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Sunspot Cycle 24

Updated on January 14, 2018
jackclee lm profile image

I am a retired engineer and scientist who has expertise in digital image processing and are engaged in other disciplines like climate change

Introduction

The current Sunspot cycle number 24 is approaching a minimum. According to Spaceweather.com, an 11 to 12 year cycle started in 2013 or so and reached a maximum of only 75 average spots. This is one of the historic lows. What does this mean for our future climate?

- June 2017

Background

Sunspots have been documented for hundreds of years. Astronomers have determined that these spots are indicators of hot spots of magnetic activity inside the surface of our sun. They also influence the radiance energy put out by the sun. In past years, there have been documented cases of climate effects on earth due to these cycles. In addition, similar effects have been measured on other planets in our solar system. This is a known indicator of solar activity. What is not well known is the reason for the periodic cycle of 11 or 12 years. It is not well formed and does vary both in length and in its intensity.

Climate Change

We know from our historic records going back 400 years or so, that our climate has shifted cooler and warmer on a regular basis. We also know from ice core studies that our climate has gone through many ice ages every 100,000 years or so. Scientists have postulated that it may be the result of small planetary motions and precision of our earth Interacting with various other natural cycles of the moon and Saturn and other planets.

It is a complex process on many levels. We humans are also playing a role by creating greenhouse gases higher than "normal" natural carbon cycle.

In recent years, we have seen the CO2 level rise steadily above 400ppm. According to various climate models, this is very bad news for our planet. It may lead to a runaway global warming scenario similar to what exists on planet venus.

What percent of the changes are due to natural cycles, or our sun and to human activities is the current debate. Some climate scientists actually claim that humans are responsible for over 100% of the recent climate change because of additional positive feedbacks. Some think it is more close to 50%. The truth is no one really knows.

Sun Spot count (6/8/2017) : 13

What We Do Know...

Let's examine what we do know. The complexity of the whole system includes numerous cycles.

  • rotation of earth 24 hours
  • the moon 29 days
  • the rotation around the sun 365 days
  • Sunspots 11 or 12 years
  • Saturn has a 59 year cycle
  • Jupiter 83 years.
  • precession of earth is about 26,000 years
  • ice ages approx. 100,000 years

We do know that during the Maunder Minimum in the 1600s, the climate in Europe experienced a mini ice-age. Can this happen again? We may be seeing the start of one in 2017 perhaps not as severe but we just don't know.

We also know that climate and weather is sensitive to what is called the "butterfly effect." That a butterfly in one location can trigger a storm across the country.

A Simple Analogy

To explain this complexity and how difficult it is to model it, let me use a simple analogy. Suppose you have a large swimming pool and in the middle of the pool, you have a toy plastic toy boat. Every so often, you drop a rock into the pool at various locations and with different periods and with different sizes of rock. These events create waves that interact over long distances. You are asked to compute where the boat will end up in a day, a year or in 10 years. What is the chance you will get it right?

That is the problem facing climate scientists trying to predict climate change over decades. I feel their pain. It is basically chaos theory. To make it worse, some of these events are unpredictable such as a comet or asteroid strike or a major earthquake or volcano erruption... or even our sun with its sunspots.

Future Impact...

Here is my assessment of what may happen in the near future. The current el nino has ended as of 2016. The rise in temperature has also subsided somewhat. The cooling effect on the planet due to a minimum solar cycle will dominate the next 7 years. The predicted global warming due to CO2 rise will be offset somewhat by this natural cycle. We cannot be sure how strong the next solar cycle will be. We may even see a small decline in overall global surface temperatures.

Sunspot Cycles vs. Global Temperatures

Summary

Our sun is the only external energy source in our solar system. All life on earth depends on this regular emission of light and radiant energy. It is an amazing coincidence that the current balance is such that our earth enjoys a pleasant average climate conducive to life. We are flourishing in this environment. Scientists warn us that it is the exception rather than the rule. In times past and in the distant future, we may not be so lucky. Our planet will experience climate change on a big scale both warming and cooling. We need to find a long term solution or at minimum a way to mitigate the effects.

© 2017 Jack Lee

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    • jackclee lm profile imageAUTHOR

      Jack Lee 

      14 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Maybe so, but you can't have it both ways. Either the sun is a factor or it isn't? If it is, it should be incorporated into the climate models. That is my view. Thanks for checking in.

    • Rock_nj profile image

      John Coviello 

      14 months ago from New Jersey

      I guess we'll find out over the coming years. But, if the sun's strength was the primary driver of the Earth's temperature in recent years, then 2015 & 2016 shouldn't have been warmer than the time around the year 2000, when sunspot activity was significantly greater.

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