Sunspots 2014: Big sunspot jump a harbinger of coming cooling

Giant solar flare eruption on September 26, 2014. Credit/NASA SDO spacecraft

AUSTIN, October 16, 2014 – Something unprecedented happened last month. With a burst of sunspot activity, Solar Cycle 24 now has the highest secondary peak compared to its first in the entire sunspot record. Cycle 24 continues to defy the experts.

As the solar cycle progresses, it’s becoming clear this late cycle explosion of activity most closely mimics conditions during Solar Cycle 12. That one led into a period of low sunspot activity corresponding to a 0.3 decline in global air/sea temperatures in the late 1800s.

If the physical conditions inside the sun today are the same as Cycle 12 then earth could be headed into a mild cooling trend over the next 20+ years.

Cycle 24 sunspot progression

Solar maximum record tops 80. Credit/SILSO data, Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels
Solar maximum record tops 80. Credit/SILSO data, Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels

The Royal Observatory of Belgium released September’s monthly international sunspot numbers on October 1, 2014. Sunspots took a huge 13 spots/day leap last month.

As a result, solar maximum jumped again, too. September marks the eighth month in a row setting a new solar maximum. At 80.8, solar max is up over 80 for the first time this cycle. It’s still far below a normal 120 spots/day maximum, though. September’s monthly average went up to 87.6 spots/day.

The jump in solar activity was all in the sun’s busy southern hemisphere. Solar activity in the northern hemisphere peaked three years ago.

Cycle 24’s smoothed secondary peak became the largest ever with the newest released numbers.

Cycle 24 compared to Cycle 12

Early on, Cycle 24 was compared to Cycle 14. Some even compared it to Cycle 5 leading into the Dalton Minimum. However, with all the late cycle activity, Cycle 24 now most closely matches Cycle 12 that peaked in 1893.

Cycle 12 (1893) compares to Cycle 24. Credit/SILSO data, Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels
Cycle 12 (1893) compares to Cycle 24. Credit/SILSO data, Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels

These two cycles share these traits:

  • Both were preceded by long extended minimums
  • Both are exceptionally weak
  • Both have singlet secondary peaks higher than their first
  • Cycle 12 occurred at the beginning of a series of weak cycles
  • Indications are Cycle 24 will be followed by a weaker Cycle 25

It’s noteworthy that just last month Cycle 24 replaced Cycle 12 for having the highest reliably determined peak-to-peak secondary maximum in the entire sunspot record.

Cycle 12 was the lead into a series of five weak sunspot cycles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That time frame was characterized by a 0.3°C decrease in earth’s global temperature between 1880 and 1910.

1880-1910 cooling trend corresponds to low sunspot activity
1880-1910 cooling trend corresponds to low sunspot activity

Cycle 24 continues a trend of lower solar activity over the last three cycles. The IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) in their latest AR5 report suggest low sunspot activity as one of the explanations for the current “hiatus” from global warming since 1998.

Looking less like a Dalton Minimum

Dalton comparison. Credit/SILSO data, Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels
Dalton comparison. Credit/SILSO data, Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels

This graph plots the three cycles leading into the Dalton Minimum (in blue), overlaid with the most recent three cycles (in red). The display is current through September 2014. Both sets of three cycles have shared similarities:

  • They have two straight declining cycles
  • The middle cycles have extended trailing minimums
  • The third cycles have secondary peaks higher than their first
  • The third cycles are exceptionally weak

However, two important differences affecting climate change have emerged over the last three years:

  1. The declining slope in the cycles somewhat less than the Dalton
  2. The current cycle is much stronger than its Dalton counterpart

These two differences combined imply that solar influence on climate, if any, will be less over the next 20+ years than it was during the Dalton (estimated at 0.8°C cooling).


September ended with a surprising late cycle leap in sunspot activity. Another new solar maximum record was set. Sunspot counts so far in October show there will be another new solar maximum set next month, too.

Ironically, it strengthens the case that the sun is headed into some sort of minimum activity phase.

The current cycle now looks much closer to Cycle 12 than Cycle 5, its Dalton counterpart. That supports the emerging idea that the next several cycles will be more like the 0.3°C cooling trend of the late 1800s than like the 0.8°C estimated cooling during the Dalton.

The earth climate system is highly complex. There are many intricately interrelated forcing factors that combine to produce climate change. Solar variability is just one of them. Other factors, like human CO2 emissions and El Niño, could counteract the sun’s impact.

Whether or not that comes to pass remains to be seen. Twenty five percent of all the earth’s atmospheric CO2 has accumulated in the last 15 years without any statistically significant atmospheric warming. It appears that human influence alone is not the soul controlling factor driving climate change, as once believed.

Solar activity is declining. Global warming has stopped. Perhaps that isn’t coincidence. If not, earth may experience a few tenths of a degree cooling over the next 20+ years.

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  • The current continuing increased levels of global warming are not significantly caused, or dependent upon solar activity. They are primarily affected by radiative forcing because of the carbon gases we’ve injected into the atmosphere, and particulate soot.

    Sunspots have little or no effect on current conditions; the current trends already established due to human actions, or natural events such as soot from wildfires or volcanic activity.

    • Steve Davidson

      You are correct that direct changes in TSI (total solar irradiance) so far measured is insufficient to have much impact on climate. AGW theorists, however, always ignore related forcings, like changes in cosmic rays that trigger cloud formation. That has a dramatic impact on climate.

      The actual direct impact of CO2 on climate, like TSI, is far less than its effects after all the related forcings are accounted for. AGW depends on those related forcings to magnify the effect of CO2 by 3X!

      AGW theorists accept those forcings without question, but always deny any forcings contrary to their beliefs. You can’t have your cake and eat it to. You need to keep an open mind.

      TSI has only been measured accurately in the satellite era, over just the last three solar cycles. Nobody knows how far TSI drops in a prolonged period of solar inactivity. Indications are that we are about to find out over the next 20-30 years. Nobody really knows how cosmic forcings and other related solar forcings affect climate.

      We do know that IPCC climate models failed to predict the “hiatus”, which puts the AGW theory in greater jeopardy each year it persists. Its been over 15 years and counting.

  • Alan Poirier

    Good article, Steve. Always enjoy your pieces on the sun. Even if the sun is not entering a Dalton minimum, temperatures should fall enough to deal a mortal wound to the CAGW theory. A .3 C drop is not insignificant. A number of solar watchers have been arguing fro the past few years that the next solar cycle will be closer to a Maunder minimum, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next few years.

    • Steve Davidson

      Thanks. In other places, not here at Commdiginews which is more social media oriented, my regular series of articles on solar activity are very well received.

      As SC24 has progressed its become clear that it alone is not the harbinger of either a Dalton or Maunder minimum. It looks sorta like a weak Dalton at this point.

      All the excitement these days is over what will happen next cycle during SC25 and how that might affect climate. It will be two or three years before we will start to have a good handle on that.