On February 9, 2012, Norwegian
scientists posted new research demonstrating a strong correlation
between the duration of our Sun’s sunspot cycles and subsequent
temperature changes in Northern Europe.
They claim that, over the past 150
years, changes in our Sun count for half of Europe’s temperature rise
and two-thirds of the temperature rise closer to the North Pole. Based
on long-term trends in sunspot cycles, they forecast decreasing global
temperatures over the next 75 years.
If this research is confirmed, it could
substantially impact the strident public debate on global warming.
Society might have much more time to develop better and less expensive
alternative energy sources. For example: proposals published in
Scientific America advocated replacing all the world’s coal and gas
usage with wind and solar energy, estimating this would cost $100
trillion and require solar collectors covering an area the size of
California. If the new research is correct, we may find better ways to
invest our limited resources.
This new study identifies a strong
statistical correlation between temperatures on Earth and sunspot
activity. It is important to recognize that correlations, no matter how
strong, do not prove cause-and-effect. Others have identified
correlations between global temperatures and greenhouse gases, which
also do not definitively prove cause-and-effect. Correlations alone do
not have the scientific certainty of controlled, reproducible
experiments that are the hallmarks of other scientific disciplines.
Controlled experiments are impossible in climatology, so the best we can
do is make judgments based on less definitive evidence.
The influence of our Sun on Earth’s
climate has been a topic of scientific interest for 200 years. Our Sun’s
magnetic field changes periodically, with its north and south magnetic
poles reversing roughly every 11 years, resulting in periods of high
magnetic activity alternating with periods of low magnetic activity.
During periods of high magnetic activity, our Sun emits more light,
especially ultraviolet light, and the number of sunspots also increases.
Some solar cycles have been as short as 9 years and others as long as
14 years; 11 years is only a rough average. And, as seen below, for
nearly 100 years, sunspot activity was extremely low during the “Maunder
Minimum”, a period of unusually low temperatures called the “Little Ice
Age.” The black line in this chart tracks the long-term trend of
sunspot activity, showing substantially higher activity in the late 20th
century as compared with the prior 300 years.
As a side note, some experts say
Stradivarius made his violins from trees grown during the Maunder
Minimum, when the prolonged cold temperatures restricted growth,
resulting in unusually dense wood that produces remarkable sound
The new research shows that short solar
cycles are followed by high sunspot activity in the next solar cycle,
accompanied by higher temperatures on Earth. This is what we’ve
experienced for the last 200 years — a trend of progressively shorter
solar cycles and warmer temperatures.
However, the latest solar cycle lasted
more than 12 years, making it the longest cycle in a century. The report
states that average temperatures on the Norwegian coast have
subsequently dropped by 2 °F. These scientists believe we are at a
turning point — the start of a new trend toward longer solar cycles and
If true, this is excellent news.
It will be interesting to see how the various political factions react.
Feb 29th, 2012
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