On the 14th of June at the AAS conference in Las Cruces, a group of scientist from the National Solar Observatory (NSO) suggested that the familiar sunspot cycle may be shutting down. They observed that the spots were fading (weaker), that the current Cycle 24 was showing fewer spots and that Cycle 25 was behind the normal schedule in its formation.
Sunspots have been recorded for hundreds of years and they are a very visible proxy for solar activity. Solar activity is also visible in the numbers and strength of flares and coronal mass ejections (CME). The solar cycle is nominally about 11 years in duration. It begins with a relatively quiet sun and then there is a ramping up of sunspots, etc. maximizing about half way through a cycle. At this time the Sun’s north and south magnetic poles “flip” and sunspots, etc. begin ramping down to a relatively quiet Sun.
Drs.Frank Hill of the NSO explains that he and his team are using “helioseismology to measure sun-wide oscillations of the solar surface”. Sound waves of extremely low frequency that emanate from deep within the Sun induce up-and-down oscillations in the sun’s outer gas layer. Measurements of these surface motions can be used to make maps of solar surface velocity, called Dopplergrams, from which physical conditions such as temperature, composition and the interior magnetic field can be inferred. Dr. Hill reported on “a jet-stream-like flow within the sun that they have been monitoring since 1995 using helioseismology.
The stream, which is coincident with the sunspots, has an east-west zonal flow inside the Sun at about 4000 miles beneath the Sun’s surface. The following figure presented at the Conference is illustrative of what Hill and his team have discovered.
The annotated chart’s yellow and red bands trace the solar jet streams. The black contours denote sunspot activity. Cycle 24 (the current cycle) streams can be seen beginning about 1998-1999 at about 60° lattitude north and south. These streams begin converging toward the equator. At about 22°, sunspot activity begins. Ultimately the streams will reach the equator at a time of solar maximum. See Cycle 24 and the Butterfly Diagram for more on this.
The stream that began at the 60° latitude splits with part of it going toward the poles and the other part toward the equator.
Note that Cycle 23 stream heading for the equator was more active when it reached approximately 22° than is Cycle 24 and that the angle of approach to the equator was steeper than that currently occurring in Cycle 24. Dr Hill reports that it took 3 years for Cycle 24 to cover a ten-degree range that only took 2 years for Cycle 23. Thus Cycle 24 is “slower” than Cycle 23.
The determination of this magnetic jet stream was first made by the instrumentation on the SOHO satellite launched December 2, 1995 using a Michelson Doppler Imager. It was replaced by a Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) in Feb 2010 on a Solar Dynamics Observation satellite. The HMI is said to be many time more sensitive and it will report almost continuously. The unit uses a 16 million-pixel camera configured to show blue images where the Sun’s oscillations are moving the surface toward the HMI camera and red when it moves away. The satellite is in orbit about 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface at about the point where the Sun’s and the Earth’s gravitational pull are equal.
Richard Altrock, manager of the Air Force’s coronal research program has observed that the remnants of the magnetic jet stream go poleward as far as 85° where they die.
Returning to the figure it can be noted that Cycle 24 magnetic jet stream was forming in the 1998-2000 timeframe. Noted on the figure is “Cycle 25??? 2019? 2030?”. Dr Hill points out that the magnetic jet stream for Cycle 25 should have been forming already but there is no sign of it yet. The press release for regarding this situation suggests that: Cycle 25 will be greatly reduced or may not happen at all.
Latter, I will post on the work by Matt Penn and William Livingston that shows a weakening trend in the strength of the sunspots.
So what do we make of this? Because of the satellite programs underway in the US and Europe primarily, we are probably doubling our knowledge of the Sun every few year. But we still don’t know much about the Sun. Reading the postings on this topic leads me to believe that the solar experts are not of one mind on the idea that this means the climate is about to get much cooler.
My bias is to say that we are going to see years of global cooling. I say that based upon the reconstructed history of the Maunder and other minimums. The only good thing I believe that can come from a period of cooling is to put a stake in the heart of the corrupt science that is the AGW theory. I am not sure we can say with any certainty that more CO2 in the atmosphere and perhaps more naturally caused global warming is a bad thing. Who is to say that 2 or 3 more degrees would be bad. Only the models in their ignorance are sure of this. But extended cold could cause a lot of starvation. Lets hope this does not happen.
So, stayed tuned.