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Earth approaching sunspot records
COREY JONES/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL
Charlie Perry, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Lawrence, sifts through graphs of data in explaining why he believes solar activity may have greater impacts on global temperatures than previously thought.
The average person may not associate coolness with the sun.
The sun releases energy through deep nuclear fusion reactions in its core and has surface temperatures as hot as 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NASA’s Web site.
Not cool at all.
But the sun’s recent activity, or lack thereof, may be linked to the pleasant summer temperatures the midwest has enjoyed this year, said Charlie Perry, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Lawrence.
The sun is at a low point of a deep solar minimum in which there are little to no sunspots on its surface.
In July through August, 51 consecutive days passed without a spot, one day short of tying the record of 52 days from the early 1900s.
As of Sept. 15, the current solar minimum ranks third all-time in the amount of spotless days with 717 since 2004. There have been 206 spotless days in 2009, which is 14th all-time. But there are still more than 100 days left in the year, and Perry expects that number to climb.
Perry, who studies sunspots and solar activity in his spare time, received an undergraduate degree in physics at Kansas State University and a Ph.D in physics and astronomy at The University of Kansas. He also has spent time as a meteorologist.
A sunspot, Perry explains, is a location on the sun’s surface that is cooler than the surrounding area. When there are more sunspots, the sun’s surface becomes more dynamic and an opposite effect takes place, releasing more heat and energy when other parts of the sun become hotter.
A solar minimum is when the amount of spots on the sun is at a low and the reverse is true for a solar maximum. The complete solar cycle is about an 11-year process. Perry says the current solar minimum could continue into 2010.
"There’s a fair chance it will be a cooler winter than last year," Perry said.
Perry said there is a feeling from some in the scientific community the Earth may be entering into a grand minimum, which is an extended period with low numbers of sunspots that creates cooler temperatures. The year without a summer, which was 1816, was during a grand minimum in 1800 to 1830 when Europe became cooler, Perry said. Another grand minimum was in 1903 to 1913.
Perry said there is anecdotal evidence the Earth’s temperature may be slightly decreasing, but local weather patterns are much more affected by the jet stream than solar activity.
However, Perry said snow in Buenos Aires and southern Africa, the best ski season in Australia and a cooler Arctic region are some of the anecdotal evidence for a cooling period.
So, Perry said, sunspots may have a far greater impact on weather than previously thought.
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