haven't been measuring long enough. The notion that this data predicts a 'mini-ice age' is about as useful as using sunspot counts to predict the weather. Which is not useful at all. Sun spot counts don't predict weather at all. Even the proxies don't really link us to what is going on, though they do

  • So, in the 1600s we had a very low number of sun spots and a little ice age.

    In the last decade we've had a low number of sun spots and a temperature spike.

    But the people who says that global warming isn't caused by human factors, primarily claim that it's due to this low number of sun spots.

    So ... normal sun spot count, normal temperatures. Low number of sun spots, high temperatures. Very low number of sun spots, very low temperatures.

    I wonder what happens if we get a high and very high number of sun spots

    • They didnt have Clearasil TM back in 1600s :D

    • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Sunday August 23, 2009 @06:36AM (#29162357)

      It doesn't add up, and that is where the controversy lies. If there is proof that humans are causing global warming, it should be easy to show. However, if the Earth's temperature changes as a result of uncontrollable events happening at the sun, then we need to take that into consideration.

      The controversy is very important, and having a calm, level-headed debate where both sides of the issue can discuss the topic without getting shouted down as "unscientific" (sunspot theorists) or "religious crackpots" (human-caused warming theorists) is just as important. Evidence is what will decide this one way or the other, but in order to have clear evidence, we must be able to express our theories in a respectful and open scientific environment. This is why we must teach the controversy.

      • by Gordonjcp (186804) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @07:09AM (#29162463) Homepage

        I don't see what's "unscientific" about claiming that low numbers of sunspots cause global cooling. Fewer sunspots mean less energy from the sun. Although the spot is relatively cool, the area around it is very much hotter.

        • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

          by WindBourne (631190)
          correlation != causation. As it is, we have a STRONG CORRELATION of man's interaction causing global warming, and likewise, there is a strong correlation of lack of sunspot to global cooling, BUT, can it be PROVEN? Nope.

          The real sad item is that the anti GW are almost certainly the ones that will push GW if sunspots disappear and temps start dropping. IOW, these ppl will buy into GW and insist that we burn coal for energy as well as oil and natural gas. And they will be there to sell it.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Gordonjcp (186804)

            correlation != causation. As it is, we have a STRONG CORRELATION of man's interaction causing global warming, and likewise, there is a strong correlation of lack of sunspot to global cooling, BUT, can it be PROVEN? Nope.

            Did you actually read what I wrote, or did you just decide to throw man-made global warming in there as a kneejerk reaction?

            Let's try the Wikipedia Simple English-style explanation.

            When there are more sunspots, the surface of the Sun is hotter. This makes it radiate more heat than when the

            • As long as we are doing wiki style:

              When there are more sunspots, the surface of the Sun is hotter. This makes it radiate more heat than when there are less sunspots. With the increase in GreenHouse gases by man, it absorbs MUCH more of the solar energy, rather than reflect it. In essence, Man's contribution to CO2, Ch4, etc, have caused a much larger increase in temperature then would normally happen.
              When there are less sunspots, the surface of the sun is cooler. When the sun radiates more heat, the Earth heats up. When the sun radiates less heat, the Earth cools down. If this happens, then man will be able to easily generate lots of CO2 and Ch4 to increase the efficiency of trapping energy, rather than allow it to be naturally radiated out to space.

              I believe that is what is being looked for by a scientists, not by a politician or oil man.

            • When there are more sunspots, the surface of the Sun is hotter. This makes it radiate more heat than when there are less sunspots. When there are less sunspots, the surface of the sun is cooler. When the sun radiates more heat, the Earth heats up. When the sun radiates less heat, the Earth cools down.

              Fool! You have it all backwards!! Anyone can clearly see that it is man's interaction that has caused an increase in sunspots post 1600's, and that it is primarily due to the success of the environmental movement in curbing man's destructive influence that we are witnessing a recent decline in sunspots! Inconvenient Truth FTW!!

      • Global temperatures peaked in 1998 and are now declining according to this ews story about the NASA satellites that have been measuring such things since the 1970s: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/226/story/74019.html [mcclatchydc.com]

        According to data from the National Space Science and Technology Center in Huntsville, Ala., the global high temperature in 1998 was 0.76 degrees Celsius (1.37 degrees Fahrenheit) above the average for the previous 20 years. So far this year, the high has been 0.42 degrees Celsius (0.76 degrees Fahrenheit), above the 20-year average, clearly cooler than before.

        • Al Gore seems to have been barking up the wrong tree. This chart (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Temp-sunspot-co2.svg) shows a much better correlation between sunspots and temperature, than between CO2 and termperature.
          • This chart (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Temp-sunspot-co2.svg) shows a much better correlation between sunspots and temperature, than between CO2 and termperature.

