Thursday, November 29, 2012

26 January 2012 – Sunshine, staple crops and rainbows


Those of us living in the Ottawa area got seriously ripped off on Tuesday.  It was cloudy, and we missed the best light show in a decade.

Late on Sunday 22 January, the Sun erupted with an M8.7 class solar flare.  The resulting coronal mass ejection (CME), a burst of highly energetic protons, left the Sun's surface at about 2,000 km per second, and impacted the Earth at a little after 1000 hrs EST on Tuesday.  The Space Weather Prediction Centre at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US rated the storm as an S3 (the scale goes up to S5), making it the strongest space weather event since 2005, possibly 2003.  The resulting geomagnetic storm was rated G1 (minor).

Thanks to our atmosphere, solar storms can't harm humans, but when charged particles hit the Earth's magnetosphere, they can play hob with radio communications, and at high energy levels can damage satellites.  They also produce bursts of charged particles in the upper atmosphere, leading to tremendous auroral displays.  NASA had predicted that the Aurora Borealis could be visible at latitudes as low as Maine.  The following image was taken in Sweden:

See what I mean?  Awesome.  Elsewhere, the aurora was reported to have looked like a rainbow in the night sky.  Too bad we missed it here.

Who cares, though, right?  I mean, it's pretty, sure, but where's the relevance to what we do?  Well, this kind of solar activity is strategically very relevant, in a couple of ways.  First, powerful geomagnetic storms can impact humans - not through ionizing radiation, but through their immediate electromagnetic effects.  Geomagnetic perturbations can induce powerful currents on Earth.  Here's a plot from a Swedish lab showing the arrival of the CME:

Massive geomagnetic events can wreak havoc with power grids because, pursuant to Faraday's Law, a time-varying magnetic field induces a current in a conductor - and the surface of the world is positively covered with conductors.  A strong enough magnetic perturbation can create enough current in high-tension lines to overload switches and cause circuit breakers to blow.  Take a look at the magnetometer declination on that chart; last Tuesday's event induced a perturbation about 8 times the average maximum perturbation experienced over the hours preceding the event.  Frankly, the effects shouldn't be surprising; we're talking about billions of tonnes of charged particles hitting the planet at millions of kilometres per hour.  The kinetic energy alone of such an impact is staggering.  It's enough to bend the planet's magnetosphere out of shape.

There weren't any reports of power grid failures on Tuesday, but remember, this was only a G1 storm.  A CME that hit the Earth on 13 March 1989 knocked out Quebec's power grid for nine hours.  That one temporarily disabled a number of Earth-orbiting satellites, and folks in Texas were able to see the northern lights.  Another big geomagnetic storm in August of that same year crippled microchips, and shut down the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Those were bad, but the Carrington Event was something else entirely.  Back on 1 September 1859, British astronomers Richard Carrington and Richard Hodgson independently recorded a solar superflare on the surface of the Sun.  The resulting CME took only 18 hours to travel to the Earth, giving the mass of charged particles a velocity of ca. 2300 km/second, somewhat faster than last Tuesday's bump.  When the CME hit, it caused the largest geomagnetic storm in recorded history.  According to contemporary accounts, people in New York City were able to read the newspaper at night by the light of the Aurora Borealis, and the glow woke gold miners labouring in the Rocky Mountains.  The more immediate impact of the Carrington Event, though, was the fact that the intense perturbations of the Earth's magnetic field induced enormous currents in the telegraph wires that had only recently been installed in Europe and across North America.  Telegraph systems failed all over both continents; according to contemporary accounts, sparks flew from the telegraph towers, telegraph operators received painful shocks, and telegraph paper caught fire.

