Sunspot update for July 2018: The Sun flatlines!


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Yesterday NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for July 2018. As I do every month, I am posting it below, annotated to give it some context.

This might be the most significant month of solar activity that has been observed since Galileo. Except for two very short-lived and very weak sunspots that observers hardly noted, the Sun was blank for entire month of July. This has not happened since 2009, during the height of the last solar minimum.

What makes this so significant and unique is that it almost certainly signals the return of the next solar minimum, a return that comes more than a year early. The solar cycle the Sun is now completing has only been ten years long. It is also one of the weakest in more than a hundred years. This combination is unprecedented. In the past such a weak cycle required a long cycle, not a short one.

July 2018 sunspot activity

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction. The yellow line compares the present activity with the activity during solar minimum in 2008 and 2009.

SILSO graph for July 2018

The graph on the right, produced at the Sunspot Index and Long-term Solar Observations (SILSO) webpage on July 31, illustrates the weakness of activity for July. Except for two very minor sunspot events that faded very quickly (indicated by the tiny grey bumps at the bottom of the graph), the hemisphere of the Sun that faced the Earth was blank for the entire month.

For almost a decade some solar scientists have predicted, based on the Sun’s recent behavior, that we are about to enter an era of little sunspot activity, with the possibility that we could be facing the first Grand Minimum since the Maunder Minimum in the 1600s. During that last grand minimum, named for the man who identified it, the Sun’s solar cycle produced almost no visible sunspots for decades. Though scientists think the eleven-year solar cycle was occurring, sunspot activity was so weak that the solar astronomers at the time, equipped with the very first telescopes, could not see it.

The Sun’s lack of activity in July, so early after such a weak solar maximum, lends more weight to this theory. Without doubt the Sun has been behaving in a different manner for the past dozen years. The last solar minimum was unexpectedly long and pronounced. The solar maximum that followed was weak, and though double-peaked it was the first ever observed where the second peak was stronger than the first.

The significance for scientists should a Grand Minimum be approaching would be priceless. Armed with today’s vast array of sophisticated ground-based and space-based solar observatories, they would have the opportunity to observe the Sun as it behaved in a way that they have never seen. The knowledge gained would certainly allow them to get a better understanding of the Sun’s solar cycle and what causes it, something they presently only have a somewhat superficial understanding of.

As significant and possibly more important, a Grand Minimum would help scientists pin down the effect the Sun’s solar cycle has on the Earth’s climate. During the Maunder Minimum in the 1600s there is solid evidence that the Earth’s climate cooled, so much so that there were crop failures and years with no summers. The cooling was so pronounced that the time was labeled the Little Ice Age.

When the Sun is inactive, it allows more cosmic rays to penetrate into the inner solar system. Preliminary research at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN has suggested that more cosmic rays produce more clouds in the atmosphere, which act to block and reflect sunlight and thus cool the Earth. (For a detailed explanation of this research, watch the video at this link.)

We don’t yet know if this theory is true. What we do know is that since the Sun’s solar activity began to decline at the start of this century, the world’s global temperature, as observed as well as predicted, has generally ceased warming. Some global warming scientists think this pause in warming is merely natural variation, and that the warming will resume as predicted, with a vengeance. Others have wondered if the global warming climate models are wrong, and have not considered some factors, such as the Sun’s solar cycle, as much as they should.

The arrival of a new Grand Minimum will help scientists figure this out. And if the climate itself cools, as it did during the last grand minimum in the 1600s, we might find that the solar cycle plays a much bigger role in the climate than carbon dioxide.

We also might find that a bit of warming might be a good thing. As noted, the Little Ice Age produced famine and crop failures. Research has shown a warmer climate, with more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, actually promotes crop growth and helps to green the Earth.

The return of another little ice age now might in the end make us pine for some global warming.

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7 comments

  • MarcusZ1967

    Dr. Osborn.

    https://accordingtohoyt.com/2018/08/01/a-solar-activity-update-by-stephanie-osborn/

    (I can’t remember if I already sent this link.)

  • Andrew_W

    “What we do know is that since the Sun’s solar activity began to decline at the start of this century, the world’s global temperature, as observed as well as predicted, has generally ceased warming.”