            Uh, no, it doesn't. The trend line for sunspots on that chart, peaked in 1960, and have been on a declining trend ever since. Meanwhile temperatures (on that chart) have been on the upswing.

            Solar variations over the past 20 years should have had a cooling effect [reuters.com], but instead we've seen warming. Solar variations are not the main driver of the climate change we are currently experiencing.

            • Perhaps we are not looking at the details. Note the peaks in roughly 1870 and 1940, and the trough in between. But only on the temperature and sunspot lines; the CO2 line possibly shows slight peaks there, but perhaps in response, rather than as a cause.

              Look also at the far right of the graph. Note that temperature has leveled off and is apparently falling (according to more recent data) as sunspot intensity falls. But not CO2 which continues to rise.

              Someone said correlation is not causation. Appar

          • by zsau (266209)

            But if we use a logarithmic scale instead of a linear one...

            (i.e. just because someone drew a graph that makes it look a bit like there's a relationship, just means someone manipulated the data to make it look like there's a relationship. It's one of the things you learn to do in the pesky statistics classes they make you take when you're a gradstudent so that you can get your papers published in journals. Of course, your real audience has all taken the same pesky classes and simply "unmanipulates" the data

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        If there is proof that humans are causing global warming, it should be easy to show.

        Great, it's good to know that if something is provable, it must be easily provable. I've got a couple of things that I'd like an easy proof for:

        P = NP [wikipedia.org]

        Fermat's Last Theorem [wikipedia.org]

        Thanks!

      • by itsdapead (734413) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @08:26AM (#29162769)

        If there is proof that humans are causing global warming, it should be easy to show

        Why should it be easy? That's part of the problem. The Earth is not a pan on a cooker that just gets hotter when you turn up the gas and cools down when you turn it down. The Earth is a complex web of cycles and equilibria that we don't completely understand.

        Heck, stick some ice, water and salt in the pan, clamp on a slightly leaky lid and even that becomes non-trivial - and that's peanuts alongside the Earth.

        Global warming (or not) is always going to be a guessing game: if you want irrefutable proof, wait 100 years and see whether Bangladesh is still there. Until then, its a risk/benefit analysis, not a scientific study.

        What is known is that basic physics says that increasing CO2 levels in an atmosphere will increase the proportion of solar heat retained by the planet: that much can be proven in the lab. Anybody who rejects AGW needs to come up with some theory that explains why that magically won't happen in the real world. Instead, they're exploiting the fact that its very, very difficult to predict how that extra heat will translate into temperature and climate changes. Sadly, I suspect that there are those on both sides of the argument who don't even know that heat is not the same thing as temperature...

        • by sumdumass (711423)

          What is known is that basic physics says that increasing CO2 levels in an atmosphere will increase the proportion of solar heat retained by the planet: that much can be proven in the lab. Anybody who rejects AGW needs to come up with some theory that explains why that magically won't happen in the real world. Instead, they're exploiting the fact that its very, very difficult to predict how that extra heat will translate into temperature and climate changes. Sadly, I suspect that there are those on both sid

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            Here's a hint: think about what a greenhouse is -- an actual greenhouse like you'd build in your garden -- and why CO2 is called a "greenhouse gas."

            • by sumdumass (711423)

              Here is a hint, there is no roof on the atmosphere. Heat energy radiates out without anything containing it. There is no coated glass roof or anything keeping it there. The scale of a greenhouse is also different then the scale of the entire world. In fact, the same Co2 and heat retention observations in a green house utterly fail when computed in a model of the world.

              As I said, in a lab doesn't necessarily mean in the real world.

              • So in other words, you didn't want an answer to your question, even though there's one available based on easily understandable physics; you just wanted an excuse to post more wilfully ignorant ranting. Got it. Once again, you live down to your username in spectacular fashion.

                • by sumdumass (711423)

                  You didn't give an answer, you just repeated some snide remarks that were probably told to you at one point in time without you ever understanding it. Here is an example of an answer [slashdot.org]. It's also more competent and inteligent then anything you have said to date.

                  You also didn't address the question that was asked making your first comment unimportant. You may be proud that you observed me living down to my user name but shouldn't you be concerned that you have yet to live up to it?

                  • Oh, I understand it just fine. I'm guessing that you're intelligent enough to do so as well. The only point I'm not clear on is why you deliberately choose otherwise.

                    • by sumdumass (711423)

                      Why in the hell would you expect me to know the answer to the question I was asking? If I knew I would not have asked it. Fuck man, think sometime won't you?

