Steve Campbell November 2015 – Updated: December 14, 2019
Sunspots have been studied for over 400 years by such notable scientists as Galileo. Many earlier observers had noticed that the sun was occasionally marked with darker spots. But, Galileo spread the word about sunspots and many of his contemporaries subsequently took up regular observations of same.
Observation of Sunspots
Right here is where I will repeat a warning that you may have heard a hundred times before: Do not look directly at the Sun and especially DO NOT look at the Sun in a telescope. The only exception to that last part is where a Qualified Astronomer is using a proper solar filter or is projecting an image from a telescope onto a screen.
That Galileo made use of a telescope around this time was strictly coincidental. Observations of the Sun were done during sunrise and again at sunset when it is possible to notice large sunspots with minimum damage to the eye. The sunlight passes obliquely through the atmosphere and is very much attenuated.
An image of the sun can be projected by a “camera obscura” which is essentially a darkened room with a tiny opening – literally, a “pin hole”- through which the sunlight enters. For reasons we won’t go into here, a pin hole acts like a lens and focuses light. By careful placement of a screen of cloth or paper, a focused image appears, large and bright enough to sketch. The astronomer Johannes Kepler was known to have used this system to view the sun. In an interesting side note, Kepler thought he was seeing the planet Mercury passing between the Earth and the Sun, instead of a spot on the sun itself. Had he checked on the following day, he would have seen the same spot and because he knew that a Mercury transit would not last a day, he would have seen his error.
The method of projecting an image from a telescope onto a screen was developed by a protégé of Galileo named Benedetto Castelli.
“It was Castelli who developed the method of projecting the Sun’s image through the telescope, a technique that made it possible to study the Sun in detail even when it was high in the sky”. (1)
The following quote explains a bit about the “Sunspot Number” which was established as the metric of sunspot activity.
“Continuous daily observations were started at the Zurich Observatory in 1849 and earlier observations have been used to extend the records back to 1610. The sunspot number is calculated by first counting the number of sunspot groups and then the number of individual sunspots.” (2)
I would be remiss if I did not include actual images of sunspots with this discussion. Figure A shows a recent image of the sun taken by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). This is a NASA space probe that orbits between the Sun and the Earth constantly monitoring the Earth-facing side of the Sun.
By the method described (Count the groups and multiply by ten then add the number of individual spots), I would estimate the sunspot number to be between 35 and 45. Don’t quote me. I know there are limits to how small individual spots can be and still be counted, but I don’t know what those rules are.
Figure B shows an image of the Sun during the Cycle 23 Maximum.
I am not sure of the origin of this image, it may not be from the SOHO probe, but in any case, it illustrates the difference between high and low sunspot counts. Again, I don’t do this for a living, but I would guess the count here to be well over 100.
Update Oct 2019:
Update 10/06/2019: Spotless Days plot:
THe following graph requires some explanation. For the complete version, go to the SILSO Spotless Days Page
For the mercifully short version read my explanation, below the graph.
The solar cycle, in all its years of observed activity, has had (arguably) two types of cycles. Those with large peaks and short minimums between – and those with small peaks and long minimums between. The graph above segregates the two types as averages (the solid red and blue lines) and plots the number af spotless days accumulated in the current cycle (solid green line). The dotted pale blue and magenta lines are the “standard deviation” plots for the low-peak minimua (cyan) and high-peak minima (magenta). “Standard deviation” is what science nerds say instead of “what is reasonable to expect”. As you see, the current Solar Minimum has just revealed itself to be a big minimum like the other low-peak mimina.
Conclusion: The chart indicates a long current minimum, with more than normal spotless days (even when averaging other spotless deep minima) and probably another low-peak maximum after that.
Summary: Expect colder temperatures for the next decade or three.
Note: NASA predictions are said to be for an extended solar minimum. I am having trouble finding documentation of this (or any other prediction from NASA) – I’ll get back to you. -Steve
The only “official” prediction of Solar Cycle 25 I can find (from NOAA and NASA) forecasts a peak in 2023 to 2026 and a peak value of 95 to 130. That would make it a virtual “twin” of the already low Cycle 24.
Update 12/14/2019 (3)
Below: The latest prediction is a bit more constrained. Your humble narrator predicts that the double peak will again show up. – no doubt with greater separation as indicated by the last 3 cycles. (see figure D)
Figure below shows the accumulated sunspot numbers over the last 400 years of solar observations.
