May 5th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY HECS: hastening our demographic winter

EDITORIAL Liddell is the 'fly in the ointment' of the NEG

AFRICAN AFFAIRS African Continental Free Trade Area ... in the spirit of GATT

CANBERRA OBSERVED Bernardi foray looks to be fading out of view

ENVIRONMENT Is a prolonged freeze on the way for the earth?

MEDICINE NaProTechnology: an ethical alternative in reproductive health

MEDICAL ETHICS Grounds for objection: a declaration on freedom of conscience

OPINION What a republic would really mean for Australia

LAW AND FREEDOM 'Rule of law' does not support exemptions: a reply to Robin Speed

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Saudi Crown Prince challenges Wahhabists

HIGHER EDUCATION Undoing the dis-education of Millennials

GENDER POLITICS Why are patients being denied freedom of choice?

ASIAN HISTORY Jinmen: the forgotten crisis that brought the world to the brink


MUSIC Grammy salute to Elton John: Revealing revisit to the 1970s

CINEMA The Isle of Dogs: Man's best friend in exile

BOOK REVIEW Australia, we need to talk about China

BOOK REVIEW Novelised life a vivid drama of survival



NATIONAL AFFAIRS Committal hearing dismisses main charges against Cardinal Pell

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Is a prolonged freeze on the way for the earth?

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, May 5, 2018

As global temperatures, measured by satellite data, return to levels that existed before the 2016–17 El Niño event, some climate scientists have raised concerns that the recent dramatic fall in solar sunspot activity might foreshadow a prolonged fall in global temperatures. Sunspots are dark spots that appear on the surface of the sun.

Astronomers have been recording the number of sunspots on the surface of the sun for many hundreds of years. The earliest record dates back to the pre-Christian era. These observations were taken as part of a general effort to understand what was happening in the sun, so as to understand the processes that have made possible life on earth. Among the conclusions drawn from observing sunspots was that the sun rotates about every 27 days.

It was also observed that sunspot numbers vary dramatically over a cycle of approximately 11 years, from periods of intense sunspot activity, to other periods of months when there are few or none. The cause of the variations in sunspot numbers was unknown until the 20th century. However, astronomers noted a correlation between these mysterious sunspots and extremes of weather on earth.

In particular, over the past thousand years, there have been many periods when there were not many sunspots on the sun. The most famous is a period from about 1645 to 1715, called the Maunder Minimum. This period corresponds to the middle of a series of exceptionally cold winters throughout Europe known as the Little Ice Age.

Later, from around 1790 to 1830, there was another period of few sunspots, known as the Dalton Minimum. Again, it was a period of intense cold.

Conversely, a period called the Medieval Maximum, which lasted from 1100 to 1250, apparently had higher levels of sunspots and associated solar activity. This time coincides (at least partially) with a period of warmer climates on Earth called the Medieval Warm Period.

Warming period

The late 20th century was a period of intense sunspot activity, with some of the most powerful solar cycles ever recorded. Interes­tingly, it was also a period of warming on earth.

It was only in the 20th century that it was discovered that the sun’s energy comes from continuous nuclear reactions that create the heat and light that sustain life on earth. Later, solar physicists discovered that sunspots are caused by wild solar storms which project vast quantities of high-energy sub-atomic particles into the solar wind.

These particles interact with the earth’s magnetic field, creating beautiful auroras in both hemispheres. Solar scientists have also discovered that the particles provide a protective barrier around the earth, absorbing and deflecting the very high-energy cosmic rays which are constantly bombarding the earth from outer space.

Only in the last few years have atmospheric scientists started to understand what happens when cosmic rays interact with the atmosphere. In 2013, Physics World reported that a Danish group of physicists had reproduced the earth’s atmosphere in the laboratory, and showed how clouds might be seeded by incoming cosmic rays. (Physics World, September 9, 2013)

The team, led by Henrik Svensmark of Denmark’s National Space Institute, has been working for over 20 years on the impact of cosmic rays on cloud formation. Their research has strongly supported the link, but it is totally rejected by the climate scientists who insist that carbon dioxide (and some other greenhouse gases like methane) drives global warming. The significance of Dr Svensmark’s work is that the latest solar cycle is the weakest since the Dalton Minimum in about 1800.

Solar Cycle 24 – the 24th solar cycle since 1755, when extensive recording of sunspot activity began – reached its peak in September 2014, with a maximum sunspot count of 82, the lowest maximum for about 200 years, and far lower than predicted by experts from NASA.

Additionally, predictions for the next solar cycle, based on a careful study of previous cycles, are that it may be even smaller than Cycle 24.

If this happens, the earth is facing an extended period of low sunspot activity and, if Dr Svensmark is correct, of higher-than-average cloud cover, leading to a pronounced cooling of the earth’s surface.

Some have even predicted that the earth might be entering another Little Ice Age, like the one when the River Thames froze and people skated across its surface.

Although average global temperatures have been falling slightly over the past two years, the winters in the northern hemisphere have been colder than usual, with long periods of freezing weather extending into April in North America, Europe and Asia.

Contrary to the predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has predicted accelerated temperature rises as carbon-dioxide levels increase, the up-and-down variations of the past 20 years have seen little net change.

As the next solar cycle begins, the world is about to embark on a living experiment, as summarised by a head­line in the popular science website, Live Science: “Global Warming vs. Solar Cooling: The Showdown Begins in 2020”.

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