carbon related

Aug 12, 2013

A quiet sun may bring ‘golden time’ to planet earth

  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 deba

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

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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16 thoughts on “A quiet sun may bring ‘golden time’ to planet earth

  1. Dan Dair

    Please stop scaring me. (I’m of a very delicate disposition)
    I understand how very serious this could be.

    The question I always ask myself when faced with such an overwhelming issue is;
    What can I do about it.?
    Right now the answer seems to be;
    Not much.!
    (Your alternative answers on a postcard please, to……..)

  2. Tamas Calderwood

    Ben – I have long argued that natural factors dominate any man-made effects from our carbon dioxide emissions.

    The world has not warmed for 16 years. That natural variability is exactly counterbalancing our warming effects seems a remarkable coincidence to me. I find it much more likely that this is an entirely natural plateau, likely driven by this weak sun-cycle – but then, who knows?

    Remember, CO2 has been far higher in the past. Natural cycles dealt with that extra CO2 back then, they will do so again.

    I cannot understand why this isn’t a bigger story when it could well debunk the climate change storyline. But then, I suppose that’s exactly why it isn’t a big story…

  3. Ben Sandilands


    If this was so the world would be responding to the quiet sun with re-glaciation, not de-glaciation.

    What we took to be permafrost and incorporated in the engineering specifications for important infrastructure in high northern latitudes would not be melting.

    One of the peculiarities of energy technology research and development of non-fossil carbon releasing fuels is that it isn’t driven by the truth or untruth of AGW. It is driven by the rising cost of a natural resource under intense demand pressures.

    That commercial imperative may however prove incredibly important in reducing excess carbon in the environment.

  4. comet

    I can see why the climate skeptics gravitate to the cooling sun information.

    I think the world could drastically reduce its carbon emissions without as much pain as some people think. I believe the energy of the future is hydrogen, at least for land and sea use (not sure how it would go in an aircraft, though there have been some military prototypes in the past). The reason is that the cost is plummeting, the efficiency rising, and it won’t be too long before we don’t have to use that electric current to produce it.

  5. Kevin & Julie Harris

    Dear Ben

    News Flash: Elvis is still dead.

    Yours Sincerely

    Kevin & Julie Harris

  6. John64

    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.

    So what you’re basically saying is that without that extra co2, we’d be heading into an ice age and freezing our butts off? Hmmm… An article in Newsweek back in 1975 comes to mind.

  7. Ben Sandilands

    Could be so. I’m not a climate scientist but a lay reporter.
    But that’s one inference from the matters being raised in the literature on solar variability.

    I recall in the 60s that there was a brief glacial response to very cold post war episodes particularly in fast responding glaciers like those in the North Cascades near Seattle and the Fox and Franz in New Zealand. At the time I was a keen alpine climber.

    Since then I have seen the Ball Glacier which was more than 200 metres thick in places all but totally vanish from under the Caroline Face of Mt Cook, and the Tasman turn into a series of lakes along its lower third and downwaste by as much as 150 metres in ice depth up valley near Malte Brun and de la Beche. Even in the Vallee Blanche on side of Mt Blanc the outlines of buttresses once buried under tens of metres of snow are appearing on what was once a uniformly smooth neve. The retreat of the Bossons Glacier has been so severe that what was the original route on Mt Blanc is very dangerously broken up and prone to devastating ice and rock falls.

    In the upper Matukituki Valley near NZ’s Mt Aspiring the Bonar Glacier no longer towers over the terrain below, and trees are claiming what was once alpine grass lands.

    In PNG the remnant glaciers that were visible over the West Papua border have disappeared, while the more extensive glaciers around Puncak Jaya (Carstenz Pyramid) have almost completely melted away, although it still snows up there in the only place in Indonesia where this happens.

    When people claim the world hasn’t warmed for X years, or is getting colder, I have to shake my head in dismay.

    And I live in a part of Australia that once had council maintained snow clearing equipment, and experienced frequent and sometimes troublesome falls. These days snow is usually very fleeting and rarely settles for more than a matter of minutes to about two hours max.

  8. Steve777

    Obviously this should be part of the public discussion. The more the general public understand and are engaged with science the better. It would also be a great boon if natural climate cycles were better understood. But none of that takes away from the fact that mankind has changed the composition of the atmosphere in a crucial way, increasing the concentration of a crucial greenhouse gas by about 30% in little over a century. The impacts of this will overlay and interact with natural cycles that occur in ways that no one can currently predict. We may be lucky for a couple of decades as one might work to counteract the other. But we don’t know and in any case there is no reason to believe that such a situation would last. Reducing global Carbon emissions remains a crucial challenge.

