Something unusual has been going on in the Sun’s magnetic activity. For the last three centuries or so that we have been observing sunspots, we have seen a regular eleven-year cycle in their behavior. At solar minimum, sunspots are few and far between (sometimes totally absent). This has usually been followed by a sharp upsurge after about 16 months, but the last two cycles have been different.
According to the opening paragraph of an article posted at the Science Now website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
, “Scientists studying sunspots for the past 2 decades have concluded that the magnetic field that triggers their formation has been steadily declining. If the current trend continues, by 2016 the sun’s face may become spotless and remain that way for decades—a phenomenon that in the 17th century coincided with a prolonged period of cooling on Earth.”
Later, the article notes, “Sunspots disappeared almost entirely between 1645 and 1715 during a period called the Maunder Minimum, which coincided with decades of lower-than-normal temperatures in Europe nicknamed the Little Ice Age
. But [William Livingston of the National Solar Observatory in Tucson, Arizona] cautions that the zero-sunspot prediction could be premature. ‘It may not happen,’ he says. ‘Only the passage of time will tell whether the solar cycle will pick up.’ Still, he adds, there’s no doubt that sunspots ‘are not very healthy right now.’ ”
As expected, global warming skeptics are making a big deal about this report, arguing that this proves that solar effects are far more important to global climate change than human activity. If they are correct, does that mean we can continue to burn fossil fuels with abandon while atmospheric CO2 levels soar?
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