On the 19Th of June, 2010 the United States Naval Research Lab (USNRL) reported that the upper layer of Earths’ atmosphere had disappeared. According to researchers at the lab, this was the most severe collapse of the Thermosphere in 43-years and they were not sure why it was happening. Fortunately and just as inexplicably the layer reappeared once the sunspots had reappeared. This event occurred between 2008 and 2009 during deep solar minima, a time when the suns energy output drops off and the number of visible sunspots decreases dramatically, in some cases almost disappearing completely. However, no one could explain the magnitude of the 2008/09 collapse and according to Mr. John Emmert of the USNRL,
“Something is going on that we don’t understand.”
Observations of sunspots began in the early 1600’s, about when Copernicus’s theories on the solar system had reached mainstream education, but the ‘official’ sunspot cycle count began in 1755 and as of December 2013 we are nearing the middle and are in the maximum of the 24Th cycle. Our sun goes through an approximately 11-year cycle, during which time its energy output and number of sunspots will go from low or minima, to maximum and then back to minima. As you would imagine the changes in our sun impact conditions here on Earth and in ways that we are just discovering, as this recent and unexpected atmospheric collapse reveals.
One of the most studied consequences of the suns cyclical output is its effect on Earths (and other planets) atmospheric layers. An increase in the Suns’ output increases the temperature and volume of our atmospheric layers and, as we are learning, improves the effectiveness of our atmosphere at blocking damaging solar and cosmic radiation. This correlation makes sense in that the more radiation directed at earth from the sun, the better our insulation from that radiation becomes, an important fact considering that the number of large solar flares increases as the sun reaches maximum. But the Earths bombardment by cosmic radiation and solar flares occur at all stages of the suns cycle, so what happens when the sun is at minima?
A lack of sunspots and a generally reduced solar output does not mean that the sun cannot emit strong, periodic flares and it is the impact of a solar flare on our weakened Magnetosphere which does the most damage to terrestrial organisms and our civilized infrastructure. For instance, it was during a weak solar cycle in 1859 that a sudden solar flare impacted Earths weakened Magnetosphere and ionized the atmosphere, causing telegraph cables to amplify and transmit the energy with such force that telegraph offices were burned down and operators electrocuted. Known as the Carrington Event, it produced northern lights (aurora borealis) “so bright that you could read by them.”
Yet there are other events in history, both ancient and modern which correlate well with solar activity and yet have not been ‘officially’ identified as being related. Two of these significant impacts on Earth are atmospheric (climate) temperature change and seismic/volcanic activity. One example of climactic impact are periods in Earths recent history known as ‘Little Ice Ages’, when the average temperatures in many parts of the world dropped by several degrees (varied with location) for many years; changes which brought about crop failures, famine, population migrations and wide-spread death through disease. During the astronomically identified Maunder Minimum (1645 – 1715 AD) and the Dalton Minimum (1790 – 1830) there were few or no sunspots observed and during these periods, conditions here on Earth deteriorated. Major Plague epidemics occurring during this period were thought to be continuations of the original Black Plague outbreak in 14Th Century Europe and outbreaks “continued for about 200 more years; Austria in 1711; the Balkans from 1770-1772. The last major pandemic ran from 1855-1896 worldwide, but mostly in China and India, wherein more than 12 million died. Manchuria in 1910–1911 witnessed about 60,000 deaths due to pneumonic Plague with a repeat in 1920–1921; and a minor outbreak occurred as recently as the summer of 1994 in Surat, India closely following an earthquake in September 1993.”
Other events on Earth occurring during substantial Solar Minima include earthquakes and climate altering volcanic activity. For instance if you look at the timing of the Carrington Event (1859 AD) or the eruption of Krakatau Volcano (1883) and compare it to the solar cycle you will see that both events occurred during the end of deep solar minima. Similarly the current upswing in global volcanic activity and apparent cooling trend across Europe and North America comes as we enter into a new and very severe period of solar minimum in the 25Th solar cycle.
Now, a few decades of data does not a window make on the eons of time that the Earth has been here, so to gather reliable records of Solar output and changes in Earths’ geology and atmosphere, scientists must dig deep; through hundreds of meters of mountain glacier and sea floor. Locked in these layers of annual ice formation and sinking ocean sediment are traces of atmosphere and bits of organic matter that tell a tale of ever cycling levels of atmospheric oxygen, temperature, CO2 and solar radiation impacting Earth.
What they also show is that the Sun has a particularly long cycle of about 11,000-years (period of global ice ages) between massive, short term outbursts of energy:
“Science has discovered that there is a pattern of Carbon 14 creation here on earth that is ONLY constant within an 11,000 year frame work due to a ‘suspected solar outburst’ that is postulated to occur every 11,000 years that blasts out vast quantities of Carbon 14 (among other isotopes of note including Beryllium) in a very, very, very short period”
One last point on the relationship between solar activity, Earths temperature and CO2; in the past decade or more and despite the rising levels of CO2 in our atmosphere, Earths temperature reached a plateau and no longer exhibits the ‘catastrophic’ warming of the 1990’s. In fact, global warming between 1999 and 2008 slowed to a third (35%) of pre 1998 levels, a trend which is continuing today. ‘Global Warming’ as seen by popular media has been occurring since the late 1700’s, early 1800’s Industrial Revolution and is therefore blamed on the subsequent increase in industrial pollution. What has not been made so public is the cyclical trend in sunspots which began to increase after the Dalton Minimum of that same time period and which have gone into an overall decline in the past 12-years.