Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Sun To Go Into ‘Hibernation’ about 2030

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The sun will go into “hibernation” mode around 2030, and it has already started to get sleepy. At the Royal Astronomical Society’s annual meeting in July, Professor Valentina Zharkova of Northumbria University in the UK confirmed it – the sun will begin its Maunder Minimum (Grand Solar Minimum) in 15 years. Other scientists had suggested years ago that this change was imminent, but Zharkova’s model is said to have near-perfect accuracy.

So what is a “solar minimum”?

Our sun doesn’t maintain a constant intensity. Instead, it cycles in spans of approximately 11 years. When it’s at its maximum, it has the highest number of sunspots on its surface in that particular cycle. When it’s at its minimum, it has almost none. When there are more sunspots, the sun is brighter. When there are fewer, the sun radiates less heat toward Earth.

But that’s not the only cooling effect of a solar minimum. A dim sun doesn’t deflect cosmic rays away from Earth as efficiently as a bright sun. So, when these rays enter our atmosphere, they seed clouds, which in turn cool our planet even more and increase precipitation in the form of rain, snow and hail.

But that’s not the only cooling effect of a solar minimum. A dim sun doesn’t deflect cosmic rays away from Earth as efficiently as a bright sun. So, when these rays enter our atmosphere, they seed clouds, which in turn cool our planet even more and increase precipitation in the form of rain, snow and hail.

Solar cycles

Since the early 1800s we have enjoyed healthy solar cycles and the rich agriculture and mild northern temperatures that they guarantee. During the Middle Ages, however, Earth felt the impact of four solar minimums over the course of 400 years.

The last Maunder Minimum and its accompanying mini-Ice Age saw the most consistent cold, continuing into the early 1800s.

The last time we became concerned about cooler temperatures – possibly dangerously cooler – was in the 1970s. Global temperatures have declined since the 1940s, as measured by Pacific Decadal Oscillation. The PDO Index is a recurring pattern of ocean-atmosphere climate variability centred over the Pacific Ocean. Determined by deep currents, it is said to shift between warm and cool modes. Some scientists worried that it might stay cool and drag down the Atlantic Decadal Oscillation with it, spurring a new Ice Age. The fear was exacerbated by the fact that Earth has been in the current inter-glacial period for 10,000 years (depending on how the starting point is gauged).

If Earth were to enter the next Ice Age too quickly, glaciers could advance much further south, rainforests could turn into savannah, and sea levels could drop dramatically, causing havoc.

The BBC, all three major American TV networks, Time magazine and the New York Times all ran feature stories highlighting the scare. Fortunately, by 1978 the PDO Index shifted back to warm and the fear abated.

Climate science vs the skeptics

By the 1990s the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had formed the “97 per cent consensus”. The consensus was that Earth was warming more than it should, not just due to natural causes but also human activity. This was termed Anthropogenic Global Warming. The culprit was identified as carbon dioxide generated from the burning of fossil fuels.

CO2 is a greenhouse gas and its increase in the atmosphere could be dangerous, the panel claimed. Some of these scientists, particularly those working at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Britain’s Meteorological Office, have gone so far as to declare CO2 as the primary driver of climate on Earth. This modern “climate science” has stirred unprecedented controversy in the field. Sceptics, clinging to more traditional approaches, say the science has been corrupted by the billions of dollars in government funding for climate-change research and agencies and industries that claim to be “fighting climate change”. The counter-argument is that the sceptics are backed by the oil, gas and coal industries or are affiliated with conservative political groups.

The biggest bone of contention between the two groups is how the data are assessed. In the United States, the recorded temperature data go back to 1880, and elsewhere not even that far. Those data have to be “stapled on” to the ice-core data used to determine temperatures in earlier times. This has led to controversial representations, such as the infamous “hockey stick” graph released by the IPCC that gave the impression the world is hotter now than ever. Many scientists slammed the graph as wholly unrealistic, insisting that previous eras, such as the medieval warm period and the Holocene maximum were warmer than today.

Another issue is the urban “heat island” effect. Black asphalt roads and concrete structures absorb heat from the sun. Roy Spencer, a climatologist at the University of Alabama and former IPCC alumnus, charged in 2013 that the NOAA was “warming up” readings at rural temperature stations to match the urban ones rather than the reverse. A spokesman for the NOAA responded but stopped short of denying it.

