What happened to the sunspots?

Giant sunspot group AR1944 seen in January of 2014. Credit: NASA/SDO

A major redefinition to the way solar sunspot counts are recorded may render a Paris climate agreement unnecessary at this time

Austin, Texas, July 9, 2015 – On June 30, 2015 the globally recognized maximum for the current 11-year sunspot cycle was 81.9. On July 1, 2015 that number suddenly leaped all the way up to 116.4!

Stranger still, the current cycle (Cycle 24) fell from being the 7th weakest sunspot maximum since 1749 to being the 4th weakest sunspot maximum. Cycle 24’s sunspot number jumped by 30 percent, yet its ranking dropped by three places. How can that be?

After a 4-year study, solar astronomers modernized the entire 405-year sunspot history for the first time since its creation in 1849. Now, count tallies more closely match the actual tallies of today’s observers using modern technology.

Current cycle dropped from 7th to 4th weakest in new revision. Credit: Steve Davidson, WDC/SILSO data

Sunspot revision shows higher counts and other changes. Credit: Steve Davidson, WDC/SILSO data

The most obvious change is that the sunspot counts have increased across the 405-year sunspot timeline. The increase was made possible because of a meticulous review of the entire historical record coupled with modern data from other solar activity parameters, calibrated with sunspot counts.

Besides having higher sunspot tallies, there are other subtle changes that show up.

For example, the 11-year cycle shown above, Cycle 23, formerly had a double peak where the first peak was higher than the second. But in the new version, the second peak is now higher than the first. Given the reversed double peak, not only is Cycle 23’s maximum even higher than it otherwise would be, but it’s in a different year, too. Changes like that occur throughout the sunspot time series.

What all these changes mean for our physical understanding of the sun is unknown, but there are two interesting cycle changes directly related to long-term climate change.

Current  cycle ranks between Cycle 5 and Cycle 12. Credit: Steve Davidson, WDC/SILSO data

The current 11-year cycle looks a lot closer to Cycles 5 and 12 than any others. It now fits between Cycle 12 and Cycle 5. Cycle 5 is the first entering into a period of three successive weak solar cycles called the Dalton Minimum, 200 years ago. Cycle 12 is the first entering into another series of three exceptionally weak cycles in the late 1800s.

The current solar cycle shares these unique qualities with the other two:

  • All have exceptionally weak sunspot maximums
  • All have double-peaked maximums
  • Unusual for maximums, the 2nd peak of each is higher than the first

Cycle 5 and Cycle 12 share these additional characteristics:

  • Both were followed by extended minimums
  • Both were followed by two more exceptionally weak cycles
  • During both multi-cycle activity minimums, earth’s global temperature fell

The current 11-year cycle we are experiencing most closely resembles Cycle 12. Cycle 12 was at the beginning of a cooling trend that lasted from 1880 to 1915. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) temperature records show that earth’s global temperature decreased by 0.3°C during that time.

Early forecasts suggest that the next cycle, Cycle 25, will be even weaker than the current cycle. Should that happen then earth may enter a period more like the Dalton Minimum, which is believed colder than 1890 to 1915.

As it is, since 1998, the earth has barely warmed. Lower troposphere temperature increase is less than +0.1°C. That is literally undetectable by most thermometers, much less felt by humans. Its rise is less than the mathematical level of statistical significance. That means, mathematically speaking, earth’s temperature hasn’t risen over the last 17 years.

Earth’s temperature will rise less than 1°C over the rest of this century at its current pace.

Should solar history repeat itself, and indicators are that it will, there likely will be an extended period of low solar activity over the next 11-year cycle and beyond.

The good news is that with the slowdown in earth’s temperature rise and prospects for decades-long cooling to come, it’s unlikely the dreaded 2°C threshold will be exceeded any time soon, even with human greenhouse gas emissions continuing to increase.

The best news of all is that it means hasty, and expensive, decisions to curb CO2 emissions don’t have to be made immediately to meet an arbitrarily scheduled deadline of December 2015 for the Paris climate summit. Radical climate change solutions appear unnecessary at this time.



About azleader

Learning to see life more clearly... one image at a time!

Posted on Jul 12, 2015, in astronomy, Climate, climate change, environment, news, Politics, science, solar cycle, space, Sun, sunspot activity, sunspots and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Thanks for posting this information.

