(Sept. 17) Two years ago, William Livingston and Matthew Penn of the National Solar Observatory in Tucson, in a controversial paper that contradicted conventional wisdom and upset global warming theorists, predicted that sunspots could more or less disappear after 2015, possibly indicating the onset of another Little Ice Age.
As they stated then, “the occurrence of prolonged periods with no sunspots is important to climate studies, since the Maunder Minimum was shown to correspond with the reduced average global temperatures on the Earth.” The Maunder Minimum lasted for approximately 70 years, from about 1645 to 1715, and was marked by bitter cold, widespread crop failures, and severe human privation. They concluded their 2008 paper by noting, “Finally, observations of this type during the onset of the next sunspot cycle will be critical in determining if the observed trends continue.”
We are now in the onset of that next sunspot cycle, called Cycle 24 – these cycles typically last 11 years — and Livingston and Penn have this month published new, potentially ominous findings in a paper entitled Long-term Evolution of Sunspot Magnetic Fields: “we are now seeing far fewer sunspots than we saw in the preceding cycle; solar Cycle 24 is producing an anomalously low number of dark spots and pores,” they report.
Their conclusions have potential “dramatic implications.” Cycle 24 could have just half the number of sunspots as the recently completed Cycle 23, and there could be “virtually no sunspots in Cycle 25.” The implications of their research points to decades of spotlessness.
The authors base their conclusions on the assumption that recent trends will continue, an assumption that, they note, may well be proven in time to be false. At the same time, given that their findings are consistent with those of other solar scientists, and given the stark implications of another little ice age for society at large, they felt compelled to publish a warning.
“It is important to note that it is always risky to extrapolate linear trends; but the importance of the implications from making such an assumption justify its mention,” they state.
The upshot for scientists and world leaders should be clear, particularly since other scientists in recent years have published analyses that also indicate that global cooling could be on its way. Climate can and does change toward colder periods as well as warmer ones. Over the last 20 years, some $80-billion has been spent on research dominated by the assumption that global temperatures will rise. Virtually no research has investigated the consequences of the very live possibility that temperatures will plummet. Research into global cooling and its implications for the globe is long overdue.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and the author of The Deniers. LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com. Click here for the authors’ 2008 and 2010 studies.
September 16, 2010