In the 2009 “climategate scandal”, e-mails and documents from IPCC-affiliated scientists were leaked that indicated they had manipulated data and reports to jibe with the AGW theory. References were made to “hiding the decline” through the use of “tricks”. Then in 2012 Anthony Watts, a meteorologist and self-described whistle-blower, caught the NOAA changing temperature data from the 1930s to make the decade appear colder than it had been. Another whistle-blower, blogger Tony Heller, although clearly aligned with conservative groups like the Heartland Institute, has amassed impressive data. He claims that, since 1997, the world has actually been getting colder and Goddard and the NOAA are committing “climate fraud”. The NOAA has declined to respond.

Global cooling?

Around 2000, the PDO Index started to blow cold again, possibly causing global warming to “pause”, as the mainstream scientists describe it. IPCC-affiliated scientists as well as Nasa and the NOAA attribute the pause to other factors. This is when the plot thickens.

Solar cycle 24 – two cycles prior the cycle that’s expected to bottom out into a Maunder Minimum – was weak. In 2013-14 it reached its maximum far below average. Meanwhile extreme cold-weather anomalies have occurred around the world. Last year “polar vortices” slammed into the central US and Siberia as a third hovered over the Atlantic. All 50 US states, including Hawaii, had temperatures below freezing for the first time in recorded history. Snowfall records were broken in cities in the US, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and elsewhere. Southern American states and central Mexico, where snow is rare, got heavy snow, as did the Middle East.

This past summer the cold didn’t let up, with more temperature records across the US and rare summer snows seen in Canada, the US and China. Birds have migrated early in the last two years. Antarctic sea ice set a new record in 2013 and it was broken again in 2014.

Not even Thailand was immune. In 2014 Bangkok hit its coldest low in 30 years, while 63 lives were lost in the North.

Scientists at the Climate and Environmental Physics and Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Berne in Switzerland have recently backed up theories that support the sun’s importance in determining the climate on Earth. A paper published last year by the American Meteorological Society contradicts claims by IPCC scientists that the sun couldn’t be responsible for major shifts in climate. Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, rejected IPCC assertions that solar variations don’t matter. Among the many studies and authorities she cited was the National Research Council’s recent report “The Effects of Solar Variability on Earth’s Climate”.

Other researchers and organisations are also predicting global cooling – the Russian Academy of Science, the Astronomical Institute of the Slovak Academy of Scientists, the Institute of Terrestrial Magnetism Russia, Victor Manuel Velesco Herrera at the National University of Mexico, the Bulgarian Institute of Astronomy, Dr Tim Patterson at Carleton University in Canada, Drs Lin Zhen at Nanjing University in China, just to name a few.

For now nevertheless, the IPCC and other authoritative agencies are sticking to their CO2-dominant climate-forcing theory. They attribute the cold spells to a disruption in the jet stream caused by Anthropogenic Global Warming. Some of their theories have heads being scratched, for instance the “pause” in global warming they attribute to heat being absorbed deep into the oceans. When Antarctic ice reached record levels in 2013, scientists were “baffled” because the water beneath the ice was warm, they claimed. In climate science old and new, nothing is certain.

We conclude with a bit of good news, though. Recent research has determined that the famous Stradivarius violin owes its unique, esteemed sound to the last Maunder Minimum. The solar condition changed the texture of the trees that provided the wood from which the instrument was crafted. So lovers of classical music can place their orders for the next generation of incomparable violins, coming – giving the trees time to mature – in about 100 years.

Sun Blamed for Warming of Earth and Other Worlds

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Earth is heating up lately, but so are Mars, Pluto and other worlds in our solar system, leading some scientists to speculate that a change in the sun’s activity is the common thread linking all these baking events.

Others argue that such claims are misleading and create the false impression that rapid global warming, as Earth is experiencing, is a natural phenomenon.

While evidence suggests fluctuations in solar activity can affect climate on Earth, and that it has done so in the past, the majority of climate scientists and astrophysicists agree that the sun is not to blame for the current and historically sudden uptick in global temperatures on Earth, which seems to be mostly a mess created by our own species.

Wobbly Mars

Habibullo Abdussamatov, the head of space research at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, recently linked the attenuation of ice caps on Mars to fluctuations in the sun’s output. Abdussamatov also blamed solar fluctuations for Earth’s current global warming trend. His initial comments were published online by National Geographic News.

