The Sun normally follows an 11-year cycle of activity. The current cycle, Cycle 24, is now supposed to be ramping up towards maximum strength. Increased numbers of sunspots and other indications ought to be happening, but in fact results so far are most disappointing. Scientists now suspect, based on data showing decades-long trends leading to this point, that Cycle 25 may not happen at all. This could have major implications for the Earth's climate.
An immediate question is whether this slowdown presages a second Maunder Minimum, a 70-year period with virtually no sunspots [which occurred] during 1645-1715. Early records of sunspots indicate that the Sun went through a period of inactivity in the late 17th century. Very few sunspots were seen on the Sun from about 1645 to 1715. This period of solar inactivity also corresponds to a climatic period called the "Little Ice Age" when rivers that are normally ice-free froze and snow fields remained year-round at lower altitudes. There is evidence that the Sun has had similar periods of inactivity in the more distant past. "This is HIGHLY UNUSUAL AND UNEXPECTED. But the fact that three completely different views of the Sun point in the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation."
In parallel with this comes research from the US Air Force's studies of the solar corona. Research has found a 40-yeardecline in the "rush to the poles" - the poleward surge of magnetic activity in the corona. "Those wonderful, delicate coronal features are actually powerful, robust magnetic structures rooted in the interior of the Sun. Changes we see in the corona reflect changes deep inside the Sun...Cycle 24 started out late and slow and may not be strong enough to create a rush to the poles, indicating we'll see a very weak solar maximum in 2013, if at all. If the rush to the poles fails to complete, this creates a tremendous dilemma for the theorists ... No one knows what the Sun will do in that case."
The big consequences of a major solar calm spell, would be climatic. The next few generations of humanity might not find themselves trying to cope with global warming but rather with a significant cooling. This could overturn decades of received wisdom on such things as CO2 emissions, and lead to radical shifts in government policy worldwide.
LARGEST QUAKES -
This morning -
5.0 NEW BRITAIN REGION, P.N.G
6.5 NEW BRITAIN REGION, P.N.G
5.5 BONIN ISLANDS, JAPAN REGION
5.3 SOUTHERN IRAN 2011-06-15 06:31
Japan's mega-quake struck in small zone of fault. The deadly 9.0-magnitude quake that struck off northeastern Japan on March 11 ruptured a relatively small part of a notorious fault that straddles the Pacific seabed, Japanese scientists reported on Wednesday. The earthquake occurred in part of the so-called Japan Trench, where the Pacific plate dives beneath the Okhotsk plate on which the Japanese archipelago lies.
Modelling of the stresses and strains placed upon Honshu island as the fault was torn apart indicates the epicentre was about 200 kilometres (120 miles) east of Sendai, at the heart of an extraordinarily compact, lozenge-shaped area of ocean floor. Only a handful of earthquakes measuring 9.0 magnitude or more have ever been recorded, and they can rip open the sea floor over many hundreds of kilometres (miles). The biggest quake ever detected, a 9.5-magnitude event that occurred off southern Chile in 1960, ruptured the plate boundary for more than 1,000 kilometres (600 miles). The March 11 quake, though, points to a slippage zone that measures 400 kms (250 miles) by 200 kms (120 miles) wide.
But what it lacked in size it more than compensated in terms of movement, for the energy release occurred less than 20 kms (12 miles) below the ocean floor. The sea bottom at the epicentre shifted by an ASTONISHING 27 metres (88 feet), inflicting a water displacement which explains why the tsunami was so great. In the 15 years preceding the March 11 quake, the GeoNet system showed a slow buildup of strain across Honshu as the mighty Pacific plate squeezed and dragged on the island's eastern flank. Geological evidence from the distant past had suggested that the Japanese Trench was prone to massive, but very rare, tsunami-generating quakes. But with the possible exception of a quake in AD 869, there was no documented evidence to support this suspicion, and so the risk was downplayed or ignored, says the study.
New data indicates the epicentral slip on March 11 could be even more than 50 metres (165 feet). If so, that would make it THE BIGGEST SLIP EVER RECORDED.
