Purdue scientists concerned about solar activity on the Sun

The weather affects us each and every day of our lives. Sometimes it's nice, but it can also be pretty harsh.

WNDU's Chief Meteorologist Mike Hoffman has been looking into some new research taking place at Purdue University. It is research that could have implications on our climate for decades to come, and it has to do with the Sun.


Every morning the Sun rises like clockwork. If there is one thing we expect to always be the same, it is the Sun, but it has been acting out of character lately.

During the past few years, there have been very few sunspots. In fact, we have had 800 days with no sunspots and that has not happened in 300 years.

The last time the Sun was this quiet was between the years 1645 and 1715, and it's called the Maunder Minimum. Paintings from that era show the wintry weather in areas where it's not typical, like carnivals held on frozen rivers and people playing on the ice.

But it was also brutal.

"There are historical accounts of rivers in Europe frozen over, and civilizations almost perishing due to the harshness of winters and things like that," says Purdue University's Dr. Ernest Agee.

Widespread crop failures caused famine around the world and many villages were deserted. But could that happen again in our modern world?

The Sun is what powers the Earth, so even the smallest changes on the Sun can have an impact on our lives and our climate.

There are many scientists who correlate low sunspots with low temperatures in many parts of the world, and the best data we have shows that. It was also cold on average for a couple hundred years before that, but we do not have any sunspot data from before 1610.

Dr. Agee, one of Mike Hoffman's professors when he attended Purdue University, recently published a paper on sunspots in the Journal of Climate.

Dr. Agee said, "Some of the interesting parts of the Sun's unusual behavior, from our paper, the length of the solar cycle, the definition of a quiet period, the length of a quiet period for the modern record, the deepness of the quiet period and then connecting that to implications by astronomers from other solar observatories on whether or not we may be slipping into an extended period of less activity from the Sun."

The solar cycle had been clicking along for 100 years. Then, all of a sudden, something that was not predicted occurred.

"The apple cart is upset. As a result we are seeing new papers, new physics and new science emerging to explain what is happening," said Dr. Agee

While sunspots may be a big factor in how much of the Sun's energy reaches Earth, there are other factors that influence the climate, including volcanoes, although the ones we've seen go off recently have not been huge. Sudden changes in ocean currents that spread warmth around the globe can also have an effect. There is also the prospect of man-made global warming.

Dr. Agee said, "I would say the greenhouse gas warming is still dominating, and is expected to dominate."

While confident of his thoughts on the future, he leaves the door open for a different outcome.

"Even though that's the position we support, we have to stay tuned to any of these unexpected behaviors and what the implications could possibly be," he says.


There are obviously many opinions on this subject, and many scientists are trying to hone in on the implications.

You can read Part Two of the series by clicking here. In that piece, Mike Hoffman learns from some astronomers in Tucson, Arizona, who are doing brand new solar research.


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