                • by itsdapead (734413)

                  So in other words, you didn't want an answer to your question, even though there's one available based on easily understandable physics;

                  Unfortunately, it doesn't help when people give duff answers, either: The "greenhouse effect" may play a role in a real greenhouse (i.e. preventing cooling from radiation) but they also trap warm air (preventing cooling by convection) and block the wind (preventing cooling by evaporation) which have nothing to do with CO2 in the atmosphere. Don't take names too seriously: in other news, the World Wide Web wasn't made by a spider and "bluetooth" headsets are not made from the remains of Viking warlords.

                  For

              • Here is a hint, there is no roof on the atmosphere. Heat energy radiates out without anything containing it. There is no coated glass roof or anything keeping it there. T

                Here's the answer you're looking for couched in terms that even you should be able to understand. Greenhouse gases such as CO2 and, to a much greater extent water vapor trap heat in a way that's analogous to the roof on a greenhouse. That, in fact, is why they're called "greenhouse gases." Their presence in the atmosphere makes it act

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by itsdapead (734413)

            It would seem that Co2 in the upper atmosphere would absorb more heat and prevent it from hitting the earth in the first place before it bounces back and gets traped by the Co2 on the way out.

            The energy doesn't "bounce off*" - it is absorbed by the Earth and re-radiated. All objects radiate energy, but the frequency spectrum of that radiation depends on the temperature.

            Because the sun is very hot, it radiates a lot of energy in the form of visible light.

            Because the Earth isn't as hot as the sun, most of the energy it re-radiates is as lower frequency infra-red.

            CO2 is transparent to visible light, but absorbs infra-red. So it acts as a one-way valve: the visible light from the sun gets in, t

        • Anybody who rejects AGW needs to come up with some theory that explains why that magically won't happen in the real world.

          And, of course, anybody who embraces AGW needs to come up with a theory that explains why CO2 magically becomes a stronger and more significant greenhouse gas than H2O.

          • by itsdapead (734413)

            And, of course, anybody who embraces AGW needs to come up with a theory that explains why CO2 magically becomes a stronger and more significant greenhouse gas than H2O.

            Why? Are you planning to dig up underground water that has been out of the loop for aeons and pump it into the atmosphere?

            • I don't have to. The water vapor that's currently in the atmosphere is responsible for (I'm guessing here, but I don't think I'm that far off.) over 95% of the greenhouse heating. The only places that CO2 is more significant is in cool, dry places, such as deserts at night.
              • by itsdapead (734413)

                The water vapor that's currently in the atmosphere is responsible for (I'm guessing here, but I don't think I'm that far off.) over 95% of the greenhouse heating.

                So what? The problem is not the greenhouse effect itself: we didn't cause that - its been going on forever and without it the Earth would probably be an ice cube. Our problem is that we're increasing the level of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and that increases the greenhouse heating.

                It doesn't matter one jot how much of the normal level of greenhouse heating comes from which gas: increase any one of them and you increase the effect.

                • It doesn't matter one jot how much of the normal level of greenhouse heating comes from which gas: increase any one of them and you increase the effect.

                  Sigh! Not only is water vapor a better greenhouse gas, there's so much more of it in the atmosphere than any other. (I'd say than all others combined, but I'm not sure of that.) CO2 is such a minor component that it's effect is almost buried in the noise. And, I might add for what it's worth, I've been seeing reports (no cite that I'm confident enough

                  • by Arlet (29997)

                    CO2 is such a minor component that it's effect is almost buried in the noise

                    The key word is almost. In my room it's 298 Kelvin right now, of which 295 are due to the sun. If I turn on a space heater, I can add 10 more Kelvin, but that would make it very uncomfortable. The fact that the space heater's effect "is almost buried in the noise" doesn't help me.

                  • by itsdapead (734413)

                    Sigh! Not only is water vapor a better greenhouse gas, there's so much more of it in the atmosphere than any other.

                    If you have some greenhouse gases and add more greenhouse gases then the level of greenhouse gasses goes up. The composition of the greenhouse gasses you started with is irrelevant. That much is really very simple.

                    although there's a correlation between rising temperature and rising CO2 levels, the CO2 level follows the temperature, not leads it. If so, the whole business about AGW goes out the window.

                    Even if that is true, and not spin or experimental error, you're back to treating the Earth as a lump of iron on a gas cooker again. It is perfectly possible for rising temperatures to cause more CO2 to be released from natural systems and for rising CO2 to cause rising temperatures - there's not

                    • We've introduced a new source of greenhouse gasses into the equation - digging up and burning 100-million-year-old fossil fuels at such a rate that we'll have released a geological era's worth in a hundred years or so.

