We are currently over four years into Solar Cycle 24 and it continues to “underwhelm” and be on a pace that would make it the smallest sunspot cycle since Cycle 14 which peaked in February 1906. Solar activity has been quite low over the past couple of weeks with only a couple of sunspot regions now visible on the Earth side of the sun and this is despite the fact that this cycle is rapidly approaching an expected solar maximum during the latter part of 2013. There is, however, a growing feeling that, based on the recent inactivity, the peak may have already happened during the latter part of 2011 - much earlier than originally forecasted. If this is the case then we are likely to see decreasing levels of activity during 2013.
Cycle 24 began after an unusually deep solar minimum that lasted from 2007 to 2009 which included more spotless days on the sun compared to any minimum in almost a century. While a weaker solar cycle does not rule out the threat for strong solar storms, it does suggest that they will occur less often than during the stronger and more active cycles. The increasingly likely outcome for a weak solar cycle continues the recent downward trend in sunspot cycle strength that began with solar cycle 22 over twenty years ago. In addition, there are some solar scientists who are already predicting that the next cycle, 25, will be even weaker than the current one. According to some research studies, weak solar cycles with extended lengths may actually have a downward effect on global temperatures in the longer range. Weak solar cycles tend to last longer than the strong ones. There have been historical periods with minimal sunspot activity that lasted for several decades such as from the mid 1600’s to the early 1700’s when the so-called “Maunder Minimum” occurred and this period was quite cold globally.
Another interesting aspect to these solar predictions is that this apparent long-term period of weak and extended solar cycles looks like it will coincide with a cold phase of the Pacific Ocean (negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation). The Pacific Ocean slipped into a cold phase a few years ago and these longer-term oceanic phases tend to last for two or three decades. We’ll continue to periodically report on the latest sunspot activity and also the Pacific Ocean sea surface temperature anomalies here at “thesiweather.com” to monitor any changes that may unfold.