The Modern Maximum

I feel a bit vindicated. Five years ago, I noted that the Wikipedia entry about solar activity downplayed the last half of the 20th century. In fact, this period of solar activity, called the Modern Maximum, had its own tiny Wikipedia entry. This is the entire content (plus one single reference and the wrong chart):

The Modern Maximum refers to the ongoing period of relatively high solar activity that began circa 1900.[1] This period is a natural example of solar variation, and one of many that are known from proxy records of past solar variability. The Modern Maximum reached a double peak once in the 1950s and again during the 1990s.

Sounds fairly innocuous, doesn’t it? From this, you would not get this interpretation: “The Modern Maximum represents a period of high solar activity that had not been seen for more than 8,000 years.”

Elsewhere on Wikipedia, I’d seen (in Solar Variation) a reference to the Modern Maximum, including the 8,000 years business — but the graph looked downplayed:

Recent times (in this graph, at the far right) aren’t even as high on the graph as 2,200 or 4,000 years ago. It took only a moment to realize that they’d produced the graph by omitting everything since 1950. I understand part of this: Analysis of beryllium isotopes used in one original study are complicated after 1950 because of human atomic activity. But this is an analog for sunspots, which was correlated to sunspots over the 350 years of overlap.

All right. What happens if that data is grafted in? I produced this chart five years ago, with recent times at the left:

In the intervening years, the 11,000-year chart on Wikipedia was modified (to show this data), then killed and restored to the original that omits the past sixty years. I’m not interested in fighting that battle. Amusingly, the current Wikipedia caption says “Reconstruction of solar activity over 11,400 years. Period of equally high activity over 8,000 years ago marked.” But the graph with the marked area has been killed; the new one has no such marking. And the Wikipedia community has no desire to see an updated version come back.

But NOAA now has this interesting chart:

This arcane link gets to the NOAA site with that graph.

It looks rather like mine, which I was pleased to see. (Note that NOAA’s and Wikipedia’s charts have been swapped left-for-right since they were originally created, and now have the present day on the right. I left mine as it was.)

The Sun really WAS hotter in the last half of the 20th century than it had been for many thousands of years. Papers that suggest that the Sun could not have been responsible for more than 30% to 50% of the warming downplay the various effects of the sun’s different wavelengths. In the last few years, we’ve realized for example that the Sun’s output of UV varies by MUCH more than expected during high output times.

The NOAA chart, examined closely, is possibly slightly higher than mine was, but not much. In the last half of the 20th century, we got to levels not seen for 11,000 years or so. In other words, not since the end of the last ice age, and the rapid melting of the Laurentide ice sheet, which was much bigger than today’s Arctic ice coverage.

Right now, of course, the Sun is in a low-output time, what is shaping up as a Modern Minimum. In the past few years the Sun has missed its predicted sunspot peak (which was supposed to be one or two years ago) and is staggering along at a low level.

The US government agency posting such a chart is interesting, and is a sign of the ice melting, so to speak, in the catastrophist ideology. So, it seems, are the Germans. The magazine Der Spiegel, which I understand has been a longtime cheerleader for the catastrophists, still has this masthead for their Climate Change section:

This is why I call them catastrophists, by the way: “… the effects of climate change are catastrophic.”

And yet … and yet … a current article, interviewing long-time environmentalist (who is now a catastrophism-skeptic) Fritz Vahrenholt includes some commentary by the reporter:

The problem is that both sides profit from the conflict — at the expense of the general public and scientific credibility. On the one side are the scientists, lobby groups and commentators who are constantly talking about a “consensus” among climate researchers. But for many important questions, this supposed consensus never even existed. On the other side are critics like Vahrenholt and Lüning, with their extreme theories.

This negative comment about catastrophist climate scientists and “the supposed consensus” has to be raising eyebrows in the catastrophist community.

Oh, and the “extreme theories” that the writer complains about? It’s the idea that the Sun has been unusually active, and is largely responsible for the recent rise in temperatures. And that the cooling Sun and “cyclical changes in ocean currents” (like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation) will have a cooling effect on the planet. The article goes on:

The Myth of Consensus

On the other side of the debate are a number of prominent climate researchers who always repeat the same mantra, namely that the scientific community has long been united that Planet Earth is facing dangerous warming. For the most part, there is also consensus in the view that humans are heating up the climate through the emission of greenhouse gases. But the extent to which that is happening, as well as the expected consequences, are both disputed.

When it comes to a number of other important questions, a consensus never existed. The IPCC report provides evidence of that fact, as do surveys from sociologists and climate researchers. Numerous researchers openly admit they harbor significant doubts. The following areas, for example, are considered to be insufficiently researched, despite the fact that they could be decisive factors in determining the future of the climate:

  • The development of climate change in the past and how it relates to the climate of tomorrow.
  • The water cycle. The quantity of water vapor — a naturally occurring greenhouse gas — that is present in the air is decisive in terms of the air temperature.
  • Knowledge of the effect of particles from industry, heating and auto emissions as well as from oceans, volcanoes and from the soil is also “low,” according to the IPCC report. These particles serve as seeds for clouds, and some estimates suggest that an increase in the cloud cover by just 1 percent could offset a doubling of the CO2 in the air.
  • Many climate researchers question the quality of computer models used to forecast climate change.

Despite this considerable uncertainty, however, there is enough data pointing toward drastic climate change that it could still make sense to prepare for it.