                      No argument there. However, I remember reading in Scientific American about a decade or so ago about an experiment with terrariums where the CO2 level was artificially heightened. The result was that the plants grew much bigger and heartier than normal. (surprise, surprise!) Alas, the re

          • by Abcd1234 (188840)

            Uh, because water vapour sits in the atmosphere for weeks before precipitating out. Relative to CO2 it's extremely transient. Moreover, the absolute saturation level for air is relatively low, so there's a natural cap on the amount of water vapour that can be pumped into the atmosphere before it just rains back out again, while the same is most definitely not true of CO2.

            Honestly, do you *really* need some dweeb on Slashdot to do *all* your thinking for you?

            • Honestly, do you *really* need some dweeb on Slashdot to do *all* your thinking for you?

              No. But then, I don't expect highly complex problems to have simplistic solutions. In this case, not only don't I think we know the answer, I don't think that we're asking the right questions. Before we can ask what to do about AGW, we need to know if it's really happening (No, this isn't decided by consensus, it's decided by the facts, and I don't think we have enough of them.) especially because some of the "solut

        • by definate (876684)

          It's also isn't that we don't necessarily don't understand it, it's that our calculations have to come from summary data, which is spurious at best. Just ask anyone who studies statistics.

          Calculating a summary, from a summary of a summary, to generate your answer, often leaves a lot of data incorrectly weighted and information hidden.

          We'll never be able to know for certain, because we'll never be able to get enough information, in a timely enough fashion. We just calculate probabilities, hope we don't have

      • by vertinox (846076)

        If there is proof that humans are causing global warming,

        I think "Global Warming" is a misnomer. I think a better term would be "Global Chaos" in that because humans are mucking with the atmosphere, surface reflection of earth's surface, and generating heat en masse through mechanical engines that normal assumptions about weather patterns will no longer apply.

        So that the energy has to go somewhere and usually will result in hotter weather, colder winter, higher winds, and rougher seas.

      • by jonadab (583620)
        > in order to have clear evidence, we must be able to express our theories

        No.

        No amount of "expressing theories" will ever add up to evidence. Scientifically speaking, the only way we're ever going to learn anything is to make *falsifiable* predictions and then test them to see if they hold, and then based on the outcome make new falsifiable predictions, lather, rinse, repeat. That's the scientific method.

        But nobody seems to be interested in doing that kind of science any more. If you make falsifiable
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Eudial (590661)

      I think the controversy basically boils down to the following: Correlation is not causation.

      • by itsdapead (734413)

        I think the controversy basically boils down to the following:

        Well, as long as that's the only thing that boils.

        No, what it really boils down to is: we still can't reliably predict the behavior of complex systems. Unfortunately, this encourages people (especially politically-motivated people who didn't get where they are today by saying "I don't know") to pretend that they are simple.

    • But something is unusual about the current sunspot cycle. The current solar minimum has been unusually long, and with more than 670 days without sunspots through June 2009, the number of spotless days has not been equaled since 1933

      As to the "low number of sun spots and a temperature spike", more from TFA:

      ...posted on the Internet and led to some misunderstanding when a few authors from other fields cited that post and erroneously concluded that a lack of sunspots could explain global warming

      This is something worth following closely:

      Four years after the first draft paper, the predicted cycle-independent dearth in sunspot numbers has proven accurate. The vigor of sunspots, in terms of magnetic strength and area, has greatly diminished...Whether this is an omen of long-term sunspot decline, analogous to the Maunder Minimum, remains to be seen.

      Note in this chart on Wikipedia that temps have been trending downward for thousands of years, as if we are plunging into the next glacial period.
      Chart: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Holocene_Temperature_Variations.png [wikipedia.org]
      See here in general about the time since the most recent glacial period: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocene [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Mr. Slippery (47854)

      So, in the 1600s we had a very low number of sun spots and a little ice age.

      Except that no, we didn't have a "little ice age" [grida.no]. We had a mild cooling period in the Northern Hemisphere, which had intense effects in some areas; but, according to to IPCC, "current evidence does not support globally synchronous periods of anomalous cold or warmth over this timeframe, and the conventional terms of 'Little Ice Age' and 'Medieval Warm Period' appear to have limited utility in describing trends in hemispheric or g

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Oh no! Global cooling is coming! Kill some pirates to raise the temperature back to normal! Invade Somalia and give the RIAA a license to kill!
    • by mrsquid0 (1335303)

      >give the RIAA a license to kill!

      I am confident that the RIAA lobbyists are working on this as I type.

  • Or it's just the calm before the storm, and we are going to get hit with a lot of sunspot activity, or nice solar flares or maybe even something cooler.

    ps thats not cooler as in cold, but cooler is in something pretty fucking awesome that we didn't expect, and oh, look, as a side product, we are dead. or not.

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