Liberty Just in Case

A Dialogue for the September 12th World

Katrina Remembered

Posted by zaphriel on August 29, 2006

kat5_1945.gifOn this somber anniversary, I have noticed a little grandstanding, and maybe some humility from the Policos; The normal irritating opportune TV ops. And a little news story about a very weak tropical storm named Ernesto, that can’t even scare off the Space Shuttle from it’s launch pad.

Then I wonder… What happened to the Worst Hurricane Season Ever that was predicted at the beginning of the “season”. Isn’t global warming supposed to cause these storms to be more frequent? More powerful? Each and Every Year? … Instead of happening in cycles… As they always have throughout the ages…

I wonder… could these GLOBAL weather cycles actually be stronger than the human meddling, and more complex than humans have yet understood? Isn’t it rather arrogant of us to think that we are the cause of the weather cycles that pre-date our existence? What about the Solar Cycles that are also having a markedly larger effect than anything we can do?

The Real Cause of Global Warming – Our Sun

(Figure 1) July, 2002. An Erupting Solar Prominence from SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory).

sun.JPG

Explanation: Our Sun is still very active. In the year 2000, our Sun went though Solar Maximum, the time in its 11-year cycle where the most sunspots and explosive activities occur. Sunspots, the Solar Cycle, and solar prominences are all caused by the Sun’s changing magnetic field. Pictured above is a solar prominence that erupted in 2002 July, throwing electrons and ions out into the Solar System. The above image was taken in the ultraviolet light emitted by a specific type of ionized helium, a common element on the Sun. Particularly hot areas appear in white, while relatively cool areas appear in red. Our Sun should gradually quiet down until Solar Minimum occurs, and the Sun is most quiet. No one can precisely predict when Solar Minimum will occur, although some signs indicate that it has started already!

sun2.JPG(Figure 2) A picture of the sun taken Feb. 10, 2006, by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

For almost the entire month of February 2006 the sun was utterly blank. If Galileo had looked at the sun on his 442nd birthday, he would have been disappointed–no sunspots.

What’s going on? NASA solar physicist David Hathaway explains: “Solar minimum has arrived.”

Sunspots come and go with an 11-year rhythm called the sunspot cycle. At the cycle’s peak, solar maximum, the sun is continually peppered with spots, some as big as the planet Jupiter. But for every peak there is a valley, and during solar minimum months can go by without a single sunspot.

“That’s where we are now–at minimum,” says Hathaway.

Actually, we’re at the beginning of the minimum. February 2006 was the first month in almost ten years with mostly no sunspots. For 21 of February’s 28 days, the sun was blank. Hathaway expects this situation to continue for the rest of 2006.

No sunspots means low solar activity. Sunspots are sources of solar flares and coronal mass ejections that can disrupt radio communications and even cause power outages on Earth during severe magnetic storms.

(Figure 3) Sunspot counts from the time of Galileo through the end of 2005. In recent centuries, counts have gone up and down with an 11-year period

suncycle.JPG

Galileo was lucky. The year 1610 was close to a maximum of the sunspot cycle, so when he projected an image of the sun through his spyglass, he immediately saw enormous spots. The spots themselves did not surprise him. Chinese astronomers looking at the sun naked-eye through clouds and mist had reported seeing sunspots as early as 28 BC. The reality of sunspots was uncontroversial, but the nature of sunspots was a mystery. Were they satellites of the sun? Dark clouds in the sun’s atmosphere? Or something else? Galileo’s daily sketches showed plainly that the sun was spinning and that sunspots were close to the surface of the spinning orb. Personally, Galileo thought sunspots might be clouds.

Now we know what they really are: great islands of magnetism. Sunspots appear when magnetic force-fields generated by the sun’s inner dynamo poke through the surface. These fields block the flow of heat from below, cooling the sun in their vicinity. If you stuck a thermometer in a sunspot, it would register “only” a few thousand degrees Celsius. This makes it look dark compared to the surrounding inferno.

Sunspots are in a state of non-stop upheaval. Tangled lines of magnetism twist and stretch until the tension becomes too great and an explosion occurs–a flare. This link between flares and spots is why solar minimum is so quiet.

“But not absolutely quiet,” adds Hathaway. “During solar minimum we can have occasional sunspots and solar flares.” Indeed there was at least one monster spot and one X-class solar flare (the most powerful kind) during each of the last three minima in 1976, 1986 and 1996.

2006 will probably be the same–long stretches of quiet with occasional episodes of spots and flares. How long will this last? Stay tuned for the answer. In the meantime, how does all this play into the question of “Global Warming”?

The Earth’s surface, oceans, and atmosphere act like an energy sponge, absorbing more solar energy during high radiation periods, and less at lower periods. The Earth radiates this energy out into space at night (the side of the Earth that is facing away from the Sun), the only period that the planet is permitted to cool.

When solar activity is high (solar max), then uneven Earth heating may occur. When solar activity is low (solar minimum), then planetary heating may be more uniform. Depending on other climactic conditions such as distance from the Sun, particulate content in the atmosphere, jet stream speed and deviation, and cloud cover, solar heating and cooling may experience periods of extreme imbalance. None of these conditions are within the power of human endeavor to have an appreciable effect.

And so several cycles are waning, just as they unusually coincided over the last few years, and thus the intense storms of the last few years, and the tamer weather of this year. Yes there were hot days, just as there always are, and there are hurricanes, just as there always have been. Weather will still occur, and we must be mindful of our environment for our own sake, but to think that the erratic weather is solely our fault is just simple folly.

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