Lawrence Solomon: NASA scientist reverses sunspot prediction, bolstering global cooling theory

(June 17, 2011) Five years ago, NASA’s David Hathaway predicted that the Sun was about to enter an unusually intense period of sunspot activity. Today, Hathaway believes his earlier prediction was wrong. This comes amid a flurry of other reports, including from scientists at the U.S. National Solar Observatory (NSO) and U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, indicating that global cooling, and perhaps even a new Little Ice Age, is on its way.

Five years ago, NASA’s David Hathaway, one of the world’s leading authorities on the solar cycle, predicted that the Sun was about to enter an unusually intense period of sunspot activity. Referring to Solar Cycle 24, the 11-year period that we’re now in, Hathaway predicted that it “looks like it’s going to be one of the most intense cycles since record-keeping began almost 400 years ago.”

Because sunspot activity has historically predicted periods of global warming and global cooling – lots of sunspots translates into lots of warming and vice versa – Hathaway’s study – presented at a December 2006 meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco — acted to support global warming theorists and to discredit the various solar scientists who believe that Earth is about to enter a prolonged period of cooling.

Today, Hathaway, a solar physicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, believes his earlier prediction was wrong. Rather than hitting a peak of 160 sunspots, and possibly 185, as he predicted in 2006, he now believes that the Sun’s activity will decline dramatically. The current prediction, to less than half that of 2006, “would make this the smallest sunspot cycle in over 100 years,” he now states.

All this comes amid a flurry of other reports, including from scientists at the U.S. National Solar Observatory (NSO) and U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, indicating that global cooling, and perhaps even a new Little Ice Age, is on its way.

“We expected to see the start of the zonal flow for Cycle 25 by now, but we see no sign of it,” states Frank Hill of the U.S. National Solar Observatory, who recently co-authored another paper in the field. “This indicates that the start of Cycle 25 may be delayed to 2021 or 2022, or may not happen at all.”

The upshot is chilling:  “If we are right, this could be the last solar maximum we’ll see for a few decades,” Hill states. “That would affect everything from space exploration to Earth’s climate.”

The notion of another Little Ice Age, as happened in the last half of the 1600s, is no longer dismissed. Asks the National Solar Observatory:  “An immediate question is whether this slowdown presages a second Maunder Minimum, a 70-year period with virtually no sunspots [which occurred] during 1645-1715.”

To see the historic number of sunspots, including the number during the Little Ice Age in the mid 1600s, click here.

To see Hathaway’s new, dramatically lowered prediction, click here.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and author of The Deniers.LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com.

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