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Monday, September 7, 2009

The Solar Cycle and Weather Patterns

A group of international scientists and those from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) have recently found an answer to a difficult question that involves the solar cycle and its potential impacts on the earth's weather patterns, according to EurekAlert.


Here is the question......If the total energy that reaches Earth from the Sun varies by only 0.1 percent across the approximately 11-year solar cycle, how can such a small variation drive major changes in weather patterns on Earth?


Here is what they found.....Chemicals in the stratosphere and sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean respond during solar maximum in a way that amplifies the Sun's influence on some aspects of air movement. This can intensify winds and rainfall, change sea surface temperatures and cloud cover over certain tropical and subtropical regions, and ultimately influence global weather.


An example of an active sun, loaded with spots.

The most recent look at the sun. No spots!


Excerpts from the article........


One example was that the sun, the stratosphere and the oceans are connected in ways that can influence events such as winter rainfall in North America," says NCAR scientist Gerald Meehl, the lead author.

The slight increase in solar energy during the peak production of sunspots is absorbed by stratospheric ozone. The energy warms the air in the stratosphere over the tropics, where sunlight is most intense, while also stimulating the production of additional ozone there that absorbs even more solar energy. Since the stratosphere warms unevenly, with the most pronounced warming occurring at lower latitudes, stratospheric winds are altered and, through a chain of interconnected processes, end up strengthening tropical precipitation.


Earth's response to the solar cycle continues for a year or two following peak sunspot activity. The La Nina-like pattern triggered by the solar maximum tends to evolve into a pattern similar to El Nino as slow-moving currents replace the cool water over the eastern tropical Pacific with warmer water. The ocean response is only about half as strong as with El Nino and the lagged warmth is not as consistent as the La Nina-like pattern that occurs during peaks in the solar cycle.


The solar maximum could potentially enhance a true La Nina event or dampen a true El Nino event. The La Nina of 1988-89 occurred near the peak of solar maximum. That La Nina became unusually strong and was associated with significant changes in weather patterns, such as an unusually mild and dry winter in the southwestern United States.

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