Despite Solar Minimum, 2020 Close to Record Warmth

June 13, 2020


Favorite climate denial prediction of Global cooling yet to appear, even during the deepest trough of the dreaded “Solar Minimum”.

James Hansen:

Global temperature in May 2020 set a record for May (1.29°C, relative to 1880-1920) for the period of adequate data, i.e., since 1880.  That is the third monthly record in the first five months of 2020, despite the fact that temperatures this year are not boosted by a strong El Nino.

2020 and 2016 will be the two warmest years, but which one will wear the crown?  The answer is of little import – they will be close, likely a statistical dead heat – but in this Covid-19 year we need to have a little fun, and we can set the stage to learn something from the result.

2020 is a bit cooler than 2016 so far (graph above), but 2020 could pass 2016 to become the warmest year, because late 2016 was cooled by a La Niña (see May Update and graph above).

However, we suggested caution about confident predictions that 2020 would be the warmest year, because there is evidence that 2020 is also headed into a La Niña.


Jeff Berrardelli on Twitter:

Solar minimum is not so grand I guess. Jan-May is 2nd warmest period on record and Berkeley Earth says the chance of 2020 being the warmest year on record is almost 90%.

Science Alert:

Because we are normal people living in normal times, normal things are happening. Like news tabloids reporting that the Sun is in “lockdown”, and that Earth is doomed to crazy weather famine and… earthquakes, for some reason.

Well, you can relax. Nothing the Sun is currently doing is going to create freezing weather, famine, or earthquakes. While humans are experiencing things that are decidedly not okay, the Sun is doing nothing unusual whatsoever.

What could be happening is a very normal period in the Sun’s 11-year cycle; it’s called solar minimum. And it’s nothing to be afraid of – if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already lived through several solar minimums without even noticing.

Currently, we’re in solar cycle 24. We don’t know precisely when the next solar minimum will occur, but we can broadly predict it. Back in 2017, NASA noted that solar minimum was expected in 2019-2020.

In December of last year, the NOAA’s Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel narrowed it down further, stating that “solar minimum between cycles 24 and 25 will occur in April, 2020 (+/- 6 months).”

So, we’re either going through solar minimum already, or are just about to do so. Here’s what that actually entails.

The solar cycle is based on the Sun’s magnetic field, which flips around every 11 years, with its north and south magnetic poles switching places. It’s not known what drives these cycles – recent research suggests it has to do with an 11.07-year planetary alignment – but the poles switch when the magnetic field is at its weakest, also known as solar minimum.

Because the Sun’s magnetic field controls solar activity – sunspots, coronal mass ejections and solar flares – the cycle is detectable to us as that activity changes. During solar minimum, there are, well, minimal sunspots and flares.

This gradually changes as the Sun ramps up to solar maximum. The magnetic field grows stronger, and sunspot and flare activity increases, before subsiding again for the next solar minimum.

The solar cycles aren’t generally noticeable here on Earth. We may see more aurora activity during solar maximum, since auroras are generated by solar activity. Increased solar activity can also affect radio communications, and navigation satellites. People closely observing the Sun will see more sunspots during solar maximum.

At solar minimum, solar ultraviolet radiation decreases, but the effect of this primarily hits the stratosphere and higher altitudes. It causes Earth’s atmosphere to shrink slightly, which reduces drag on satellites. Conversely, the increase in UV radiation during solar maximum contributes to rainfall, but the effect on temperature is negligible.
There is also an increase in galactic cosmic rays from sources such as supernovae during solar minimum. Earth’s atmosphere protects us surface-dwellers from this radiation, which can increase the risk of cancer, but at higher altitudes the radiation does pose an additional hazard to astronauts.


11 Responses to “Despite Solar Minimum, 2020 Close to Record Warmth”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

  2. Sir Charles Says:

    Lower greenhouse gas emissions slow climate change, but declines of sulfate aerosols that reflect heat away from the planet may bring short-term warming.