“Man-made greenhouse warming has [made a] small contribution [to] the warming on Earth in recent years, but [it] cannot compete with the increase in solar irradiance,” Abdussamatov told LiveScience in an email interview last week. “The considerable heating and cooling on the Earth and on Mars always will be practically parallel.”

But Abdussamatov’s critics say the Red Planet’s recent thawing is more likely due to natural variations in the planet’s orbit and tilt. On Earth, these wobbles, known as Milankovitch cycles, are thought to contribute to the onset and disappearance ice ages.

“It’s believed that what drives climate change on Mars are orbital variations,” said Jeffrey Plaut, a project scientist for NASA’s Mars Odyssey mission. “The Earth also goes through orbital variations similar to that of Mars.”

As for Abdussamatov’s claim that solar fluctuations are causing Earth’s current global warming, Charles Long, a climate physicist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratories in Washington, says the idea is nonsense.

“That’s nuts,” Long said in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t make physical sense that that’s the case.”

In 2005, Long’s team published a study in the journal Science showing that Earth experienced a period of “solar global dimming” from 1960 to 1990, during which time solar radiation hitting our planet’s surface decreased. Then from the mid-1990’s onward, the trend reversed and Earth experienced a “solar brightening.”

These changes were not likely driven by fluctuations in the output of the Sun, Long explained, but rather increases in atmospheric clouds or aerosols that reflected solar radiation back into space.

Other warming worlds

Others have pointed out anomalous warming on other worlds in our solar system.

Benny Peiser, a social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University who monitors studies and news reports of asteroids, global warming and other potentially apocalyptic topics, recently quoted in his daily electronic newsletter the following from a blog called Strata-Sphere:

“Global warming on Neptune’s moon Triton as well as Jupiter and Pluto, and now Mars has some [scientists] scratching their heads over what could possibly be in common with the warming of all these planets … Could there be something in common with all the planets in our solar system that might cause them all to warm at the same time?”

Peiser included quotes from recent news articles that take up other aspects of the idea.

“I think it is an intriguing coincidence that warming trends have been observed on a number of very diverse planetary bodies in our solar system,” Peiser said in an email interview. “Perhaps this is just a fluke.”

In fact, scientists have alternative explanations for the anomalous warming on each of these other planetary bodies.

The warming on Triton, for example, could be the result of an extreme southern summer on the moon, a season that occurs every few hundred years, as well as possible changes in the makeup of surface ice that caused it to absorb more of the Sun’s heat.

Researchers credited Pluto’s warming to possible eruptive activity and a delayed thawing from its last close approach to the Sun in 1989.

And the recent storm activity on Jupiter is being blamed on a recurring climatic cycle that churns up material from the gas giant’s interior and lofts it to the surface, where it is heated by the Sun.

Sun does vary

The radiation output of the Sun does fluctuate over the course of its 11-year solar cycle. But the change is only about one-tenth of 1 percent—not substantial enough to affect Earth’s climate in dramatic ways, and certainly not enough to be the sole culprit of our planet’s current warming trend, scientists say.

“The small measured changes in solar output and variations from one decade to the next are only on the order of a fraction of a percent, and if you do the calculations not even large enough to really provide a detectable signal in the surface temperature record,” said Penn State meteorologist Michael Mann.

The link between solar activity and global warming is just another scapegoat for human-caused warming,  Mann told LiveScience.

“Solar activity continues to be one of the last bastions of contrarians,” Mann said. “People who don’t accept the existence of anthropogenic climate change still try to point to solar activity.”

The Maunder Minimum

This is not to say that solar fluctuations never influence Earth’s climate in substantial ways. During a 75-year period beginning in 1645, astronomers detected almost no sunspot activity on the Sun. Called the “Maunder Minimum,” this event coincided with the coldest part of the Little Ice Age, a 350-year cold spell that gripped much of Europe and North America.

Recent studies have cast doubt on this relationship, however. New estimates of the total change in the brightness of the Sun during the Maunder Minimum suggest it was only fractions of a percent, and perhaps not enough to create the global cooling commonly attributed to it.

“The situation is pretty ambiguous,” said David Rind, a senior climate researcher at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who has modeled the Maunder Minimum.

Based on current estimates, even if another Maunder Minimum were to occur, it might result in an average temperature decrease of about 2 degrees Fahrenheit, Rind said.

This would still not be enough to counteract warming of between 2 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit from greenhouse gases by 2100, as predicted by the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

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