Inconstant Sun

Howdy, buckaroos. Finally got some time here, after way too long. Got a little hail and snow the other morning, been a chilly spring. Thought I would ramble on a little about this here planet we got, and climate, and energy.

The sun is for the most part blank. Only a small magnetic signature remains from the small sunspot that formed.

Head on over to and take a look for yourselves. The Sun is at the low point of its ~11 year cycle. No sunspots to speak of (‘cept for one teeny tiny one) in the last several days. Muy unusual. Lots of cool hyperspectral pics there.

. Total solar output is now measured to vary (over the last three 11-year sunspot cycles) by approximately 0.1%[1][2] or about 1.3 W/m² peak-to-trough during the 11 year sunspot cycle…

– Wikipedia, “Solar Variation”

A good all-around climate change reference site is provided by the American Institute of Physics at…

Since it is the Sun’s energy that drives the weather system, scientists naturally wondered whether they might connect climate changes with solar variations. Yet the Sun seemed to be stable over the timescale of human lifetimes. Attempts to discover cyclic variations in weather and connect them with the 11-year sunspot cycle, or other possible solar cycles ranging up to a few centuries long, gave results that were ambiguous at best. These attempts got a well-deserved bad reputation. Jack Eddy overcame this with a 1976 study that demonstrated that irregular variations in solar surface activity, a few centuries long, were connected with major climate shifts. The mechanism remained uncertain, but plausible candidates emerged. The next crucial question was whether a rise in the Sun’s activity could explain the global warming seen in the 20th century? By the 1990s, there was a tentative answer: minor solar variations could indeed have been partly responsible for some past fluctuations… but future warming from the rise in greenhouse gases would far outweigh any solar effects.

So there have been things like the “Little Ice Age” when very few sunspots were observed, and the “Medieval Maximum” when England blossomed in a warm period.

The Sun is not totally stable. It pulses, swells and contracts, rings, burps, dims and brightens…and we feel the effects down here on Earth.

My point, if I have one, is this: if an extended low sunspot period is starting, and that means lower solar output, by golly we might get a cooling spell for several decades…that is, we would get a cooling spell if CO2 and its effects were not warming things up a bit…but then there’s particulate pollution which is cooling things down…hmmm. Lots of tugging one way and the other on the climate system. Who knows what is going to happen?

Wouldn’t it be terrible if just when we are trying to get off of fossil fuels that we get a cold spell. Can’t you hear the Limbaugh mobs: “Global warming, shee-it! I’m gonna chop down some trees and feed my woodstove! And start drillin’ ANWAR why don’cha?”.

Personally, whether or not anthropogenic CO2 causes climate change or not does not matter, since I think we should get off fossil fuel for a whole range of other reasons: pollution, mining damage, politics, economics, war…but back to climate change.

Add in the notable increase in major earthquake and volcanic activity, with sulfur aerosols to cool off the globe (like Mt Pinatubo, and Krakatoa did)…and the weakening earth’s magnetic field that allows cosmic rays to seed cloud formation…I for sure am not one to sit here and say if we cut CO2 we are going to stop climate change. All else being equal, we could slow global warming…but that means the Sun has to cooperate! I think the climate is pretty well equipped to change on its own, for many reasons.

I do think that if things get so bad that the arctic ice cap depletes and the antarctic ice shelves degrade, we could shift the whole planet into a warm phase. On the other hand, a megavolcano like Yellowstone going off could send the earth back into a brief Ice Age, of course with the Sun cooperating.

Amazing planet when you think about it, still able to support life with all the disasters that can happen.

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  1. from you again!  Been a long time… Might be time to stock

    up on SPF oh, I dunno, 400?

    Welcome back  ;>)

  2. thanks!

    • RiaD on June 7, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    good to see you again…..


  3. are telling us to change. No matter what the real situation is….ad we petty little hoomans probably don’t really know all the answers, lol.

    I think it is a good idea to listen!

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