    => Coronavirus Lockdown Could Intensify Arctic Heatwaves

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Reminds me of the old joke that reversing Clean Air Act of 1963 would help reduce Global Warming.

  3. doldrom Says:

    … during the deepest trough of the dreaded “Solar Minimum”

    2020 and 2016 … dead heat – but in this Covid-19 year

    Good humor, nice pun, hottest two years a “dead” heat in Covid-19 year…

  4. The variations in solar activity due to solarspots are way to smell to have an impact on Earth temperatures. One has only to look to the much greater variations due to excentricity. They have hardly an impact on temperatures at all and happen every year.

  5. grindupbaker Says:

    NOAA (the one I’ve been keeping in spreadsheet) has May 1880-1900 average at 0.07 degrees warmer than May 1880-1920 average so May 2020 set a record for May (1.29°C, relative to 1880-1920) would be May 2020 set a record for May (1.22°C, relative to 1880-1900). I vaguely recall annual 1850-1900 being extremely similar to annual 1880-1900 but I don’t remember the amount. These hundredths of degrees can be twiddled up or twiddled down per one’s preference. Meanwhile there’s a “Sam Carana” & “Guy McPherson” saying it’s 1.7 or 2.0 or pretty much any old thing at all really (the “Sam Carana” has a regional prediction of infinite regional warming within 10 years or so, and that’s a lot).
    What I take from this excellent post here is that the Jet Stream hasn’t un-wonkified much and the surface/air is warming, and this utterly astonishes me because typically if you apply a heater of 400,000 gigawatts to something you would naturally expect it to cool down quite a lot.
    The Global annual surface/air warming trend now will turn out to be +0.20 degrees/decade and at 2030 AD will turn out to be +0.26 degrees/decade, and so on.

  6. redskylite Says:

    Just makes me wonder what temperatures we’ll see when we next have a super El Niño and a solar maximum combined. I suspect it may well be truly shocking.

    More understanding of how the Sun functions may be critical to our future development, especially if it can solve the Nuclear Fusion conundrum.

    Will unlimited carbon free power at mankind’s fingertips ever be a reality, or is it reserved strictly for the gods.?

    “The full science phase of the mission is due to start in 2021 when all 10 of SolO’s instruments, including its imagers, will begin regular observations.”

    • redskylite Says:

      “May 2020: Earth’s warmest May on record

      Global temperature records are more likely to be set during the peak of the solar cycle and during strong El Niño events, given the extra heat from the tropical Pacific Ocean up to the atmosphere. The remarkable warmth of 2020 has come in the absence of an El Niño event and during the minimum of one of the weakest 11-year solar cycles in the past century, underscoring the dominant role human-caused global warming has in heating our planet.

      Global ocean temperatures during May 2020 were the second warmest on record, and global land temperatures were the warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in May 2020 for the lowest 8 kilometers of the atmosphere were the 2nd warmest or warmest in the 42-year record, according to the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) and Remote Sensing Systems (RSS), respectively.”

    • grindupbaker Says:

      More understanding of how the Sun functions will not affect development of nuclear fusion on Earth because the whole point is that the “energy density” in the Sun’s core is utterly pathetic for Earth. It’s 30 watts / m**3, about the same as an active compost heap. That’s precisely the issue with developing nuclear fusion on Earth. So humans’ 42,000 gigawatts (using 50% as a thermal efficiency example, grid line loss & throw in +10% to manufacture synthetic jet/rocket fuels) would need 1,400 km**3 of plasma in the nuclear fusion cores. These would be vast structures covering a large chunk of Earth’s land surface. So the “energy density” of nuclear fusion cores on Earth must be orders of magnitude larger than with Sun’s core (because Earth is a tad smaller than Sun). Containment is the issue and scientists know about containment in the Sun (gravity) so there’s no knowledge of the Sun needed to help with the obvious, massive, problem of containment on Earth.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      “Nuclear Fusion is the power technology of the future, and it always will be.”

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