    We are witnessing the beginning of the end for those who sought fortune, fame and power. We can’t save them or the world, but we can keep in mind that

    “Happiness is a by-product from knowing and fulfilling our own purpose in life:

    We each have the same purpose: To make this beautiful, bountiful and benevolent universe even better because we are part if it.”


    • Now we should forgive the power-hungry who sought to deceive the public about the fountain of energy Copernicus reported at the center of the Solar System in 1543 – to start the scientific revolution and emancipation of humans from feudal dictators.

      “There is a bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us, but we are all children of God and we each have a right to be here.”

      “When I complain about me or about you, I am complaining about God’s handiwork. I am saying that I know better than God.

  2. Thanks azleader for your insightful analysis. I agree we are in the beginning stage of a Dalton minimum like era. Polar ice and high latitude regions except for coastal areas such as Alaska are cooling in both hemispheres since the modern maximum ended over a decade ago.

    Last year in August we discussed this after the preliminary revised SSNs were released, and now that the new numbers are out, allow me to redefine the modern maximum in solar activity with the new v2 numbers:

    The Sun was 65% more active for 70 years between 1935.5 and 2004.5, with an annual average SSN of 108.5, than the previous 70 year period from 1865.5-1935.5, when the annual average SSN was 65.8.

    The Sun caused global warming during those 70 years; the slowdown after 2003-4 caused the “pause”; and hereafter low solar activity will cause global cooling.

    The new numbers/cycles take a bit of getting used to, as the mean went up from 52 to 83.

    • The new numbers/cycles may save post-WWII solar physicists from the wrath of the public they deceived for seventy years (1945-2015).

    • An argument for a “Modern Maximum” over a long time period implies that it is significantly greater than any other set of cycles in the modern sunspot record.

      You made curious choices for comparison years for that proof. Your numbers are correct, but I question the ranges used.

      Allow me to explain…

      First off, I believe the date range should start and end at the minimum of a sunspot cycle in order to include COMPLETE cycles. Your first one is close, but not quite. If you slightly widen your date range to 1933.5 – 2008.5 you will include 6 complete cycles over a 75 year time span. That has a more meaningful average of 102.7 as opposed to 108.7.

      The 70 years just prior to that is not a good choice for comparison. That’s because it includes the unnamed minimum of solar activity from 1878.5 to 1932.5. Naturally the result will be vastly lower. They are incompatible ranges.

      To prove a real “modern maximum” a comparison to a more compatible set of 6 cycles is necessary.

      I suggest a better comparison is to use the 6 solar cycles from 1723.5 to 1795.5, which just happens to be 75 years long, too. That average is 89.3.

      The newest 6 cycles is only 15% greater than the older 6 cycles in the 1700s. And both ranges include six complete cycles. The new range is still greater, but hardly exceptionally so, especially given that it is 75 years long on a timeline of only 315 total years.

    • Oh… I kinda think that using the WDC/SILSO’s new Group Number times series is probably better for doing studies having greater physical meaning. That’s because groups are where the vast majority of solar activity originates and therefore a better time series to use. (and it goes further back in time)

      I didn’t do that comparison, but it would make more sense.

  3. Thanks for the reply. Why do you think “the date range should start and end at the minimum of a sunspot cycle in order to include COMPLETE cycles.”?

    I think the “maximum” should be defined when activity was maximized for the longest period, as I have done. What I did was start at the last highest numbers in recent times and averaged back from then to the point when the average started to drop. You can do that with either monthly or yearly data.

    Also, I have other evidence not discussed yet, but I’ll give you a clue:

    The most recent major inflection point in the integral of sunspot numbers taken from the early solar history forward through time to the present occurs in 1935-36, when the cumulative effect of solar activity can be clearly seen to go from a downward trajectory to an upward trajectory that lasts through about 2004.

    I have several temperature series that also show an inflection point at about the same time.

    Also, the purpose of my definition is to show the magnitude of the difference between adjacent periods, not one period since the early 1900’s forward compared to a much older period in the 1700’s, separated in time as you suggested. Keeping the comparative time periods consecutive is necessary when taking into account the cumulative solar warming/cooling above/below a threshold value.