Geomagnetic storms like the Carrington Event are powerful enough to leave traces in the terrestrial geology.  Ice core samples can contain layers of nitrates that show evidence of high-energy proton bombardment.  Based on such samples, it's estimated that massive solar eruptions like the Carrington Event occur, on average, every five hundred years or so.  Electromagnetic catastrophists (I've derided them before as "the Pulser Crowd") point to the Carrington Event, and lesser impacts like the 1989 solar storm, as an example of the sort of thing that could "bring down" Western civilization by crippling power grids (and they also tend to posit that a deliberate EMP attacker could accomplish the same thing via the high-altitude detonation of a high-yield thermonuclear weapon over the continental US - as if the US strategic weapons system weren't the one thing in the entire country that was hardened against EMP from top to bottom).  It hasn't happened yet - and the protestations of the Pulsers notwithstanding, the grid is a lot more robust than the old telegraph lines used to be, if only because we understand electromagnetism a lot better now than they did back in the days of beaver hats, mercury nostrums, and stock collars.

That said, this sort of thing does tend to make one look at our ever-benevolent star in a new light (no pun intended).  The second reason this sort of thing is strategically relevant is because recent studies and observed data seem to be confirming some disturbing solar activity trends identified a few years ago - and the potential consequences aren't pleasant.

As I've mentioned before, one of the perplexing claims in the IPCC's list of assumptions upon which all of the general circulation ("climate") models are built is that the aggregate impact of "natural forcings" (a term that the IPCC uses to lump together both volcanic aerosols and all solar forcings) is negative - i.e., that the sum total of volcanic and solar activity is to cool the Earth, rather than warm it.  The IPCC also argues that these natural forcings “are both very small compared to the differences in radiative forcing estimated to have resulted from human activities.” [Note A] The assumption that solar activity is insufficient to overcome the periodic cooling impact of large volcanic eruptions (which, let's face it, aren't all that common - the last one to actually have a measurable impact on global temperatures was the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo on 15 June 1991) is, to say the least, "unproven."  The IPCC has also dismissed the Svensmark hypothesis (the argument that the warming effect of seemingly minor increases in solar activity is magnified by the increase in solar wind, which interrupts galactic cosmic radiation and prevents GCRs from nucleating low-level clouds, thereby reducing Earth's albedo, and vice-versa - you'll recall this from previous COPs/TPIs), which, unlike the hypothesis that human CO2 emissions are the Earth's thermostat, is actually supported by empirical evidence.

This is probably why the IPCC's climate models have utterly failed.  Temperature trends are below the lowest IPCC estimates for temperature response to CO2 emissions - below, in fact, the estimated temperature response that NASA's rogue climatologist, James Hansen, predicted would occur even if there was no increase in CO2 emissions after 2000. 
(Dotted and solid black lines - predicted temperature trends according to Hansen's emissions scenarios.  Blue dots - measured temperatures.  Red line - smoothed measured temperature trend.)

The lowest of the black dotted lines is what Hansen predicted Earth's temperature change would be if global CO2 emissions were frozen at 2000 levels.  Obviously, that hasn't happened; in fact, global CO2 concentrations have increased by 6.25%.  Temperatures haven't increased at all.  In other words, while CO2 emissions have continued to skyrocket and atmospheric CO2 concentrations have continued to increase, actual measured temperatures have levelled off, and the trend is declining.  Don't take my word for it; the data speak for themselves. 

I particularly like the next graph, which shows the last 10 years of average global temperature trends as measured by the most reliable instruments available to mankind:

The satellite temperature measurement data are maintained by the University of Alabama at Huntsville, and the short puce line at the left of the graph shows 2012 temperatures to date.  That's right - according to satellite measurements, this is the coldest winter in at least a decade.  Have you heard anything about that from the mainstream media?  Have you heard anything about it from NASA?  Probably not; Hansen just released another statement shrieking that 2011 was the "11th-warmest" year on record.  This was after modifying the GISS temperature dataset - again - to make the past colder, and the present hotter.  Seriously, where apart from climate science is it considered acceptable to change the past to conform to your theories about the future?  Well, apart from communist dictatorships, I mean.