It is ironic that Galileo took an interest in sunspots and popularized such observations just in time for the Maunder Minimum when sunspots gradually became rare phenomena. The Maunder Minimum is associated with the Little Ice Age, when weather was cooler than today. The numbers of that time are yearly averages due to the sparsity of observations. From about 1750 onward monthly averages are plotted – results of sustained, systematic observation. The Maunder Minimum is still a valid conclusion, but the data cannot be said to be “high resolution”. The later Dalton Minimum is much better defined and typically associated historically with “Dickensian Winters”. In recent years, those types of winters are returning to England.
Figure D is a plot of NASA Sunspot Numbers for the two previous and the current sunspot cycles. It clearly shows the declining trend.
Magnetism and the Climate Connection
It is the changing magnetic field of the Sun that drives the existence or absence of sunspots. The Solar magnetic field changes on a long time scale and with different periods of oscillation. The most obvious of these is an eleven-year cycle that dominates in Figures C &D. The magnetic properties actually reverse in polarity in each new cycle, which makes it a twenty-two-year cycle in reality. Periods of high sunspot activity are associated with high magnetic field strength and a dearth of sunspots is an indication of low magnetic intensity.
A plot of terrestrial magnetic field strength in Figure E demonstrates the cyclical nature of the terrestrial magnetic field as influenced by the sunspot cycle. (3)
As indicated by the note in the seventies, periods of lower terrestrial magnetic field strength are associated with colder weather. This effect has been explained by the work of Henrik Svensmark (6) who demonstrated that magnetism effectively blocks cosmic rays. But, when the field strength is low, the increase of cosmic rays makes cloud formation increase and global temperatures drop. Now that the Ap index has dropped to unprecedented lows and the global temperatures have failed to increase as predicted by many, this association would seem to be confirmed.
The fact that ”official” temperatures have not actually dropped may have something to do with the manipulation of those datasets by certain individuals who have reduced the number of weather stations averaged from over 6000 to about 400 and shifted the average latitude of those stations from that of Oklahoma City to that of Hawaii (5). Please note that before they began eliminating stations (circa 1975), the average was indeed, dropping! See figure F.
- An examination of sunspot trends clearly indicates a new Solar Minimum (of Dalton or Maunder proportions) is in the works. A cooler environment is to be expected in the coming decades.
- When climate considerations come into a subject, a thorough search always seems to reveal data manipulation has occurred. All with the same result – a cooler past and a warmer present.
- A major audit of Climate Science seems in order.
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Some of you readers are aware that I have been working as a Telescope Operator at the George Observatory at Brazos Bend State Park. There are three domed instruments that are open to the public for viewing on Saturday nights – weather permitting. I get to operate the smallest to these — a 14 inch Schmidt Cassegrain instrument. For non-Astronomy Nerds, the 14 inch number refers to the diameter of the mirror that is inside the big, black tube.
BTW: Brazos Bend State Park, where the George Observatory is located, was closed for flooding until early July. It re-opened just briefly but is now closed for long-overdue renovation. So, this activity of mine is “on hold”. I volunteered over at the Museum of Natural History – more about that later
We might have forty or more visitors on an average night, but even so there are occasional intervals when I can make some photographs. There was one night when the atmospheric conditions made the “seeing” miserable, but I still managed to catch some images of Saturn. Most detail of the planet and rings was lost, but a couple of satellites were captured in one long time-exposure where the planet and rings were overexposed. You might need to zoom to see the moons.
More recently, on a night with better seeing, the Orion Nebula was captured in a series of different exposure times. I include two below.
There are methods, these days, to stack (combine) multiple images and get far more impressive results. I am looking in to that.
The word “whence” is a Middle English term that means “from where”. Use of this word has the advantage of eliminating dangling prepositions (as in: Where does electricity come from?) and avoidance of sounding like Yoda (Comes from where, electricity does?).
A great many people have the idea that it is possible to eliminate “fossil fuels” and nuclear power from our energy supplies and that “electricity” is the means by which that will be accomplished. That “Renewable Ideal” is founded upon a grand misconception and a stunning lack of common sense – as will become apparent while we contemplate this question: “Whence Electricity?”.
The Reality as it Exists (2016)
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory does a survey of US energy use every year. The results are published in a flow chart that requires considerable snaky-eyed concentration to understand. But, I eyed the 2016 Livermore data for you to make this simple pie-chart of electricity in percentage by source:
All graphs are generated by the author and the numbers are from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories
Note: For purposes of this report, commercial sources of energy are capitalized – as in the graph above.
