Projected vs observed sunspot numbers for solar cycles #23 & #24. (Credit: Hathaway/NASA/MSFC).

 

Not about aviation

Far away from the federal election, the ongoing consequences of massive fraud and misconduct in banking on a global scale, and even the debate about a second airport for Sydney, something very unusual has been going on with the Sun.

It should be at the peak of an 11 year solar cycle, but it isn’t.  The statistically normal 11 year cycle 23 that began in 1996 and was supposed to end in 2007 didn’t end until 2009.

The current cycle, numbered 24 because it is the 24th to occur in times of  increasingly detailed observations and measurements, should be at its most energetic by a range of criteria now including sunspot counts.

But as stories such as this in Universe Today are reporting, this is a very quiet sun .

NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center research scientist David Hathaway says  “Not only is this the smallest cycle we’ve seen in the space age, it’s the smallest cycle in 100 years.”

The reporting of these factual observations has at times been attacked by climate change scientists for detracting from the simplified public song sheet which focuses, correctly, on the massive liberation of fossil sourced carbon into the atmosphere as the driver of global warming.

But that won’t make a weak solar cycle go away. It misses an opportunity to engage the public and political mind to the possibility that should this be the onset of a prolonged solar minimum  like the one blamed for the Little Ice Ages it could be compared to golden time for stroke suffers, giving the world more opportunity to transition to energy technologies that do not liberate excessive quantities of fossil sourced carbon.

This overburden of carbon is overwhelming the natural short term carbon exchange cycles, and because carbon dioxide inhibits the re-radiation of solar energy back into space, the increased residual levels in the lower atmosphere have already convincingly been argued as driving the world into increasingly extreme weather events.

One way of summarising the more technical arguments in the science reporting media is that at a time when natural climatic variability may be trying to cool the planet, the unnatural inputs of fossil carbon releasing energy sources are dragging the planet to ‘hotter’ rather than ‘colder.’

The last time the sun behaved like this, early last century, Australia experienced some astonishingly cold weather outbreaks that covered much of the SE inland plains as well as the ranges with deep and persistent snow drifts, in a series of bitter winters yet benign summers.

But this happened when the build up of carbon dioxide in the air had only just risen to 300 parts per million compared to the 280 ppm readings found in ice cores for the earlier periods of the fossil carbon releasing industrial age.

That concentration has now surpassed 400 ppm. These are levels that some climate scientists have argued could inhibit the natural cycles that not only lead to periods of ‘little ice ages’ but the full onset of major glacials or ice ages.

Crikey has drawn attention since 2009 to the odd behavior of the sun in recent times. It appears to have been the only general circulation media in Australia to have visited the topic at intervals since.

It might just become one of the biggest stories of this century.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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