What happened to the sun spots?

Last modified: 12/24/2010 12:00:00 AM
While the weather focus is on snow (which is everywhere but here, it seems) and the climate focus is on CO2 and temperatures, there's another item that is becoming more and more fascinating and is worth as much attention. Four days ago the sun lost its sunspots. I think a couple appeared today, but the official count is still zero. This was unexpected, we're supposed to be in middle of a climb to the next solar maximum. In 2008, expectations were for a count now of over 100 heading for a maximum in 2012. Current expectations are for a maximum count of only 64 in mid 2013.

Who cares? People have looked to sunspots as a climate indicator for longer than CO2, going back to Sir William Hershel's 1801 report 'Influence of Solar Activity on State of Wheat Market in Medieval England' linking poor harvests with cold, damp weather and low sunspot counts. So far, no one has proposed a widely accepted mechanism.

It gets more interesting, in a separate phenomenon sunspots are cooling and getting fainter and may completely fade from view by 2016. No one knows what that means, but it may match the Maunder Minimum in the 17th century.

We're going to learn a lot in the next few decades, it's a great time to be a solar scientist. It may not be so great for our climate.



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