Why aren't the data following the GCM predictions?  Well, let's look back a few years.  In a paper I wrote back then, I took a look at what solar activity trends had to suggest about the likelihood of continued, uninterrupted global warming.  Here's an excerpt.  Bear with me here, and please excuse the dated charts; the paper, after all, was written in January 2009, and updated in April 2009, using sources and data available to that point:

Solar physicists have begun to speculate that the observed, and extremely slow, start to solar cycle 24 may portend an unusually long, weak solar cycle.  According to NASA, in 2008 the Sun experienced its “blankest year of the space age” – 266 spotless days out of 366, or 73%, a low not seen since 1913.  David Hathaway, a solar physicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, noted that sunspot counts were at a 50-year low, meaning that “we’re experiencing a deep minimum of the solar cycle.”[1]  At time of writing, the figure for 2009 was 78 spotless days out of 90, or 87%, and the Goddard Space Flight Centre was calling it a “very deep solar minimum” – “the quietest Sun we’ve seen in almost a century.”[2]

This very low solar activity corresponds with “a 50-year record low in solar wind pressure” discovered by the Ulysses spacecraft.[3]  The fact that we are simultaneously experiencing both extremely low solar wind pressure and sustained global cooling, incidentally, may be considered prima facie circumstantial corroboration of Svensmark’s cosmic-ray cloud nucleation thesis.

Figure 17 - Solar cycle lengths 1750-2007; and the 2 longest cycles of the past 300 years [4]

Measured between minima, the average length of a solar cycle is almost exactly 11 years.  The length of the current solar cycle (Solar Cycle 23, the mathematical minimum for which occurred in May 1996), was, as of 1 April 2009, a little over 12.9 years.[5]  This is already well over the mean, and at time of writing, the minimum was continuing to deepen, with no indication that the next cycle has begun.[6]  Only one solar cycle in the past three centuries has exceeded that length – solar cycle 4, which lasted 13.66 years, 1784 to 1798 (see figure 17).  This was the last cycle before the Dalton Minimum, a period of lower-than-average global temperatures that lasted from approximately 1790-1830. The Dalton Minimum was the last prolonged “cold spell” of the Little Ice Age, from which temperatures have since been recovering (and which, as noted above, the IPCC and the proponents of the AGW thesis invariably take as the start-point for their temperature graphs, in a clear demonstration of the end-point fallacy in statistical methodology).[7]  On the basis of observations of past solar activity, some solar physicists are predicting that the coming solar cycle is likely to be weaker than normal, and could result in a period of cooling similar to the Dalton Minimum.[8]

If we were to experience a similar solar minimum today – which is not unlikely, given that, as noted above, we are emerging from an 80+-year Solar Grand Maximum, during which the Sun was more active than at any time in the past 11,000 years – the net result could be a global temperature decline on the order of 1.5 degrees over the space of two solar cycles, i.e. a little over two decades.[9]  According to Archibald, during the Dalton Minimum, temperatures in central England dropped by more than a degree over a 20-year period, for a cooling rate of more than 5ºC per century; while one location in Germany – Oberlach – recorded a decline of 2ºC during the same period (a cooling rate of 10ºC per century).[10]  Archibald predicts a decline of 1.5ºC over the course of two solar cycles (roughly 22 years), for a cooling rate of 6.8ºC per century.  This would be cooling at a rate more than ten times faster than the warming that has been observed since the mid-1800s.  “At this rate,” Monckton notes wryly, “by mid-century, we shall be roasting in a new ice age.”[11]

Well, since predictive analysis ought to be subject to review, what do things look like today, three years after that paper was written?  Let's turn to NASA's David Hathaway, who - as a solar physicist - continues to track and refine predictions for the depth and duration of the next solar cycle.  Back in 2006, Hathaway, looking at the Sun's internal "conveyor belt", predicted that the next solar cycle - #24, the one we're currently in - would be higher than cycle #23, and that #25 would be lower.
(Source: NASA, David Hathaway, "Solar Cycle 25 peaking around 2022 could be one of the weakest in centuries", 10 May 2006 [Note B])

