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NASA Space Science

Big Drop In Solar Activity Could Cool Earth 569

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the buy-a-sweater dept.
coondoggie writes "Scientists say the Sun, which roils with flares and electromagnetic energy every 11 years or so, could go into virtual hibernation after the current cycle of high activity, reducing temperatures on Earth. As the current sunspot cycle, Cycle 24, begins to ramp up toward maximum, scientists from the National Solar Observatory and the Air Force Research Laboratory independently found that the Sun's interior, visible surface, and corona indicate the next 11-year solar sunspot cycle, Cycle 25, will be greatly reduced or may not happen at all."
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Big Drop In Solar Activity Could Cool Earth

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  • Take that Al Gore!
    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday June 14, 2011 @04:59PM (#36442726) Homepage

      Don't go counting your Told-you-so Chickens quite yet.

      Global temperatures continued to rise during the previous, unusually long solar minimum, so this potential lack-of-solar-maximum will probably not reverse the trend, either.

      • Don't nobody go counting nothing. The last time this was thought to happen was in the 17th century, when no one was recording calibrated data planet-wide. So the answer is, no one knows whether greenhouses gases trump solar variability or vice versa. The mature and level-headed thing to do is wait 70 years for this thing to be over and for the data to be analyzed and then you can legislate what car I can drive and what kind of light bulbs I can use if the facts come down on your side.
  • Oh good... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Morphine007 (207082)
    ... the global warming naysayers are going to have a field day with this one...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      They are all over the thread already. Can't be arsed to engage them anymore, to be honest. Well, we can bask in the warm glow of burning Al Gore strawmen....
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        They are all over the thread already. Can't be arsed to engage them anymore, to be honest. Well, we can bask in the warm glow of burning Al Gore strawmen....

        I'll still feel guilty. Straw is high-carbon.

    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      Even if global warming happens, there's not much we can do about it. If everybody stopped burning only completely, the rise in temperature would still be 2.29 instead of the predicted* 2.3 degrees. So basically: We've already acted too late.

      We should be seeking alternatives, not because of GW, but because the oil will eventually become scarce. Better to prepare for it now, rather than wait until it costs $40 a gallon and causes widespread disruption (like food scarcity). Personally I'd like to trade my

      • In the end, you are probably right there. In the short term, peak oil will hit us way harder than global warming. The fact that for every calorie of food, about 10 calories in fossil fuels are spent does not make for pleasant dreams. And as soon as peak oil really makes an impact, we will dig out every affordable ton of coal and convert it to liquid. As much as I hope to the contrary, I don't see us limiting our CO2 output in any meaningful manner. Best we can do is prepare for the consequences.
      • Yeah, I'd like to do more, but they sure don't make it easy.

        We could have much, much more efficient conventional cars. We had some in the 90's-- cars that got around 50 to 60 mpg. We can do 100 mpg, and we can do it cheaply and in comfort, no need for exotic lightweight alloys, rare earth magnets, cramped seating, and all that. But currently the best thing I can get only does 40 mpg? Not one, NOT ONE, manufacturer has stepped up and sold a nice little conventional gas sipper in the US at a reasonable

    • Re:Oh good... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday June 14, 2011 @04:52PM (#36442602)

      This has the potential to make Global Warming so much worse. Lets assume global warming is real and we're headed for a maunder minimum level of hibernation. The expected temperature increases are pretty similar to the temperature drops associated with the last major minimum. It would convince people that global warming was all a big sham or even a blessing, and in the short term the blessing idea wouldn't even be totally incorrect, since the effects of a half century long solar minimum would almost certainly be at least as devastating to civilization as global warming.

      But, that means that in 50-70 years, when the little ice age ends, we could be faced with the full force of global warming in less than a decade, instead of spread out over the course of half a century. It would be even more so to late to do anything about it, short of geoengineering at a massive scale, and even I, techno-optimist that I am, have difficulty accepting the idea that we'll be able to accurately manipulate the kinds of energy needed to alter the Earth's climate in a controlled way.

      • by tyrione (134248)

        This has the potential to make Global Warming so much worse. Lets assume global warming is real and we're headed for a maunder minimum level of hibernation. The expected temperature increases are pretty similar to the temperature drops associated with the last major minimum. It would convince people that global warming was all a big sham or even a blessing, and in the short term the blessing idea wouldn't even be totally incorrect, since the effects of a half century long solar minimum would almost certainly be at least as devastating to civilization as global warming.