    Further, as all “global warming” analyses start no sooner than 1850, I use the periods that make the most sense after 1850, and I use equal time periods so we are comparing apples to apples wrt time.

    I ran some alternative numbers just now for you to illustrate, using yearly data:

    From 1851.5-1928.5, 77 years, the SSN v2 average was 103.5. From 1928.5-2004.5, 77 years, the SSN v2 average was 71.8, which made a 44% difference between those 77 year equal time periods. My modern maximum is bigger than that. It is maximized.

    This all comes from my solar flux supersensitivity accumulation model, to be released soon.

    • I’m surprised you’d ask why the date range should include complete cycles only. Complete cycles are more physically meaningful. To select otherwise smacks of cherry picking your range.

      I understand what you did, but it’s somewhat meaningless except as a mathematical exercise.

      I’d be interested in how the inflection point and solar flux supersensitivity concepts work out using the more physically meaningful Group Number time series that goes back to 1610:

      Looks to me like the Group Number time series has several possible inflection points over it’s range.

      The concept of a “modern maximum” originally arose out of counting inconsistencies. It wasn’t real. Except for Cycle 19, recent cycles aren’t exceptional at all when corrected in the newly re-calibrated sunspot record.

  4. Azleader, you have designated an arbitrary criteria called “Complete cycles are more physically meaningful. To select otherwise smacks of cherry picking your range.”

    If we cannot compare periods of different activity levels by choosing ranges that fit specific criteria as your comment implies, then there is no range that can be picked without the false accusation of ‘cherry-picking’, and so no physically meaningful analysis can be made under that thinking.

    That is the same box Dr. Leif Svalgaard wants to keep people in so no one will question whether solar activity controls the climate and caused global warming in the modern era. I’m sorry but you’re both completely wrong about that. Here’s why:

    When you calculate a maximum, you use the pertinent maximal numbers, and you use the numbers within the range of observations wrt the phenomena you are studying!

    For instance, when hot or cold temperature periods are calculated and compared you start at the onset of either the hot or cold period, you don’t overlap the data – as that would not be ‘physically meaningful’ in describing and discriminating the difference between the hot and cold periods, and to call that idea ‘cherry-picking’ is wrong for that reason.

    Take solar activity and sunspot numbers as another example, why don’t we just describe solar activity in terms of the mean, 83? Because there are minimums and maximums, and there are periods with trends that do matter, that have significance. That is why we talk about the climate response to such periods as the Maunder and Dalton minimums, isn’t it?

    Look at El Nino determinations for instance. They start or end upon either a period of increase or decrease in sea surface temperatures, not some muddled average of both periods, using warm & cold data mixed together. NOAA ‘cherry-picks’ the El Nino data!

    I didn’t tell you before but I could go back to the Maunder minimum and start there with my system. There are many inflection points, in the SSN record, and in the temp record, but I am concerned only about the modern period when it comes to the subject of global warming.

    Furthermore, there are very few temperature records, if any, other than the UK’s CET, that go back in time before 1753, such as the BEST series, here, http://berkeleyearth.lbl.gov/auto/Global/Complete_TAVG_summary.txt.

    From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_England_temperature, “It is monthly from 1659, and a daily version has been produced from 1772. The monthly means from November 1722 onwards are given to a precision of 0.1°C. The earliest years of the series, from 1659 to October 1722 inclusive, for the most part only have monthly means given to the nearest degree or half a degree, though there is a small ‘window’ of 0.1 degree precision from 1699 to 1706 inclusive.”

    How can I make an accurate model with temperature means given to the nearest degree?

    I can’t so without losing precision before 1722. I could use CET, but that’s central England, not SSTs in the tropics, in the ocean, where the solar energy is stored! SSTs only get worse the further back in time they were measured.

    Look at this image http://www.sidc.be/press/01/picture5.png, and tell me what confidence you would have in any model that uses group numbers pre-1825, when the ratio of group numbers to the regular numbers is so much higher than unity before 1825.

    How can I make an accurate model with inconsistent & incomplete sunspot numbers?

    You now, I could turn it around and accuse you of cherry-picking. I could say ‘you aren’t going back far enough’, like you’re telling me. I could say, ‘you should go back to the start of the Holocene, or even two ice ages prior, or a million years ago’. See what I mean?