Hathaway's prediction was based on the conveyor belt model (look it up if you're interested).  In 2010, two different authors, Matthew Penn and William Livingston of the National Solar Observatory, developed a physical model based instead on the measured magnetic fields of sunspots.  Based on their model, which seems to have greater predictive validity, they argued that the sunspot number would not be low (75 or so) like Hathaway predicted, but exceptionally low, less than a tenth of that - a total peak sunspot number of around 7, or the lowest in observed history.

Independent of the normal solar cycle, a decrease in the sunspot magnetic field strength has been observed using the Zeeman-split 1564.8nm Fe I spectral line at the NSO Kitt Peak McMath-Pierce telescope. Corresponding changes in sunspot brightness and the strength of molecular absorption lines were also seen. This trend was seen to continue in observations of the first sunspots of the new solar Cycle 24, and extrapolating a linear fit to this trend would lead to only half the number of spots in Cycle 24 compared to Cycle 23, and imply virtually no sunspots in Cycle 25. [Note C]

The authors predict that umbral magnetic field strength will drop below 1500 Gauss between 2017 and 2022.  Below 1500 Gauss, no sunspots will appear.  This is what the predictive chart from their paper looks like:

For the record, that's not a happy prediction.  A maximum sunspot number of 7 is virtually unheard-of in the historical record.  Using the Penn-Livingston model and NASA's SSN data, David Archibald, another solar expert, has projected sunspot activity over cycle 25...and this is what it looks like [Note D]:

First, note that measured data have already invalidated Hathaway's 2006 prediction about solar cycle 24; turns out it is proving to be considerably weaker than cycle 23.  If Penn and Livingston are correct, however, cycle 25 could be less than 1/5th the strength of cycles 5 and 6, which in the first quarter of the 19th Century marked the depths of the Dalton Minimum.  During this period, as noted above, temperatures plummeted, leading to widespread crop failures, famine, disease, and the delightful sociological and meteorological conditions that entertained Napoleon during the retreat from Moscow, and that Charles Dickens spent most of his career writing about.  A SSN of less than 10, in fact, would be considerably lower than the Dalton Minimum; it would put the world into conditions not seen since the Maunder Minimum in the 17th Century, which was even worse.

How significant could this be?  Well, look at the above chart.  The last time there was an appreciable dip in solar activity - cycle 20 (October 1964 - June 1976), the smoothed SSN curve peaked at 110, more than 10 times as strong as cycle 25 is expected to be...and the entire world went through a "global cooling" scare.  In 1975, Newsweek published an article entitled “The Cooling World”, claiming, amongst other things, that “[t]he evidence in support of these predictions [of global cooling] has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it.”  The article's author had some grim advice for politicians struggling to come to grips with the impending cooling: “The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with climatic change once the results become grim reality.” [Note E]

Sound familiar? 

That was 36 years ago.  Now here we are in solar cycle 24, which is looking to be a good 20% weaker than solar cycle 20, which prompted all the cooling panic.  Temperatures are once more measurably declining.  Models of solar activity (models based on observed data, remember, not hypothetical projections of mathematically-derived nonsense) project that the modern solar grand maximum that has driven Earth's climate for the last 80+ years is almost certainly over.  This means that, based on historical experience, the coming solar cycles will probably be weak, and the Earth's climate is probably going to cool measurably.  "Global warming" is done like dinner, and to anyone with the guts to look at the data and the brains to understand it, there is no correlation whatsoever between average global temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations (let alone the tiny proportion of atmospheric CO2 resulting from human activities).  The only questions left are (a) whether we are on our way to a Dalton-type Minimum, where temperatures drop a degree or two, or a much worse Maunder-type Minimum, where temperatures drop more than two degrees; and (b) whether we have the intelligence and common sense as a species to pull our heads out of our nether regions, look at the data, stop obsessing about things that are demonstrably not happening, and start preparing for the Big Chill. 