The most obvious lesson here is that Coal, Natural Gas and Nuclear power (with a tiny bit of Petroleum) provide the vast majority – some eighty five percent – of electric generation in the US. The remaining 15% that might be considered to be “environmentally correct” – we will refer to them as “Renewables”.
If you did not know this before, you will be further surprised that the amount of “Fossil Fuel” (and Nuclear) to be replaced in the electric grid is just the beginning of the task.
There are some limitations that characterize the sources called “Renewables” that must be considered.
Hydro-Electric Generation (Hydro)
Hydro is a simple, inexpensive and reliable source of electricity that – unfortunately – has lost its “Green Credentials”. Environmental “wisdom” doesn’t like those dams on rivers and they are now “all-in” on tearing them down. Hydro is dwindling slowly and can be expected to die a slow, lingering death by Green politics. You may think of Hydro as “Renewable” and that’s fine. If you want to claim it is reliable, this reporter will disagree. Your Humble Narrator once visited his in-laws in Bogota, Columbia (he’s a diplomat). They had rolling black-outs because their Hydro projects were suffering from an extended drought (and funds for electrical development that somehow were mis-directed to politicians’ pockets). Blind luck that the Bogota (La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora, Santa Fe de Bogota) has a climate mild enough to do without power at home for 8 hours. Kerosene lamps, candles and propane stoves were enough to get by. Business is another matter and the streets of the Capital were filled with gasoline generators running furiously outside the buildings and snaky extension cords going inside. Hydro requires back-up – even if ad-hoc.
The source of Biomass in electricity generation is mostly industrial and agricultural waste that is burned to generate electricity. Those sources exist because engineers are making efficient use of what would otherwise be an expense nuisance. Most of those opportunities have already been realized, but you may count on that increasing as industry itself expands. Ethanol and biodiesel are generally not used to generate electricity but do make up a small percentage of transportation fuel (which we have not addressed in this electric discussion).
The U.S. has the most Geothermal generation of any country and it is still quite small when compared to the total. It could be expanded, but since it typically involves drilling holes in the Earth, fracturing and using groundwater for a working fluid (unlike petroleum operations), it is also in danger of losing its “Green Credentials”.
Wind is currently subsidized by tax credits and production mandates which make them quite profitable to build. There are major windfarms now under construction. This author has seen fields of hundreds of turbines now being erected in Texas and Kansas – as well as a vast staging yard with parts for hundreds more. Wind provides the dominant part of growth in Renewable generation.
Photoelectric and solar-furnace generation is small but growing, though not as quickly as Wind.
Wind and Solar provide pretty much the only significant growth in Renewables. And that growth amounts to: 0.29 Quadrillion BTUs per year. You see that growth rate graphed as a vertical green bar (i.e., flat green square) next to the orange bar representing 2016 total Conventional electricity capability that the Renewable Ideal would have us replace.
To examine what this “replacement” will require, we will assume that
- Electric Demand will not increase (except for all that transportation now fueled by Petroleum).
- That ONLY Gasoline and Natural Gas will be replaced. This allows us to avoid the obvious problems in making electric airplanes, trains and ships. The alert reader will point out that ships and trains already are propelled by electric motors. And, the author will point out that those vehicles get their electricity by burning Diesel fuel.
- That Wind and Solar plants either last forever or for 50 years (both are unrealistically long).
The graph below shows the timeline for replacement of the Conventional Electric Generation (orange line) and for replacement of both that and the Gasoline and Natural Gas transportation.
The orange line represents total “Conventional” electric generation for 2016 and we have assumed that will not increase. The yellow line is the total of Conventional electric and Gasoline energy expended in the Transportation sector. We have assumed that neither of these will increase. The green line represents Renewable generation increasing at the same rate as the last two years – when it has been quite actively increasing at unsustainable rates. It is assumed that Renewable installations last forever.
In that case, full replacement of Conventional generation can be had by 2109 and replacement of that plus Gasoline and Natural Gas by 2169.
If – on the other hand – it is assumed that such installations last 50 years (a bit more reasonable, but again, overly generous) the years of both “replacement” points can be changed to “never” – as indicated by the blue curve.
There is More
Wind and Solar – which make up the Lion’s share of Renewable growth – are intermittent by their very nature. Solar interruptions are mostly as predictable as the sunset and cause about a 60% full-blown outage every single day. Wind on the other hand, can fail you at any moment – either by calm or storm. Your Humble Narrator has seen whole wind farms in Wyoming standing idle in the fierce winds that frequent that state. They would have been torn apart in the shifting, gusting conditions if they weren’t locked down.
