Investor's Business Daily: See Gore, See Spot.
A former NASA astronaut says the same solar phenomenon that doomed Napoleon's army may soon stop Al Gore's march to glory cold. Prepare for the big chill.
Napoleon's retreat from Moscow is a legendary military disaster. While historians and military buffs note the toll the Russian winter took on La Grande Armee, few if any appreciate the role solar activity, or the lack of it, played in one of the great military reversals in history.
Geophysicist Phil Chapman, the first Australian to become a NASA astronaut, and who served as mission specialist on the Apollo 14 lunar mission, writes in the Down Under newspaper the Australian that "the rout of Napoleon's Grand Army from Moscow was at least partly due to the lack of sunspots."
This is more than a historical footnote. The same pattern of solar activity that doomed Napoleon is occurring as we speak.
The sun goes through a series of 11-year cycles in which sunspots fluctuate in both number and intensity, greatly influencing Earth's climate and weather. The end of each cycle is called a solar minimum, where sunspot activity is at a low point. Activity usually picks up after that as each new cycle begins.
As Chapman notes, the most recent minimum occurred in March 2007. Sunspot activity should have increased shortly after that but sunspot activity has remained at a virtual standstill.
If you log on to www.spaceweather.com, you will see a current picture of the sun from the U.S. Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) with but a single tiny sunspot, dubbed number 992. The previous time a cycle was delayed like this, according to Chapman, was during what was called the Dalton Minimum, a particularly cold period that lasted several decades starting in 1790. "Northern winters became ferocious," he says.
The success of Napoleon's march was not in the stars, at least not in the one closest to the Earth.
This has been a winter of record cold and record snowfalls. The four major agencies tracking Earth's temperature, including NASA's Goddard Institute, report the earth cooled 0.7C in 2007, the fastest decline in the age of instrumentation, putting us back to where the Earth was in 1930.
It snowed in Baghdad for the first time in centuries, and Chapman says "the extent of Antarctic sea ice . . . was the greatest on record since James Cook discovered the place in 1770."
So far this year, SOHO has detected just three sunspots, including number 992, which appeared on Monday. One was found in January and lasted only two days. Another appeared earlier this month but vanished within 24 hours. There should be more, many more. At its peak, the sun should look like a teenager's face before the prom.
Kenneth Tapping, a solar researcher and project director for Canada's National Research Council, oversees the operation of a 60-year-old radio telescope that he calls a "stethoscope for the sun."
Tapping reports no change in the sun's magnetic field so far this cycle and warns that if the sun remains quiet for another year or two, it may indicate another repeat of that period of drastic cooling of the Earth, bringing massive snowfall and severe weather to the Northern Hemisphere.
Chapman says the temperate climate we now enjoy is the exception, not the rule. We are currently in an interglacial period, the Holocene. "Under normal conditions," he says, "most of North America and Europe (is) buried under about 1.5 kilometers of ice."
Prisoners of the Sun I.