        But, that means that in 50-70 years, when the little ice age ends, we could be faced with the full force of global warming in less than a decade, instead of spread out over the course of half a century. It would be even more so to late to do anything about it, short of geoengineering at a massive scale, and even I, techno-optimist that I am, have difficulty accepting the idea that we'll be able to accurately manipulate the kinds of energy needed to alter the Earth's climate in a controlled way.

        Global Warming/Climate Change is not about the Earth being at all time record temps and therefore when it cools all is okay. Call it Global Heat Redistribution because all the Climate Patterns are changing. It's the Change that is screwing with the Earth's general climate patterns. Sudden drops in electromagnetic energy from the Sun will provide a rapid shift in those Climate Patterns, once again, and during the change the Earth will take a beating. Repeat and rinse. Our increasing of pollution that weakens

      • by w0mprat (1317953)

        Lets assume global warming is real

        Lets assume you are not joking and that you don't buy into the FUDstering....

    • Re:Oh good... (Score:5, Informative)

      by riverat1 (1048260) on Tuesday June 14, 2011 @04:59PM (#36442710)

      And they're going to be sorely disappointed when the warming continues despite reduced solar output.

      Even if the Sun went into a new Maunder Minimum Global Warming will continue because the forcing from increased GHG's (primarily CO2) overwhelms the change in insolation. There is a peer reviewed paper on the subject here: On the Effect of a New Grand Minimum of Solar Activity on the Future Climate on Earth (Feulner & Rahmstorf 2010) [agu.org].

      So what will the "naysayers" response be to continued warming despite reduced insolation?

      • Re:Oh good... (Score:4, Informative)

        by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Tuesday June 14, 2011 @06:57PM (#36444194) Journal

        That link requires AGU membership. For non-members: Feulner and Rahmstorf's paper (pdf) [pik-potsdam.de]

  • by aristotle-dude (626586) on Tuesday June 14, 2011 @04:15PM (#36441994)

    Does this mean that we should be polluting more to compensate?

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Tuesday June 14, 2011 @04:16PM (#36442016) Homepage

    The Europeans are going to save us by switching from nukes back to coal.

    • by Dunbal (464142) *
      Nahh, the French will just build more nuclear power plants. Damn and blast those French, yet again!
      • Yup, and when they can't cool their nukes in the next dry summer, as the one that is coming up right now, we will gladly support them with some icky wind, solar and water generated energy.
    • Germany is not switching to coal, they are switching to renewable energy sources, which already provide about 17% of the country's electricity consumption even before the old nuclear plants were shut down and before the decision to close down the remaining nuclear power plants was made. If the political will is there, replacing the 11% provided by nuclear and more by 2021 shouldn't be a problem, renewable energy has more than doubled in the past 10 years in Germany.

  • This is what they said about the last solar cycle, especially since we went into a deep solar minimum, and now the sun is waking up and we have had some nice Geomagnetic storms and solar flares already.

    • Indeed, I haven't followed it closely, but wasn't the last cycle supposed to be exceptionally weak already? Any astrophysicist around to give us some information here?
  • Better article (Score:4, Informative)

    by dogmatixpsych (786818) on Tuesday June 14, 2011 @04:22PM (#36442132) Homepage Journal
    The networkworld (why are we posting a solar/space article from there?) article links to a much better Cosmic Log article: http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/06/14/6857473-solar-forecast-hints-at-a-big-chill [msn.com]
    • Because 'coondoggie' posts summaries of all of blog articles on here, it seems, with only links back to his blog.

      At least Roland Piquepaille learned, and started linking to places other than his blog ... especially as coondoggie's blog spam tends to just be regurgitated press releases with mostly self-referrential links or broken links when he does link externally (eg, whenever he tries linking to the SDO website).

      Check Google News -- there have been well over a hundred groups responding to the press -- Nat

  • Hopefully this balances out all the environmental stuff. The question then is do we call it Global Luke-Warming, or Anthropoheliogenic Climate Constancy?

  • by gstrickler (920733) on Tuesday June 14, 2011 @04:29PM (#36442228)
    ..for all of this intense activity. It needs more time to rest between cycles these days.
  • So... (Score:4, Funny)

    by infiniphonic (657188) on Tuesday June 14, 2011 @04:35PM (#36442354) Homepage
    winter is coming?
  • by cwebster (100824) on Tuesday June 14, 2011 @04:39PM (#36442402)

    Decreased solar output will have an impact on global temperatures, but it will take time.

