Good news for Mars astronauts – Less good for carbon traders, perhaps
Hill's own research focuses on surface pulsations of the Sun and their relationship with sunspots, and his team has already used their methods to successfully predict the late onset of Cycle 24.
"We expected to see the start of the zonal flow for Cycle 25 by now," Hill explained, "but we see no sign of it. This indicates that the start of Cycle 25 may be delayed to 2021 or 2022, or may not happen at all."
Hill's results match those from physicists Matt Penn and William Livingston, who have gone over 13 years of sunspot data from the McMath-Pierce Telescope at Kitt Peak in Arizona. They have seen the strength of the magnetic fields which create sunspots declining steadily. According to the NSO:
Penn and Livingston observed that the average field strength declined about 50 gauss per year during Cycle 23 and now in Cycle 24. They also observed that spot temperatures have risen exactly as expected for such changes in the magnetic field. If the trend continues, the field strength will drop below the 1,500 gauss threshold and spots will largely disappear as the magnetic field is no longer strong enough to overcome convective forces on the solar surface.
In parallel with this comes research from the US Air Force's studies of the solar corona. Richard Altrock, in charge of this, has found a 40-year decline in the "rush to the poles" – the poleward surge of magnetic activity in the corona.
"Those wonderful, delicate coronal features are actually powerful, robust magnetic structures rooted in the interior of the Sun," Altrock says. "Changes we see in the corona reflect changes deep inside the Sun ...
"Cycle 24 started out late and slow and may not be strong enough to create a rush to the poles, indicating we'll see a very weak solar maximum in 2013, if at all. If the rush to the poles fails to complete, this creates a tremendous dilemma for the theorists ... No one knows what the Sun will do in that case."
According to the collective wisdom of the NSO, another Maunder Minimum may very well be on the cards.
"If we are right," summarises Hill, "this could be the last solar maximum we'll see for a few decades. That would affect everything from space exploration to Earth's climate."
The effects on space exploration would be benign, as fewer or no solar storms would make space a much less hostile environment for human beings. At the moment, anyone venturing beyond the Earth's protective magnetic field (the only people to have done so were the Apollo moon astronauts of the 1960s and '70s) runs a severe risk of dangerous or fatal radiation exposure during a solar storm.
Manned missions beyond low Earth orbit, a stated aspiration of the USA and other nations, might become significantly safer and cheaper to mount (cheaper as there would be no requirement for possibly very heavy shielding to protect astronauts, so reducing launch costs).
The big consequences of a major solar calm spell, however, would be climatic. The next few generations of humanity might not find themselves trying to cope with global warming but rather with a significant cooling. This could overturn decades of received wisdom on such things as CO2 emissions, and lead to radical shifts in government policy worldwide. ®
Wool futures, anyone?
This might account for the cold winter. It seems very real, since sunspot activity reports showed a large reduction even a few years ago, with a late cycle start.
This is good, unemotional science and it looks very plausible. No hype, no billions in carbon offsets, no scientific empires anywhere in sight. We need to look on a broader scale to see if there is corroboration, though reports of falling trends in temperature in recent years suggest we don't need to look far. The problem with a Maunder Minimum is the fast onset. Crops fail, growing seasons get shorter and, historically, people starve. The one difference is that the world has many more people, and is balance on the edge of food shortage already.
I suspect that IPCC and the Global Warming Sect will have a rebuttal, since their rice bowl is being broken, but they had anyways perpetrated a myth of global warming by selective data presentation and careful choice of the graph starting-point, so I'm not very sympathetic.
I wonder if the Nobel committee will also reward a more accurate portrayal of our climate. Perhaps NASA will do a 'March of the Penguins' filmed on the Thames in 2025 to get the prize! I suspect by then, Norway and Sweden will be trying to stay warm enough and won't be in the mood.
Realistically, though, we can't keep relying on oil and gas much longer. Those are limited resources, and we need them for plastics and such. It's time to get into clean, thorium-cycle nuclear power. There's enough thorium around for 10,000 years, and the technology is quite well along. The risk of a accidental release is very low, and the radioactive waste decays quickly, so it sounds like it could be a sensible alternative. The Chinese certainly think so!
The physics isn't in dispute
The majority of the people who get called a denier don't dispute that:
1. CO2 is a greenhouse gas
2. All things being equal, adding CO2 will increase temperature.
The dispute lies in the "All things being equal" and the amount of temperature change.
Those who believe in a catastrophic warming think that there are strong positive feedbacks that will amplify any temperature change to anywhere from 1.5C to 5C (or even more) for every doubling of CO2.
There are others who believe that doubling CO2 will result in a temperature change of 0.7C which is what the physics indicates would happen without any feedbacks.
There are still other who believe that earths climate is inherently stable and negative feedbacks will counteract the CO2 and reduce any warming.
And then there are those who either don’t believe CO2 has any effect or believe that any effect will be completely overwhelmed by natural variations in climate.
Unfortunately, it is the catastrophic global warming crowd who get the press and who accuse anybody in the other three groups of being a "denier" and/or being "funded by Big Oil". This is despite the fact that there is no evidence, other than the output of computer models, to support the assertion of strong positive feedbacks.
It is also a sad fact of life that screaming "catastrophe" is more likely to get you funding and published than saying "no problem here, move along". This is not just a problem in climate research, but in all research. Just think back over how many times you have heard of one imminent catastrophe or another only for it never to materialise.
This should be fun.
I've got my popcorn and beer. Let the comments commence....