Based on observed data, I'm guessing we're definitely in for colder weather - but I'm doubtful that we have the mental capacity to recognize that fact and do something about it.  Like, for example, develop the energy resources that we're going to need if we're going to survive a multidecadal cold spell. 

Oh, and why is this relevant?  Well, because we live in Canada.  A new solar minimum - the Eddy Minimum, as some are beginning to call it - would severely impact Canada's agricultural capacity.  As David Archibald pointed out in a lecture last year (ref F), Canada's grain-growing belt is currently at a geographic maximum, thanks to the present warm period (the shaded area in the image below).  However, during the last cooling event (the one capped off by Solar Cycle 20, above), the grain belt shrank to the dotted line in the image.  A decline in average temperature of 1 degree - which would be consistent with a Dalton Minimum-type decline in temperatures - would shrink the grain belt to the solid black line; and a 2-degree drop in temperature would push that black line south, to the Canada-US border. 

In other words, if we were to experience a drop in temperatures similar to that experienced during the Maunder Minimum - which, if Solar Cycle 25 is as weak as Penn-Livingston suggest it might be, is a possibility - then it might not be possible to grow grain in Canada. 

This could be a problem for those of us who enjoy the simple things in life, like food.  And an economy.

So what we should be asking ourselves is this: What's a bigger threat to Canada's national security? 

·         A projected temperature increase of 4 degrees C over the next century that, according to all observed data, simply isn't happening - but that if it was, wouldn't improve our agricultural capacity one jot, because that shaded area is a soil-geomorphic limit, and sunshine doesn't turn muskeg or tundra into fertile earth no matter how warm it gets; [Note G]


·         A decline in temperatures of 1-2 degrees C over the next few decades that, according to all observed and historical data, could very well be on the way - and which, if it happens, might make it impossible to grow wheat in the Great White North?

You decide.  I'll be looking for farmland in Niagara.




27 January 2012 – Update to ‘Sunshine’, etc.


It figures that the same day I send out a TPI featuring a 6-month-old slide, the author of the slide would publish an update.[Note A]  I thought I'd send it along as the refinements to his arguments sort of emphasize the reason that we should be taking a closer look at the question of what might really be happening to climate, and why.

David Archibald, who produced that grain-belt map I cited above, has refined his projection based on new high-resolution surface temperature studies from Norway, and on new solar activity data, including data on the cyclical "rush to the poles" of sunspot clusters, of which our understanding has improved considerably over the past five years.  Here's how one paper puts it:

“Cycle 24 began its migration at a rate 40% slower than the previous two solar cycles, thus indicating the possibility of a peculiar cycle. However, the onset of the “Rush to the Poles” of polar crown prominences and their associated coronal emission, which has been a precursor to solar maximum in recent cycles (cf. Altrock 2003), has  just been identified in the northern hemisphere. Peculiarly, this “rush” is leisurely, at only 50% of the rate in the previous two cycles.”

So what?  Well, it means that cycle 24 is likely to be a lot longer than normal.  And what are the consequences of that, you ask?

If Solar Cycle 24 is progressing at 60% of the rate of the previous two cycles, which averaged ten years long, then it is likely to be 16.6 years long.  This is supported by examining Altrock’s green corona diagram from mid-2011 above.  In the previous three cycles, solar minimum occurred when the bounding line of major activity (blue) intersects 10° latitude (red).  For Solar Cycle 24, that occurs in 2026, making it 17 years long.

The first solar cycle of the Maunder Minimum was 18 years long.  That's the last time the world saw solar cycles as long as the coming cycles are projected to be.