  9. Tamas Calderwood

    Ben – the world has warmed and cooled many times before and often far more dramatically than today. Your observations of glacial melt are obviously real but the question remains; is it man made?

    We have poured 25% of all the carbon dioxide we have ever produced into the atmosphere these past 16 years and there hasn’t been any warming. Natural factors must therefore be at least as powerful as our CO2 – although I surmise our CO2 is almost completely irrelevant.

    It may well be that our quieter sun will lead to a cooling period and those glaciers will return. In any case, I find this debate’s hysterical claims about rising oceans, extreme temperatures and permanent drought unconvincing, not least because they are unsupported by facts.

  10. Aidan Stanger

    Tamas – your claim that there hasnt been any warming is comoletely untrue. But most of the warming has gone into the ocean – and because the ocean is a huge thermal mass, it hasnt warmed much yet. But water does expand significantly when it warms, so these claims about rising oceans that you regard as hysterical could well be true. It will take decades, but did anyone say it wouldn’t?

  11. Tamas Calderwood

    Aidan – it’s odd, then, that the Argo buoy system does not support your claim that the oceans have warmed.

    And please explain to me this: How does an atmospheric gas heat the oceans before it heats the atmosphere?

  12. Dan Dair

    The term ‘greenhouse gases’ is ‘relatively’ self-explanatory.
    The gases, usually CO2 in this context, build-up in the atmosphere and create a scenario where normal heat from the sun comes into the atmosphere but then is prevented from escaping back out because of the ‘greenhouse effect’ of the gas build-up.
    As a result the planet heats up.
    It does not heat up like a toaster, going from cold to hot in moments, because of the sheer size of the planet. (ie. it’s bloody big.!)
    Consequently, it heats up very slowly, over decades, possibly tens of decades. (Which is usually termed as since the beginning of the industrial revolution)
    The oceans, which are vast, are excellent at absorbing this heat build-up and again, due their sheer size do not register a vast temperature change overnight.
    There is also an element of possibility that as a consequence of the melting of the glaciers & ice-sheets very cold water is being introducing into the sea, changing the short-term equation about how fast sea-water is heating up.
    There is another problem with the melting of glaciers & ice-sheets which relates to the ancient/historic CO2 stored within them. Once the ice melts, this CO2 is released & adds to the overall problem of excessive CO2 in the atmosphere.
    Finally, the planet Venus is considered to be a case of ultimate ‘greenhouse-effect’. It is extremely hot on the surface & within the atmosphere.
    The reason for this is considered to be specifically related to the atmospheric conditions on the planet and not attributable to either internal seismic activity or it’s relative position in the solar system. (Though both these are factors)

  13. Andybob

    Tamas the ‘missing’ heat is in the deep ocean:
    The oceans have absorbed 90% of the increase in heat reflected back by greenhouse gasses in the last 50 years. We can tell what gasses are reflecting heat back from spectrum analysis. The largest contributor is water vapor. CO2 is the next largest. Models of increased warming from increased CO2 that factored in increased warming from water vapor as a result of an increase in CO2 have not proven accurate. The water vapor hasn’t increased as much as predicted.

    If the deep water warming is a buffer that will eventually result in atmospheric warming, and the Sun decides to revert to its usual activity, we could see a relatively rapid change in atmospheric temperature.

  14. Dan Dair

    There is a B-side to consider if you’re a climate-change skeptic.
    Those advocating the reduction in fossil-fuel use for ‘planet-saving’ reasons may be mistaken.
    IMO the case, though overwhelming, is not yet conclusively proven.
    However, what is known is that there is a finite amount of fossil-fuel available on the planet. New discoveries continue to be made, but in many cases (such as with fracking) these reserves were known about, but the price of oil & gas had to rise considerably before it became commercially viable to exploit them.

    That being the case;
    So, lets assume (for the sake of ease of explanation) that there is a 100 year supply of fossil-fuels.
    Once that’s gone, that’s it, there is no more.
    So what do we do.?
    There are loads of technological prospects & possibilities to replace our dependence on fossil-fuels but none are yet at the stage of a ‘real-world’ game-changer.

    Consequently, these ‘tree-huggers’ advocating the 3R’s of reduction, recycling & re-use are actually pointing the way towards ‘eeking-out’ every last moment of time, before the fossil-fuel runs out.

    Every moment longer that we have, is a moment closer to a real-world technology change.

    As a consumer, every time you drive your car more sensibly, turn the unused light off, buy a A++ rated domestic appliance, etc, etc;
    You’re not just saving the planet,
    You’re saving money on your bills.!!!

  15. Mike Flanagan

    The author admits he is not a scientist and it appears from his research skills he isn’t much of a journalist either.

  16. Ben Sandilands

    Nothing you or I say will change the reality of the solar data, which is the issue.

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