    What I learned in my study was that the temperature response to one solar activity cycle pretty much washes out after about one cycle, except for a small residual that either accumulates into a post-cycle boost in temps, or a deficit that reduces temps until solar activity resumes enough to warm again. Up & down, forever, endlessly, until the end of time.

    Where to start? Where you have good data. I’m interested in sea surface temps as they response to solar activity, and that means I can only back so far, because there isn’t good enough data going back into the Maunder for me to establish a good solar sensitivity value.

    The idea of the modern maximum is about a long period of time, not just the peak amplitude time of the highest cycle, as you implied with your reference to SC19, and other high cycles.

    Solar supersensitivity and accumulation is based on the idea of either having enough solar energy to warm SSTs, or not, and then what happens to SSTs as solar activity changes above and below the warming/cooling threshold that I’ve established, originally with F10.7 solar flux, and now extended further back past 1947 with the new sunspot numbers.

    Think about it AZ, if the Sun’s activity cycles warms and/or cools the Earth at all, then there is a point at which it does that, a threshold, above which it warms, and below it, it cools. That is what I’ve discovered. Without that idea, there is not much point in discussing solar control of the climate, in terms of solar radiation.

    I know it would help you to see my graphs and more explanation, so I hope you’ll keep an open mind until you do see that, when you’ll see what the future holds as solar activity goes down over the next few decades. I believe you won’t be disappointed.

    Have a good one AZ! Thanks for being here!

    • I made a quick graph special just for you:

      It plots the Group Number time series with the complete Berkeley land TAVG record, your first dataset reference above. I did this graph for three reasons:
      1-It uses annual means and counts just like you did in your earlier analysis
      2-TAVG goes back far enough to include the Dalton Minimum
      3-It was easiest 😉

      I multiplied the TAVG values by a scalar factor of 5 to better display the comparison with sunspot counts.

      I realize the Berkeley dataset is imperfect and is only for land, excluding oceans. I realize it doesn’t include the fine grain detail you want. But it shows general trends which do matter:
      1-As expected, there is a weber-like dip in global land temperature during the Dalton Minimum
      2-The dip in global temps from 1880-1915 is there, but barely discernible
      3-Since 1975, earth’s land temperature has increased rather starkly while sunspots have decreased rather starkly!
      4-After 1932 global land temps do not behave anything like what you envision

      You said, “my study was that the temperature response to one solar activity cycle pretty much washes out after about one cycle”.

      That being said, the above graph shows we have just went through 4 cycles of decreasing sunspots and increasing temperatures. The dramatic rise in sunspots in the 4 cycles leading up to cycle 19 shows virtually no temperature rise at all. Temperatures don’t start rising until the late 1970s after sunspot counts started falling.

      I could plot these data down to the monthly detail level and/or using data after 1950 with better temperature detail, but the general results will be exactly the same. Plot them for yourself and see.

  5. Forgive the defrauders? I will have difficulty with this considering the bile and bitterness poured onto us when we questioned their belief.

    They must never have the whip hand over us again.

  6. Azleader, the BEST series doesn’t look much like any of the other time series, neither does CET. I use SSTs for my model, and when you compare HadSST3, NOAA’s series, and others, they look amazingly similar, same inflections all the way through with minor differences in amplitudes. In fact UAH and RSS track with them too. This graphic illustrates that point (there is one going back to 1850 but I can’t find it right now, obviously w/o UAH & RSS):

    Per your comment post 1970’s – the temps go up in BEST post 1970’s as accumulated energy increases from the higher cycles 21-23. Your point #3: there were only 8 cycles with an ave SSN higher than 100, with SC21 @ 118 in second place after #19 @ 128. SC22 was 103. Cycles #17-23 were the highest consecutive string of whole cycles altogether.

    • Now all you have to do is combine the plot above with the sunspot record and it’ll be obvious to you that since 1979 there is no relationship between sunspot activity and earth’s ocean temperatures either. Sunspots are in decline while temperature is still increasing.

      The graph includes the major global temperature databases.

      You also need to start using the newly calibrated (and consistent) ISN sunspot record. In that one Cycle 21 is the 6th highest maximum, not the 2nd.
      Cycle 21 – 232.9
      Cycle 19 – 284.4
      Cycle 11 – 234.0
      Cycle 8 – 244.9
      Cycle 4 – 235.3
      Cycle 3 – 264.3

      You appear to still be relying on the old uncalibrated sunspot record for your data source.