For humanity, that is going to be something quite significant, because it will make Solar Cycle 24 four years longer than Solar Cycle 23.  With a temperature – solar cycle length relationship for the North-eastern US of 0.7°C per year of solar cycle length, temperatures over Solar Cycle 25 starting in 2026 will be 2.8°C colder than over Solar Cycle 24, which in turn is going to be 2.1°C colder than Solar Cycle 23.

The total temperature shift will be 4.9°C for the major agricultural belt that stretches from New England to the Rockies straddling the US – Canadian border.  At the latitude of the US-Canadian border, a 1.0°C change in temperature shifts growing conditions 140 km – in this case, towards the Gulf of Mexico. The centre of the Corn Belt, now in Iowa, will move to Kansas.

Emphasis added.

Now remember, that's the center of the corn belt.  What about the northern fringes of it?  Here's Archibald's updated grain belt map.  Note the newly-added last line:

"All over."  That's 25-30 years from now - or as some folks around this building like to call it, "Horizon Three".  And here we are, still talking about melting sea ice, thawing permafrost, and building deep-water ports in the Arctic.  Maybe we should be talking about building greenhouses in Lethbridge and teaching beaver trapping in high school.

Just something to think about the next time somebody starts rattling on about how the science is settled and global warming is now inevitable.  We'd better hope they're right, because the alternative ain't pretty.

Cheers...I guess.




Notes (From original post)

A)    4th AR WG1, Chapter 2, 137.

E)    Peter Gwynne, “The Cooling World”, Newsweek, 28 April 1975, page 64. 

G)    H/T to Neil for the "sunshine doesn't turn muskeg into black earth" line.

[1][1] NASA, “Spotless Sun: Blankest Year of the Space Age”, NASA Press Release, 30 September 2008 [].
[2][2] “Deep Solar Minimum”,, 1 April 2009, [ 01apr_deepsolarminimum.htm].
[3][3] NASA, “Spotless Sun: Blankest Year of the Space Age”, ibid.  The Sun is also going through a 55-year low in radio emissions.
[4][4] Data obtained from the National Geophysical Data Centre of the NOAA Satellite and Information Service [].
[5][5] At time of writing the minimum for Solar Cycle 24 had not yet been established.  The longer Solar Cycle 23 continues, the more likely a prolonged period of cooling becomes.  For those wishing to perform their own calculations, all of the data on sunspot numbers (and much more) are available at the website of the National Geophysical Data Centre of the NOAA Satellite and Information Service [].

[6][6] Based on current science, the date for the solar minimum ending a prior cycle is generally determined from sunspot counts and is generally agreed by scientists post-facto, once the subsequent cycle is under way.  However, in addition to very low smoothed sunspot numbers, solar minima are also defined in terms of peaks in cosmic rays (neutrons) striking the Earth (because the Sun’s magnetic field, which shields the Earth from cosmic rays, is weakest during the solar minimum.  For more information on this point, see chapter 5).  Because the neutron counts, at time of writing, were still increasing, it is unlikely that the solar minimum separating solar cycles 23 and 24 has yet been reached.  See Anthony Watts, “Cosmic Ray Flux and Neutron monitors suggest we may not have hit solar minimum yet”,, 15 March 2009 [].  For anyone interesting in charting the neutron flux data for themselves, these can be obtained from the website of the University of Delaware Bartol Research Institute Neutron Monitor Program [].

[7][7] Jeff Id, “Sunspot Lapse Exceeds 95% of Normal”, posting at, 15 January 2009 [].  Id’s data, and the data one which this chart is based, are drawn from official NASA figures.
[8][8] C. de Jaeger and S. Dunham, “Forecasting the parameters of sunspot cycle 24 and beyond”, Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics 71 (2009), 239-245 [].
[9][9] Archibald (2006), 29-35.
[10][10] Archibald, ibid., 31.
[11][11] Christopher Monckton, “Great is Truth, and mighty above all things”; valedictory address to the International Conference on Climate Change, 10 March 2009, 3 [ Great_ Is_Truth_and_Mighty_Above_All_Things.html]