Note the softening of the rhetoric here: It COULD make sense to prepare for it, not that it automatically does.

And back in the US, of course, the catastrophist cause took a Gleicking but keeps on ticking. The best they can do is accuse people like me of believing in a flat Earth. Among the ironies here is that the Pacific Institute accuses Heartland of being unwilling to debate — but PI’s president was declining Heartland’s offer to be paid to come and debate, at the same time he was defrauding Heartland to steal documents from them (and then provide a faked document since the stolen ones didn’t show malfeasance). The second irony? Pacific Institute is accusing Heartland of planning to “indoctrinate” schoolchildren by teaching them about the science questions and processes — and does not mention Pacific’s (and Gleick’s) own plans to indoctrinate schoolchildren to believe in catastrophic global warming.

As catastrophists are quick to tell us, if you don’t believe, you don’t belong in polite society. And according to this group’s ad, you shouldn’t even be allowed to live. Even if you’re working for the cause, but you express doubts, your life is forfeit. Amazing that this is an actual global warming group’s ad, and not a parody.

But while you can find scientific work on the Modern Minimum in solar science circles, it’s not a topic on Wikipedia. It’s sort of amusing to see the war waged behind the scenes in Wikipedia by what they describe was “William Connolley and his proAGW cabal.” For someone banned, he seems still to be quite active there in entries marked 2012. I don’t know the current status of his story; the history is interesting and conflicted.

But the Sun is subject to politics, after all: When is a sunspot not a sunspot? When it is inconvenient.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  • cptwayne

    Thanks again Keith. That was an excellent “Paul Harvey” reply. Thanks for being patient and you have steered me in
    the right direction…. more digging for those gold nuggets of scientific truth. That article is only a “It seems that way” one.

  • Hah. It is Leif, as expected. And the article grossly misinterprets … a lot of things. Leif’s numbers are not Belgian numbers, for example.

    Consider: The article says that one counting system is “right by definition” — but that “big changes are afoot” to correct and standardize the counting system.

    There will be many arguments at such a meeting, I assure you.

    Incidentally, Leif Svalgaard is quick to say that the “modern maximum goes away” — but his charts don’t show that. A somewhat reduced maximum is still there — and Svalgaard’s claims of small solar variation were facing the headwinds of large actual measured differences in certain frequencies such as UV, where the Sun goes brighter or dimmer over a span on the order of a hundred to one.

    What effect does this have? We are far from certain. Wait for the science to settle out, my friend.

    But in the meantime, there are some articles available in Google Scholar ( Use searches such as [solar modern maximum] or [sunspot maximum] and watch for PDFs on the right. Click there; those can be downloaded and read for free.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  • cptwayne

    Keith, thanks, an excellent reply. Here is the link, let me know what you think.

  • A link to the article would be helpful. I know that Leif Svalgaard and team have been working on this, and have done good work — a fair amount of which I’ve read and interacted with Leif on. The approach is not without controversy.

    You say “40’s” suggesting 1940, but I understand that the discontinuity with regard to sunspot counting is considered to be in the 1840s.

    I would suggest caution with regard to pronouncements like “the definitive method is, in fact…” as this is science, and always an approach to truth. You can say with confidence “X reported Y,” but cannot say “Y is true” or “correct” or “definitive.” Some things have earned that definitive label, but this is early days in sunspot/faculae science for such a statement.

    In this instance, we are trying to reconstruct what people saw, decades and centuries ago, and what happened from other proxies much earlier yet. It is not possible to do this perfectly, or even “definitively.” But we can improve our guesses. That’s what Leif is trying to do. He has biases, as do we all, but this is not an impediment to good science as long as one can be detached and rigorous. I think he’s trying to be, even if he wants to aim at a particular conclusion.

    But note that there are many lines of evidence involved, not just sunspot counting, from beryllium and carbon isotopes to magnetic flux to satellite measurements now going back half a century or so. Other work holds that the modern maximum has distorted our view of space phenomena, since our technology “grew up” in this period, so to speak. Consider this paper, which takes that position:

    And even Leif is quick to concede that the current minimum is extraordinary. Here’s a representative paper of his from earlier this year:

    It seems that your thrust is that if there is no “Modern Maximum,” then solar variance cannot be involved in the rising temperatures of the late 20th century. (Leif is inclined this way as well.) I believe that you’ll find that this position is premature. But let’s look at the paper you’re describing.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  • cptwayne

    I have just reviewed an article describing how the sunspots as counted by Zurich were suddenly changed in the 40’s causing a Grand Maximum that did not really exist. Likewise, it has been shown that the method of counting sunspots by NASA is inflated by about 25% using the Boulder Method instead of the Belgium method. The definitive method is, in fact, the Belgium Method and with it, the Modern Grand Maximum disappears.

  • Thank you.

    There is a gradual leak, now, of information about solar effects. It is becoming permissible here and there to talk about the multi-faceted impact of the Sun without having to downplay it too much. Here, for example:

    Still, in most quarters, it’s being called a “crackpot theory” that the Sun is significant in recent warming and cooling. And Wikipedia still has us in the Modern Maximum, while admitting that “it may have stopped in 2000.”

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  • Tony Virgo

    Thank you Keith DeHavelle for this revealing page. Myths have staying power,lets hope CO2 warming is not one of those.