      Current sunspot activity since 1979 is going in the opposite direction than global temperatures are going.

      There is no other logical conclusion:
      No matter how you cut the mustard, sunspots are not the driving force behind current global warming.

  7. I’m sorry to say this az, but you really missed my point about the accumulative residual or deficit of solar energy deposited into the oceans from every solar cycle from either above or below the warming/cooling threshold. Without that you draw the same conclusions as Dr. Svalgaard! Don’t worry about it. You’re at a disadvantage until you see all my stuff together, then it’ll make sense to you I think. My work incorporates El Ninos and ocean heat content too.

    Sunspots and associated solar flux are the driving force behind current global warming.

    • If that is the case then, please show me something that proves your point. I ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. 😉

      I’m a physics and numbers guy. I believe what the data tells me, not what the ‘experts’ tell me.

      The oceans have a 1,000 year re-cycle pattern. That’s a long time. What bubbles up from depth today reflects what happened 500-1,000 years ago, not what is happening today.

      El Nino/La Nina is nothing more than a periodic bathtub effect of water sloshing back and forth from one side of the ocean to the other, assisted by the Coriolis Effect. When it moves east (like right now) it drags warm water east and warms the surface. When it comes back it pulls cool water up from depth, which cools the earth.

      None of that is related to sunspot activity in any way.

  8. It seems I’ve already shown you more than you can handle. Don’t expect a full download of everything I’ve got here and now. I have other things to do right now, and you’re not showing me any sign of understanding the basic premises conceptually. Everything I did is based strictly on data sets available to anyone.

    You made two wrong assumptions here wrt solar activity, with your points here:

    “The oceans have a 1,000 year re-cycle pattern. That’s a long time. What bubbles up from depth today reflects what happened 500-1,000 years ago, not what is happening today.”

    – where did you get those assumptions?

    My system does not involve ONLY the direct solar contribution of today’s solar activity, but incorporates the energy input/deficit from past solar activity through accumulation/reduction of ocean heat content, and it certainly does NOT require 500-1,000 years for that to happen.

    “El Nino/La Nina is nothing more than a periodic bathtub effect of water sloshing back and forth from one side of the ocean to the other, assisted by the Coriolis Effect. When it moves east (like right now) it drags warm water east and warms the surface. When it comes back it pulls cool water up from depth, which cools the earth.”

    – that is the classic lukewarmist/warmist view, ie it’s only water sloshing around. Very funny! I am not calling you a lukewarmist or a warmist either, by the way.

    The size of El Ninos, the ocean heat content, and thus SSTs are absolutely related to only the amount of solar energy the oceans have received as it accumulates that energy, or goes into deficit from lack of sufficient solar flux.

    Instead of spending anymore time with you on this, I hereby challenge you to take the image I started with, and see what you can come up with yourself:

    Hint: substitute F10.7 for SIDC, find the threshold, convert back to SSN v2, go back from 1960 as far back as you have good data. Relate to post 1979 OHC, explaining the size and timing of El Ninos/La Ninos.

    I see no point in discussing this further with you now until I see you’ve made progress!

    • Thanks for the graph. I like that it uses the new revised sunspot record. That’s cool.

      Now, take a close look. The HADSST3 oceanic temperatures show the same trend as the BEST land data. That is, the last four cycles from Cycle 21 to present show decreasing sunspot activity while temperatures steadily increase. Why?

      Regarding this statement:
      “The oceans have a 1,000 year re-cycle pattern. That’s a long time. What bubbles up from depth today reflects what happened 500-1,000 years ago, not what is happening today.”

      Read up on “thermohaline circulation”, also sometimes called the “ocean conveyor belt”. It’s the basic mechanism for redistribution of earth’s heat from the tropics to the poles. It has a 1,000 year circulation cycle.

      Since it’s available, is the reason you leave out most of the HADSST3 and ISN sunspot data going back to 1850 because that data doesn’t correlate with your hypothesis?

  9. Thank you for exposing data changes.

    I was pleased to see that Professor Curry is also awakening to a reality that we all wanted to avoid seeing: George Orwell correctly predicted the future of modern science in the book he started writing in 1946: “Nineteen Eighty-Four”.


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