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Dalton like Solar Minimum - Back to the Age of Dickens?

By Joe D'Aleo
Monday, November 09, 2009

If your idea of Christmas is mince pies, sleigh- bells in the snow, and a family feast round a roaring fire, then you’re dreaming of a Dickensian Christmas. For all the elements of what we now think of a traditional Old English Yuletide were largely the invention of that greatest of English writers, Charles Dickens, in his 1847 masterpiece A Christmas Carol.  Well the Climate is now moving into a new regime that may bring us back to the climate of the Dickens era, the so called Dalton Minimum (1790-1830). Last winter, London had its first October snow in 70 years and more snow in December, January and February. Bitter cold weather accompanied the snow for weeks at a time.



The Dalton Minimum was a period of low solar activity, named for the English meteorologist John Dalton. Like the Maunder Minimum and Spörer Minimum, the Dalton Minimum coincided with a period of lower-than-average global temperatures. The Oberlach Station in Germany, for example, experienced a 2.0° C decline over 20 years. Less severe than the Maunder minimum of the 1600s, a period with what was to be a long period of a sunspotless sun. It was nonetheless a cold era.

During the Dalton Minimum cold, during Napoleon Bonaparte’s retreat from Russia, only 30,000 of the 600,000 troops survived on the way back to France in the winter of 1812. The extreme cold of the Dalton Minimum was amplified by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815, the strongest eruption in recent centuries.

The following year was known as the year without a summer with frost and freeze and even snow in some summer months which led to crop failures and a large migration of people from New England to the west.


This year we have had as of the end of October 232 spotless days (75% of the days). Last year we had 265 spotless days (4th most since 1849), the prior year 2007 163 days (20th largest since 1849). If we have just half of the remaining days this year without spots, we will surpass last year and be the only time we ever had 2 successive years in the top 5.  Our total for this solar minimum stands at 743 days now and could approach 800 days (recent cycles have had 200-300 or so spotless days). That would rival only cycle 15 in the early 20th century, another cold era and of course the Dalton.

The cycle was also very long. Minimum was likely reached in December, making the cycle 12.7 years long. The two prior cycles have been 10.3 and 9.7 years. Often cycles shorter than 10.5 years are stronger cycles with greater warmth, those greater than 11 years, weaker and colder. Short cycles herald a warm global temperature indicator. The Dalton Minimum it was thought started with a skipped solar cycle and coincided with a very long solar cycle 4 from 1784-1799. Usoskin (2001) in this paper believe they may have found a lost cycle in that period due to partly unreliable observations. It appears to have been a very weak cycle. This is the general belief of cycle lengths since the middle 1700s. Note the similarity of the last four cycles to the first four cycles leading into the Dalton Minimum.

That relationship is shown with this regression analysis above (it shows 1.4C drop for a cycle length decrease as we have seen the last three cycles for the upcoming decade) for Armagh Observatory in Ireland which has a long history starting in 1792.   


There is a well known 11 year solar cycle (range of 8.5 to 13.5 years).

You can see these cycles vary over time in strength as well as length above. Note the obvious 100 (106) and 200 (213) years cycles. Solar cycles at the beginning of each of the last 4 centuries have been weak The 213 year anniversary of the cold Dalton is coming this next decade.


Direct Effects

Changes in solar brightness (irradiance) (Baliunas, Soon, Hoyt, Schatten, Scafetta/West)


This is small generally 0.1% in the 11 year cycle but is believed to be greater in the longer term (0.4 or 0.5% say since the little ice age in the Maunder Minimum) and was larger in this last cycle (say 0.15 or so).


Indirect Effects act to amplify the direct effects significantly


UV warming through ozone chemistry high up in low and mid latitudes (Shindell at NASA GISS, Labitzke). Though solar irradiance varies only 0.1% over the 11 year cycle, radiation at longer UV wavelengths are known to increase by 6 to 8 percent with still larger changes (factor of two or more) at extremely short UV and X-ray wavelengths (Baldwin and Dunkerton, JAS 2004).