    Greenhouse gasses (Water, CO2, CH4, etc) do not directly interact with incoming shortwave radiation from the sun. Rather, they interact with the longwave radiation coming from the surface of the Earth. With no greenhouse gasses, the Earth would radiate (based on its temperature) and this radiation would be lost to space. What greenhouse gasses do is absorb the emitted longwave which adds energy to the molecule absorbing it. The excited state either results in a temperature increase of the molecule, or the emission of radiation. Some of this re-emitted radiation is directed downward, toward the Earth. The net result is that some energy that would be lost to space is absorbed by molecules in the atmosphere, warming it, and some is redirected back to the Earth, increasing the net incoming radiation.

    The effect can be directly observed. If you look at the measured longwave radiation emitted at the top of our atmosphere, the global average temperature you would calculate would not support life as we know it (much too cold). The difference from that and our directly observed average surface temperatures are due to the greenhouse effect (the energy based on those temperatures is not making it to the top of the atmosphere).

    Decreasing solar input would change part of the energy budget, but the greenhouse effect will act as a buffer (from absorbing and re-emitting longwave radiation) that would cause a delayed response.

    Note that I am not a climate scientist, just a regular meteorologist who has taken a few classes in radiative transfer.

  • Slight changes in Earths orbit over the Millennia have the best correlation of any factor. These are called the Milankovitch Cycles [wikipedia.org]. This does not rule out a co-factor like a series of large eruptions pushing the climate over the edge. There is about 20K years until the next Milankovitch susceptibility.
  • by Gauthic (964948) on Tuesday June 14, 2011 @04:55PM (#36442630) Homepage
    It's freakin' 107.1F (41.7C) in North Texas... Come on sun, cool us off!






    ...hmmm why does that not sound right..
    • As a resident of Wisconsin, I am dismayed by the idea that it might get even colder. It's already cold enough here!
  • by NotNormallyNormal (1311339) on Tuesday June 14, 2011 @05:26PM (#36443196)

    An examination of sunspots over the last 10+ years by looking at Fe lines shows that the magnetic fields and temperatures in the sunspots are decreasing. There is apparently a "minimum" value for the magnetic field for a sunspot to form. The average value has been decreasing rather rapidly of late (10 years or so). This leads to smaller and less intense sunspots. If the magnetic values generated are no longer strong enough to generate sunspots, how is the magnetic field of the sun affected? Will it still go through a 22-year cycle (I suspect yes, the lack of sunspots should not affect that cycle)? So simply the 11-year SUNSPOT cycle will be affected.

    Further to this, I (as an actual real life scientist) have been looking at the activity of the solar magnetic field. Specifically the transition from a dipolar field (at solar minimum) to a non-dipolar field (near solar maximum) and back again. Given the long relationship the Sun and Earth have had (some 4 billion years) I thought I'd throw in some macroscale effects seen on the Earth for comparison. Very surprisingly, the sunspot cycle and the El Nino/La Nina cycle is actually reasonably correlated (remember, correlation does not equal causation). There is a bit looser relationship better the solar cycle and Typhoons (though this may be more related El Nino) and monsoon rains (very likely correlated to the El Nino cycle).

    However, solar variation in radiation is not the cause (this is what is taken into account in climate models) but the magnetic fields and the solar wind appear to play a much larger role (See multiple articles by Scafetta and West for example). The solar wind interacts with polar atmosphere and there is a suggestion (questionable) that is may link the Quasi-biennial ocsillation to solar activity. There seems to be relationship, however, it is not clear what it is or how a lack of solar activity would affect the Earth (or what the "lag time" might be).

    Will it get cooler if there is an extended period of low to no solar activity? Yes, there is strong evidence of that based on previous examples (Maunder and Sporer minimums for example). Will the cooling completely counteract the greenhouse gas warming? Good question.

    • by Eukariote (881204)

      However, solar variation in radiation is not the cause (this is what is taken into account in climate models) but the magnetic fields and the solar wind appear to play a much larger role.

      I would not be so sure about that since there is a bit of a blind spot in the theories, models and observations: EUV and X-Ray radiation. Take, for example, this time graph [usc.edu] of the 26-34 nm EUV band. A factor of three or so variation in flux over the course of the solar cycle.

      Look at any EUV or X-Ray image [lmsal.com] of the sun, and it

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