Intermittent energy sources are dependent on other sources of generation. The most clearly relevant of those others are Coal and Gas. Nuclear has so long been long demonized and over-regulated that it will, at best stay constant, and will be of little help in backing up Wind and Solar.
One might come up with the idea of more Renewables as backup. It does not require much thought to see the flaw in that reasoning.
What that means is that Conventional sources of electricity simply cannot be replaced unless you can convince every electric customer to live with intermittent service. That did not happen in the aforementioned Bogota example and will not happen here. However, the attempt would make for Gargantuan sales of home generators – make mine a diesel, please.
So, the “All renewable” points in that graph are nothing less that Absolute Fantasy. Wind and Solar must be backed up completely (that is to say 100%) with Fossil Fuels or Nukes!
Even if we imagine that windmills and solar panels last forever – after 90 to 150 years of hideous expense, there will be just as much “non-renewable” electric capacity as before. The difference will be that the non-renewable plants will mostly be wastefully idling, waiting for the Sun to go down or the winds to calm.
P.S. Some of you are saying, “What about batteries, then?”
First off, you sound like Brits.
Second, I will address this in “Around Robin Hood’s Barn in an Electric Car – Part Two”
That’s right! The hottest year in the U.S. was not “this year” as you may have heard (over and over) for the last 10 or 20 years. The hottest period since 1880 was the 1930’s. The Goddard Institute for Space Studies, at Columbia University decided to “adjust” the historical record so they could talk about “Global Warming”. The graphs below show the U.S. Temperatures Before (left) and After (right) the “adjustment”. I found several such “adjustments” to temperature records in my decades of research. This is just One Fact, but I will no doubt post others. – Steve
Please be aware that these two graphs are allegedly of the same dataset until 1998!
What happened is that somebody decided that all those people looking at thermometers, back over all those years, were wrong. This is not the way “Science” is supposed to work.
Not long ago, one of my Road Trip Interest Group members (you know who you are) asked this question:
“When was the last Ice Age?”
The term “Ice Age” is somewhat ambiguous. Fluctuations in the Earth’s climate are extreme and take place over many periods of time. There have been eras when the Earth was completely devoid of ice. There have been other times when all the Earth’s oceans had completely turned to ice. So, when was the last “Ice Age”?
The most recent time that has been referred to by that name was the “Little Ice Age”(LIA). When exactly that was depends on who you ask. The chart below defines the LIA as being between the years 1400 and 1800 AD. This was a time that saw mountain villages in Europe consumed by glaciers. The “Frost Fairs” on the frozen River Thames in London happened at these times and the story of Hans Brinker, likewise. There is ample evidence of the LIA in art, literature and history. That painting of George Washington un-wisely standing in a rowboat, while his men push big chunks of ice in the Delaware out of the way? LIA, again. Below is a graph of results for last two millenia of proxy derived temperature differences. You see the Little Ice Age as well as what came before.
Timespan: 2000 Years
These are differences in temperatures derived from examination of cylinders of ice drilled out of an ice sheet. Where that zero axis falls depends on how much time is included in the graph. So, these data do not tell us what a thermometer would have said then. But, the historical record tells us that during the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) Greenland was occupied by an agricultural civilization where none at that level of technology would be possible in today’s climate. In Alaska there are glaciers that have retreated from the Little Ice Age and uncovered immense tree-stumps still rooted in the ground. There are no such climax forests there today.
They date to about one thousand years ago. So, we know for a fact that the temperatures were warmer then than now. There are some who imagine that this was only the case for the North Atlantic. But, Alaska is not on the Atlantic, is it? And ice cores from Antarctica tell pretty much the same story.
The time before the LIA was much warmer than the climate today. The MWP was, itself just another in a series of warm periods, starting with the Minoan Warm Period and occurring roughly every 1100 years. Below is a graph of oxygen-Isotope proxy temperature anomalies.
Timespan: 11,000 years.
The last “Ice Age” (without the “Little” modifier) is to be seen at the extreme left of the Holocene graph in figure 2. It is more accurately referred to as a “Glaciation” and is a part of a (roughly) one-hundred thousand-year oscillation of extreme cold followed by short periods (10,000 years or less) of warm weather. This cycle is revealed, among other places – in the Vostok and EPICA Ice Core Projects in Antarctica.
