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Pay attention to sunspot forecasts

By Dennis T. Avery
web posted June 7, 2010

The sun is currently producing fewer sunspots than it has in more than a century. Florida State researchers tell us this may predict bad U.S. hurricane seasons. They say that when the sunspot numbers peak, within the (roughly) 11-year sunspot cycle, the U.S. has less than a 25 percent chance of being hit with a hurricane. The odds of a hurricane rise to 64 percent in the lowest-sunspot years. Even more important, the probability of three or more hurricanes hitting the U.S. in a season increases dramatically during low-sunspot periods.

Years with few sunspots and relatively high ocean temperatures are less stable, and thus trigger more hurricanes, reports James Elsner, a geography professor at Florida State. He says "With fewer sunspots, there's less energy at the top of the atmosphere." Thus the temperature above the hurricane are cooler, he told Florida Today. The differential creates more instability and stronger storms. Our atmosphere responds dramatically to changes in the sun's UV light, because the ozone layer readily absorbs the UV heat.

Humans have known for 400 years—since Galileo—that sunspots correlate with climate changes on earth. A startling lack of sunspots predicted both of the coldest periods of the Little Ice Age, the Sporer Minimum that began in 1460, and the Maunder Minimum, which began in 1645. More recently the Dalton Minimum predicted severe cold in the early 1800s.     

We've also known since 1984 that sunspots correlate strongly with abrupt-but-moderate Dansgaard-Oescher cycles in the earth's temperature regime—a 2-4 degree C shift about every 700 years. These changes have produced the Little Ice Age, the Medieval Warming, the Dark Ages, the Roman Warming and a whole series of moderate climate cycles going back at least 1 million years. The sunspot index has a 79 percent correlation with the earth's temperatures since 1860, while CO2 has only a 22 percent correlation. The sunspot index has been predicting global cooling since 2000.

Changes in sunspots have also predicted the failure of many human societies over the past 5000 years—including the collapse of the Mayan civilization and the death of the Roman Empire. The Mayans suffered "a century of drought" after 800 AD. The Roman Empire collapsed about 540AD after the end of the Roman Warming, which had given good crop-growing weather to both Europe and North Africa for more than 700 years.  The shift into the Dark Ages turned the cropping seasons cloudy, cool and unstable, with violent storms and untimely frosts. That meant no more free bread for Roman citizens, no grain to feed its legions, and no food to bribe barbarian tribes.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change continues to predict strong warming for the earth over coming centuries, due to rising levels of atmospheric CO2. However, CO2 makes up only about 0.3 percent of the atmosphere, and humans contribute only about 3 percent of the 0.3 percent.

Roy Spencer, of the University of Alabama Huntsville, collates the temperature data from the satellites. He says it's likely that the IPCC has got it backwards. Instead of higher CO2-induced temperatures creating fewer clouds; fewer clouds may let more solar heat come to earth, and vice versa. That would account for the predictive failures of the global climate models. The models did not foresee the recent cooling of the oceans since 2003, for example.   

The sunspots, in fact, now predict a 30-year cooling, to be delivered by the Pacific Ocean's shift into its cool phase. That, too, will undoubtedly be a product of the sun's internal chemistry and further evidence of the sun's massive importance to Planet Earth. ESR

Resources: 

J.H. Elsner et al., 2010, "Daily tropical cyclone intensity response to solar ultraviolet radiation," Geophysical Research letters, Vol. 37.

Roy Spencer, Testimony before the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, July 22, 2008.

Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC,  is an environmental economist.  He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Hundred Years, Readers may write him at PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421 or email to cgfi@hughes.net

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