More on Sunspots

MaxPower September 4th, 2008

Ever since my post a couple days back
on sunspots I have been thinking about how that could (credibly) be impacting the temperatures over the next few years. Specifically, I am coming to the conclusion that we could be entering a period of global cooling. As I noted in the previous post, my interested was piqued when I found out that the sun is extremely quiet currently, with one or perhaps zero sunspots in a month for the first time since 1913 (see above).

Secondly, the Farmers Almanac came out with its winter 2008/2009 forecast and called for “the coming Canadian winter will be crueler than usual – even catastrophic”. In that article, the Environment Canada weather guy said that “there’s absolutely no science in the bone-chilling Almanac forecast” but that that the Almanac uses “uses sunspots, planet positions and tidal activity to calculate forecasts”. When it is said that way the use of sunspots to forecast weather sounds kooky and as unscientific as planning your day depending on how Jupiter or Mars are positioned in relation to Earth. However, there have been studies correlating the number of sunspots and/or general solar activity with temperatures on Earth. I’m not talking about daily temperatures or even monthly but long-term yearly temperature fluctuations. The US National Weather Service (NOAA) says:

The jury is still out on how much sunspots can (or do) affect the Earth’s climate. Times of maximum sunspot activity are associated with a very slight increase in the energy output from the sun. One thing is more certain, sunspot cycles have been correlated in the width of tree ring growth.

I know that climate prediction is an insanely complex procedure and that sunspots are only one part of the equation (along with volcanic eruptions, fires, etc) but there are some interesting correlations (if not conclusive causation).

See the picture above – those spikes are all the months without sunspots. The one you see on the right hand side is August 08, while that patch from 1790 – 1830 is called the Dalton Minimum and is a period with very low sunspot activity and also low global temperatures. At the same time I was reading all this on the web, I was finishing up a book entitled Madness, Betrayal, and the Lash: The Epic Voyage of Captain George Vancouver which is an absolutely fascinating read about how Vancouver charted the west coast of Canada for the first time from 1791 – 1795. In the ships logs he and other officers bitterly complains about the weather, and that even in the summer of 1792 the weather around Victoria was:

“So cold, wet & uncomfortable that the men were no longer able to endure the fatiguing hardships of distant excursions in open boats exposed to the cold rigorous blasts of a high northern situation with dreary snowy mountains on every side”

He goes on and on and on about how bad the weather is, which I found surprising as I’d compare the weather in Vancouver to that of London, just generally. That quote above is from the end of May 1792… in and around present-day Vancouver and Victoria. Snow? The weather was so bad that the crews couldn’t over winter on the west coast, they needed to go to Hawaii (good choice) in order to make it through the winter. That doesn’t sound like Victoria “the retirement capital of Canada” where you can golf basically all year long.

What other interesting weather events were recorded in 1790 – 1830? Well the Thames froze in London in 1788, 1795 and 1814. The previous record for freezes happened in 1650 to 1700, better known as the Maunder Minimum (aka the Little Ice Age) where there were basically no sunspots whatsoever and where the Thames froze in 1649, 1655, 1663, 1666, 1677, 1684 and 1695. This is fairly loose anecdotal evidence to be sure but it doesn’t disprove the idea that when there is a minimum level of sunspot activity there is a generally colder temperature in the northern hemisphere at least.

And I leave you with this:

In view of the fact that Dickens (born 1812 – during the Dalton Minimum) can be said to have almost singlehandedly created the modern idea of Christmas, it is interesting to note that in fact during the first eight years of his life (in London) there was a white Christmas every year

Apparently London has had a white Christmas all of 2 times since 1895 – in 1999 and 1996.
So what does this prove? Nothing really, but it makes an interesting case.