Sunday, November 13, 2011

Low Sunspot Activity To Keep US Cool Through Next Several Years

Something we forgot to mention in our final 2011-2012 winter forecast is how the sun will dramatically affect this winter and years to come. That thing we forgot to mention is how low sunspot activity will affect our winter- and it's more than you probably think.
You see, sunspots are areas of intense magnetic activity, leading to the loss of ability to produce convection (rising air, which is how thunderstorms form), therefore creating dark spots on the sun. The sun goes through cycles of high and low sunspot activity, which you can see a history of below.
Basically, when these sunspots are at a low, Europe cools down. It has been noted that, at one point when sunspots were at extremely low levels several hundred years ago, Europe and North America were under very cold winters and an overall colder climate. This extremely low level was called the Maunder Minimum. During this Maunder Minimum, sunspot activity was at levels we have not seen in records since that time. Check out the graph below showing just how low sunspot levels were.
This Maunder Minimum created what is called the 'Little Ice Age', when extremely cold weather settled over Europe.
This winter, solar activity will be at a very low level, one we haven't seen in a while. Essentially, the sun will go into more of a hibernation while going through it's 24th cycle. These cycles are the maximums of sunspots. See the graph below showing the couple most recent sunspot cycles.
We are currently edging up in the new 24th cycle, as you can see in the top image. However, this sun cycle will be weak, so it is expected to max out in sunspot numbers less than what it has in the last couple cycles. This means that the minimum following this upcoming 24th cycle will be even lower than regular minimums should the solar activity remain very low. To confirm this suspicion, let's look at the forecast for this 24th cycle.
You can clearly see in the forecast (red) line of how the maximum number of sunspots will be low- below 100 sunspots, considered a low number for a maximum. So, all this said, what does it all mean? It means that the world will see cooler weather. Global Warming may very well be affected by this low solar activity, and I would not be surprised at all to see global warming take a 'break' for a while. While looking into sunspot forecasts as far out as 2016, we found that the number of sunspots may potentially rival that of the Maunder Minimum. However a 5 year forecast cannot be called accurate, but it is being taken into consideration.