Timespan 450,000 years
You see that our current situation is an “Interglacial” age called the Holocene Climate Optimum that comes after the “Ice Age” (Glaciation). The Eemian which came before that Glaciation is another Interglacial in a long series of same, stretching back half a million years – at least. The Holocene appears to be significantly cooler than the previous Interglacials – all of them. (Put that in your “Global Warming” pipe and smoke it! 😉 )
While the future is not yet determined, it looks very much like the Holocene is about over and the next Glaciation is soon to be expected.
But, in all of this, there is still ice at the poles and on mountaintops. The Glaciations seem to be the rule and the “Interglacials”, the exceptions. Could we not say that the entire timespan above was a part of a larger “Grand Ice Age” with only the interglacial times interrupting?
What happens if we widen the time span? Below is a graph of ocean sediment-derived temperatures.
Timespan: Five Million Years.
The fact that those hundred-thousand-year cycles of the previous graph are seen lends credibility to this seafloor sediment “proxy” of temperature. Notice those thousand-century cycles are a recent phenomenon (relatively speaking) and followed a period of 41,000 year cycles. Before that was a much warmer time. There is fossil evidence that those were times when there was little or no ice on Earth at all.
Be warned that they will bring up “Global Warming” even though they can’t point to five-million-year-old Ford Explorers or make any reasonable defense of “Man-made Global Warming”. -Steve
Quote about Antarctica:
“She recalled: “We were high up on glaciated peaks when we found a sedimentary layer packed full of fragile leaves and twigs.”
“These fossils proved to be remains of stunted bushes of beech. At only three to five million years old, they were some of the last plants to have lived on the continent before the deep freeze set in.”
The “deep freeze” referred to is when we live now!
WELCOME TO THE GRAND ICE AGE!
It may surprise you to learn that you have been here all along.
I have driven this route a couple of times, but I wish I had seen this video before, just so I could have appreciated the Geology I was passing through.
The entire Alarmist Fraud of Global Warming is based on computer models that predict that temperatures will rise catastrophically as Carbon Dioxide emissions from human activities continue. This is absurd on the face of it, because:
- It ignores the fact that human emissions of CO2 are a tiny fraction of natural emissions from volcanoes, forest fires and the decay of dead plants and animals.
- It ignores fluctuations of natural CO2 emissions
- It ignores the natural reaction of plants to increased CO2 (i.e., they grow faster and absorb same).
None of these, however, is the One Fact that we are here to discuss, which is:
The computer models that the Alarmists have come up with have been proven WRONG by REALITY.
As the title states these are 44 computer climate models all predicting warming of more than one degree Centigrade by 2025. The blue and red lines are plots of actual experimental temperature measurements made by satellites and high altitude balloons. Please notice that with the exception of 1998 (an “El Niño” year), every year was measured to be in a flat trend – not a catastrophic increase.
Let me quote Renowned Physicist and Acknowledged Genius Dr. Richard Feynman:
“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”
Ladies and Gentlemen: The idea that Human activities are causing the world to warm is WRONG.
The National Climate Data Center average global temperature graph below demonstrates a method of Scientific Fraud called “Cherry Picking”. Science is supposed to be about finding the truth. Sadly, in Climate Science, the goal has lately been to get the desired POLITICAL result.
These are differences in temperature from some particular value, but the idea is to show changes over time.
Notice that the average temperatures in the period between 1930 and 1990 – while fluctuating – were, on average, constant. Then suddenly, the temperatures showed an abrupt, disturbing upward trend. These numbers are frequently presented as “proof” of Man-made Global Warming.
At the same time the count of weather stations in the average (the red line) abruptly fell from about 5000 to about 300*. Not only that, but the average latitude of the stations involved went from 30° (about that of our own Houston) to 20° (about that of Veracruz, Mexico). I have chosen these two places because they are both near sea level and on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. In any reasonable mind, these are comparable in climate, with only their latitude being different.
So, let us examine the average temperatures from Climatemps.com for Houston and Veracruz in (pick a month) – OK, January:
Average January temperature – Houston, Texas …………50° Fahrenheit (10° C.)
Average January temperature for Veracruz, Mexico.….70° Fahrenheit (21° C)
So, does anyone – ANYONE – out there think that the graph below is a valid indication of Global Temperatures over time?
Let’s see a show of hands. Okay, use that hand to slap some sense into yourself!
*I had another chart where those numbers were 500 and 30 – those axis labels turned out to have had the last zeroes cropped off.