Labitzke has shown statistically significant differences of temperatures in the lower stratosphere into the middle troposphere with the 11 year solar cycle (warmest at max).


The sun gave us a good example of this in 2001/02 when in September, a second solar max kicked in with high solar flux that corresponded with a large spike in ultraviolet.

The above chart shows correlation between the upper atmosphere heights (proportional directly to temperature) and solar flux/ultraviolet. In 2001/02 winter (January-February) note how the middle atmosphere matched the warming in the low and middle atmosphere in the Labitzke analysis. Below Drew Shindell, climate modeler for James Hansen showed how the low ultraviolet could have cause the cold winters of the Maunder Minimum. His model included ultraviolet and ozone.   

Geomagnetic storms that warm high latitudes (Labitzke, Pyche et al). Here major flares and coronal mass ejections that produce the aurora ionize the atmosphere in the auroral ring about the magnetic pole. That heat works its way down into the middle atmosphere in 10 days to 2 weeks. You can see that warm ring in the following global map on the left two weeks after a major geomagnetic storm.

Finally an Active sun reduces low cloudiness by diffusing galactic cosmic rays - ion mediated nucleation (Svensmark).

Note the inverse relationship of cosmic rays (blue) and sunspots (orange) and how low clouds in different latitude bands increase during solar minima when cosmic rays increase and decrease during solar maxima when cosmic rays are diffused. Note below how our cosmic rays have exceeded the previous space age maximum in this super long and quiet solar minimum.         

These factors work together to enhance warmth in active solar periods and diminish solar warmth in quiet periods.


Scaffetta and West (2007) using Total Solar irradiance as a proxy for the total solar effect suggested the sun may account for 69% of the changes since 1900.

Soon (2007) showed how the total solar irradiance correlated with arctic temperatures very well, far better than with carbon dioxide.

Sunspots during the active phase (left) are very different from the minimum (right) as shown by Penn and Livingston. Most of the spots in the last two years have been microdots like that on the right. The most recent sunspot group in mid to late October was more traditional.

The following from eWorldvu adds some further support for a Dalton like Minimum ahead using Penn and Lingston’s work.

“So, what does this lack of sunspot activity on the sun really mean? The answer is still unknown but there is one thing that we do know. We know that there was only one scientific paper that predicted this current trend in sunspot activity before it all began.

However, the paper was ridiculed after it was released in 2005 and denied publication.
The paper was released during the active sun in 2005 and the scientific community rejected the paper as being too controversial. Eventually published in EOS in July 2009.

This controversial paper was based on the research of a pair of astronomers from the National Solar Observatory (NSO) at Kitt Peak in Tucson, Arizona, William Livingston and Matthew Penn.

The researchers looked at magnetic changes in the sun by analyzing data from sunspot observations over a 15-year period from 1990 to 2005. In total, over 1000 sunspots were measured. It was certainly a small sample size but nevertheless the researchers did discover an interesting trend.

Livingston and Penn discovered that the magnetic field of sunspots were decreasing rapidly in 2005 from observations made in the late 1990’s. A projection of a continued decline in the magnetic field of sunspots would mean that by 2015 there would be no visible sunspots on the face of the sun.

So, the solar cycle would effectively be “put on hold” in the year 2015. It would remain on hold until the unknown mechanism driving the process decided to start up again. The result is that by 2015 there would be no visible sunspots.

The conclusion of their research was certainly controversial and it was also the title of their work: “Sunspots may vanish by 2015". It should again be noted that their paper only considers data from 15 years worth of sunspots, that’s only just a little more than one cycle. Data over several sunspot cycles could certainly be seen as more conclusive in the scientific community.

However, what if the conclusions in the paper are correct and we are about to enter a sunspot minimum with the regular sunspot cycle placed on hold in a few years time? After all, it has happened before during both the Maunder and Dalton Minimums and our current sunspot activity is certainly trending that way.

It would mean much colder times lie just ahead on a scale that would mean devastation for agriculture and the global economy. Indeed, the problem will become even worse if billions of dollars were already being spent in an attempt to prevent a future global warming event.”

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