Those Pesky Sunspots
Hiding the Decline!
The earliest surviving record of sunspot observations dates from 364 BC, based on comments by a Chinese astrologer named Gan De. But it wasn’t until 1610 that daily observances were being recorded. And yet still, it wasn’t until 1848 that Rudolf Wolf started a systematic approach to numbering sunspots, for which we now call the ‘Wolf Number’.
Two centuries later, we still count sunspots using that system, but because of technology and politics, how we count sunspots today has become a hot topic. Literally.
Lets begin with this press release from 2006:
Scientists Issue Unprecedented Forecast of Next Sunspot Cycle
Two striking comments are made in the article. The first one is this:
“The next sunspot cycle will be 30-50% stronger than the last one and begin as much as a year late, according to a breakthrough forecast using a computer model of solar dynamics developed by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).“
The next one is this:
“The scientists expect the cycle to begin in late 2007 or early 2008, which is about 6 to 12 months later than a cycle would normally start. Cycle 24 is likely to reach its peak about 2012.”
The next few graphs I want to share are predictions from NOAA. Notice how, over time, the predictions become lower and lower and…. :
It must have pained David Hathaway to no end to adjust the predictions, downward, year after year. Not only has the sunspot prediction been reduced to a third of its original intensity, but solar maximum has been moved from the summer of 2010 to the fall of 2013. Spot on Hathaway. Spot on !
Hathaway may be not be fully responsible for the sunspot prediction though. He was part of a solar panel team that decided what predictions would be considered a ‘consensus’ from that panel. But lets give Hathaway his due though. It is his name that is used for the predictions and not the panel.
The panel consisted of at least 12 members that I know of. The voting members of the Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Panel were: Douglas Biesecker (Chair), Mausumi Dikpati, Kathlene Dowdy, David Hathaway, Todd Hoeksema, Eric Kihn, Ronald van der Linden, Henrik Lundstedt, Dean Pesnell, Leif Svalgaard, Richard Thompson and Mark Rast. O.C. St. Cyr and Joseph Kunches were ex-officio members. Of these members, only 5 directly submitted their predictions for Solar Cycle 24.
Here are those predictions:
||180 ± 32
||160 ± 25
||160 ± 54
||70 ± 2
Its not hard to guess why Hathaway predicted such high sunspot numbers. To view all the predictions, you can view this data at swpc.com
What gets me is, that after the panel convened back in April ’07, NOAA releases this statement:
Experts Split Over Intensity
“In the cycle forecast issued today, half of the panel predicts a moderately strong cycle of 140 sunspots, plus or minus 20, expected to peak in October of 2011. The other half predicts a moderately weak cycle of 90 sunspots, plus or minus 10, peaking in August of 2012. An average solar cycle ranges from 75 to 155 sunspots. The late decline of Cycle 23 has helped shift the panel away from its earlier leaning toward a strong Cycle 24. Now the group is evenly split between strong and weak.”
What complete and utter garbage. Later in the same article, this was written:
“One disagreement among the current panel members centers on the importance of magnetic fields around the Sun’s poles as the previous cycle decays. End-cycle polar fields are the bedrock of the approach predicting a weak Cycle 24. The strong-cycle forecasters place more importance on other precursors extending over a several-cycle history. Another clue will be whether Cycle 24 sunspots appear by mid 2008. If not, the strong-cycle group might change their forecast.”
Way to go Leif Svalgaard. The one sane mind out of the whole bunch. While Leif has my respect as the foremost leading authority in polar magnetic fields, and has contributed much to the science of Solar Physics, his black and white no nonsense assessment towards any view other than his own, leaves very little room for flexibility in any discussion with him.
One more comment stands out in this press release:
“NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.”
So even after the panel summary, Hathaway continued to release all of his predictions, well above the panels ‘consensus’. It wasn’t until January of 2010 that his prediction summary even remotely looked like the weak cycle supported by the ‘other’ half of a split panel decision. If NASA/NOAA really was interested in enhancing economic security and national safety, posting press releases of both the ‘moderately’ stronger and ‘moderately’ weaker predictions would have sufficed. Makes a lot more sense than misinforming Govt’s and the public at large, using the Marshall Space Flight Center for publishing just one view of the panels findings. There is a possible explanation for this. But before going there, the actual counting of sunspots needs to be discussed.
Here is what Geoff Sharp had to say at Landscheidt.com :
Layman’s Sunspot Count
“The evolution of the sunspot record has made it difficult to formulate a homogeneous record (the SIDC are doing a great job in a difficult arena). Before Wolfer there was mainly one primary observer who was at the mercy of local conditions. Today we have multiple observers that must put upward pressure on the historic counts, the SIDC have 80 observers covering the globe of which 30% are professional. These results are averaged over 24 hours to gain a result. Modern observatories mainly use the same magnification as Wolf’s larger telescope but that is the only equal comparison. The aperture lenses are nearly twice the diameter and the focal lengths are more than twice the length of Wolf’s 64x scope, the design of the optics is also unknown on the modern scopes which can also make quite a difference, these motor driven, auto cooled/no tube telescopes are a far cry from Wolf’s telescopes (Note: according to Dr. Svalgaard the Locarno telescope is stopped down to 80mm). Wolf used a 1.5 K factor when using his smaller telescope, but 1.5 x zero is still zero. We must also be aware of modern counting methods that are different to Wolf’s method, NOAA have decided to run their own system that is not designed to line up with the past. In essence they do not take on Wolfer’s 0.6 reduction factor to account for the small spots and pores that Wolf did not count. NOAA have their method which differs from the historical record that is unfortunately prevalent across many media outlets.”
Saying that, NOAA has a different method to count sunspots, is an understatement. Counting sunspots seems to be a real problem with NOAA. There doesn’t seem to be any continuity in their counting method.
I’ll give you an example. Here are two images from Spaceweather.com that show such a disparity in counting. The first image is from March 24th, 2002 and the second image is from January 10th.2011:
March 24th 2002
The region that has been circled in above had no sunspot number attributed to them. The sunspots in those circles are quite noticeable, yet obviously did not fit some sort of criteria to be counted as such.
January 10th 2011
In this image, from just a few months ago, the area that has been circled was given a sunspot number, yet is barely visible. Comparing the non-counted sunspots from 2002 and the counted sunspots of 2011, it is with certainty that what wasn’t considered a sunspot just 9 years ago, is now a sunspot today.
This is but one of many discrepancies with NOAA counting sunspots. It’s not difficult to see that while it wasn’t necessary to fudge the numbers for sunspots during the last solar maximum, it has for some reason, become necessary to create a larger disingenuous number for our current solar cycle.
The purpose, much like that of the scientists involved in ‘Climategate’ is for one reason and one reason only. To ‘hide the decline’ .
In this age of scare tactics and alarmism, government agencies that continue to making alarming predictions, may not seem necessary if main stream media outlets don’t get to say, “It’s worse than we thought!.”
First, NOAA sets us up back in 2006, with saying that this solar cycle will be 30-50% higher than the previous cycle.
Then, the Solar Cycle 24 panel releases to the press that the prediction of sunspots will only be ‘moderately’ strong or ‘moderately’ weak.
And now that the sunspots aren’t living up to their expectations, NOAA has to fudge the numbers in hopes that the sunspots start to produce as they predicted.
The only way I see NOAA coming out of this, is by somehow lowering their prediction, even lower than the lowest predictions. Then, when the fudged sunspot numbers start to rise above those predictions, can they say, “See, It’s worse then we thought!”
Good luck with that.