    Are you sure about that?

    http://woodfortrees.org/plot/wti/from:2000/to:2018/trend/plot/gistemp/from:2000/to:2018/trend/plot/hadcrut4gl/from:2000/to:2018/trend/plot/rss/from:2000/to:2018/trend/plot/uah6/from:2000/to:2018/trend

  • Phill O

    Thanks Bob for your continued collection of information and its presentation. As always your analysis is spot on! Here are a couple of points:

    “The significance for scientists should a Grand Minimum be approaching would be priceless. Armed with today’s vast array of sophisticated ground-based and space-based solar observatories, they would have the opportunity to observe the Sun as it behaved in a way that they have never seen.”

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I think your intent was that scientists have not seen a grand minimum where all this new equipment (technology) has been available.

    One point to remember is that there was a slight period of warming after the Maunder Minimum that was followed by the Dalton minimum which also saw lower temperatures but of a shorter duration than during the Maunder minimum.

    Therefore, there is STRONG evidence of the link between sun spot activity and climate. What is not known is the true nature of the relationship. We could have the opportunity to define that relationship better should the sun’s activity continue to decline or remain low.

    Further, the CO2 atmospheric concentration can not vary greatly due to the clearing of CO2 by water (rain). While this has the net effect of more carbonic acid iin oceans, the pH. remains constant. Rain water has a pH of 5.5 and will always have that pH due to the chemistry of carbonic acid (a week acid).

    For those who are watching, please note the change in the AGW talking points; CO2 is talked about less while other “greenhouse” gas have risen in popularity. The AGW people no longer focus on global warming but on climate change which allows them to use cooling trends also.

    One acquaintance from Canada’s NRC doing work on the 10.7 cm band talks about these issues but is going against the government’s grain. His argument is that he is old enough to to worry about being fired.

  • Gabriel

    Although the sunspots number vary similarly to the Total Solar Irradiance (TSI) it’s this last one which mostly matters when discussing the heating factor on Earth. Since the second half of the last year the TSI lies in the range 1359-1363W/m2, which is a level bellow the mean value reached on the Maunder Minimum (1363W/m2) according to ‘reconstruction studies’ from the World Data Center for Paleoclimatology. In this brief period mean ocean surface temperatures had started to decrease on a monthly basis thus indicating the heat accumulated on the period of consecutive solar maxima of the 20th Century is being retrieved by the atmosphere to keep air temperatures warm. Obviously this process won’t be enough to sustain the atmosphere warm on a long-term if solar activity (TSI) doesn’t get back to a higher level – although it might be somehow disturbed by geological-based regular processes like the ENSO.

  • Phill O

    Earth’s problem is that it is a net exporter of energy. Geological based energy will, at some point, be radiated to space. In the short term (man’s occupancy) there seems little change (over millennia), but when we look back to the formation, we see how much energy has been lost. The moon has lost even more because there are none of the buffering (oceans or atmosphere) elements we enjoy on earth.

    Geological data (sediments) shows that the 1 in 500 year storms do not happen 1 in 500 years but tend to be clustered. The same can be said for other surface phenomenon like forest fires and mud slides. The tendency is to exploit minor changes to the political goals of one or onther’s group. In the end, it all comes down to “Fallow the Money”.

    Thanks Gabriel for the energy evaluation. “Reconstruction studies” are great, but there are always assumptions. Empirical data leaves less doubt. We may be in a position over the next 50 years to collect real empirical data on an unprecedented basis. When we interpret this data, care needs to be taken not to draw conclusions beyond that data remembering it must be compared to baseline data which we can not have in the field of climatology.

  • Ella Fitzpatrick

    Well, it started fairly well and based on science. Then it reverted to type and became just another example of climate change denial.

    Let’s see the full evidence that justifies your contention that global temperatures have declined over the past century.

    Pining for global warming? You’re right. A prolonged minimum might well lead us to pray for warmth. What would in fact likely happen is everyone focusing, in the way sheep-like masses do, on the immediate events rather than the long term. We would inevitably dismiss the earlier warming era as voodoo, and decide to burn as much carbon as we could get through to keep warm and move about. Heck, we’re doing that already! And once the extended minimum was over, which would only last two or three decades, perhaps, then what? Soon enough, we’d be back to warming conditions, except with bells on.

    I agree that, on geologic timescales, our effects become rather insignificant. But it’s a pity that some people are happy to sacrifice humanity’s security by continuing to make profits for Big Oil, rather than turning to the technology we already have and that can prevent most of the damage.

  • wayne

    cry me a river….
    I’m not going to call you a totalitarian left wing whack job, but if the shoe fits, put it on.
    You are however, a simian with a wrench.

    Jordan Peterson – get your act together!
    https://youtu.be/wLvd_ZbX1w0
    7:30

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