NEW ZEALAND -- Christchurch stress as high as war zone. The strung-out residents of New Zealand's quake city have started to display signs of extreme stress usually only seen war zones as they recover from their third powerful earthquake, experts say. A double whammy of quakes measuring 5.7 and 6.3-magnitude hit Christchurch on Monday afternoon, leaving residents with the grim and all-to-familiar task of sweeping up silt and calling their insurance company. The physical toll was considerable. An elderly man died, 45 others were injured, a further 50 buildings collapsed and the number of homes to be abandoned has been pushed into the thousands. The financial toll is also steep, with risk analyst Eqecat estimating the latest disaster could add $NZ6.1 billion ($4.67 billion) to the region's insurance losses.
But it is the emotional toll that many are warning is of most concern. On the back of September's damaging 7.1-magnitude quake and February's devastating 6.3-magnitude jolt, which killed 181 people, Monday's violent tremors have left many people at the end of their tether. Support services across the South Island city say they have been overwhelmed with exhausted, anxious people struggling to cope. Canterbury Charity Hospital has been offering counselling for stressed residents since February and far from slowing, the numbers seeking help have been rising steadily. The constant aftershocks coupled with ongoing uncertainty over jobs and property, were having a devastating effect on mental health. Residents were exhibiting signs of extreme stress usually only seen in war zones.
"People who had never previously approached any psychological support services are finding themselves out of their depth and overwhelmed." Pharmacies have reported a rise in prescriptions for sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medications, while support services dealing with domestic violence have raised fears many people are self-medicating with alcohol. Violence in the city has sky-rocketed, along with a big jump in drug and alcohol abuse. Meanwhile, many Christchurch families are dealing with the ongoing uncertainty by leaving town. About 50,000 people have already left and a poll of 15,000 people indicated one in five wanted out.
But the vast majority of residents are emotionally and financially tied to the city and likely will not leave. "If you have got all of your money tied up in land, it's not that easy to up sticks and go."
TROPICAL STORMS -
No current tropical storms.
PHILIPPINES - Two potential cyclones merge off Mindanao. Two low-pressure areas (LPAs) that threatened to intensify into a tropical cyclone merged off Mindanao before noon today. Tthe merged LPA is likely to continue gathering strength as it is still at sea. Eastern Mindanao remains under threat of flash floods and landslides from the merged LPAs. The merger of two LPAs near to each other is common in the Philippine weather system. The LPA may become a cyclone by Friday or Saturday. If the LPA becomes a cyclone, it will be codenamed "Egay." Should the LPA become a cyclone, it will be the fifth in Philippine territory so far this year.
EXTREME HEAT & DROUGHT / WILDFIRES / CLIMATE CHANGE -
Sandstorms in Arkansas - Storms kick up ‘wall of sand’ in northeast Arkansas. Add sandstorms to the litany of severe weather events piling difficulties on Arkansas’ farmers this growing season. They were checking cotton fields on Tuesday to see the extent of sandblast and hail damage. “We had a heck of a Sunday and (Monday). Over the weekend, the northeastern part of the state was hit with a wall of sand with all these thunderstorms popping up.”
The National Weather Service at Little Rock reported a truck was blown over and trees and power lines were downed in Woodruff County on Monday. Hail ranging in size from 1.25 to 1.5 inches was reported in Stone and Baxter counties. “We had a crew scouting cotton diseases that had to take cover in farmers’ houses. It just surprised everybody.” In Mississippi County, Extension Staff surveyed a field of sandblasted cotton plants. The young plants were drooped and doubled back on themselves with withered leaves touching the ground. All around loose sand filled depressions in the rows like drifted snow. “If they’re bent over and black, they’re usually gone." Fortunately, the sandblast “damage appears to be isolated. However, that field in Mississippi County is an extreme case and will probably have to be plowed up.”
Monday’s storms also produced straight line wind damage in a corn verification field in Greene County. “We averaged around 65 mile per hour winds for 15 to 20 straight minutes. We estimate that 25 to 30 percent of the plants are destroyed in this field, either by blowing completely over, or green snapped” cleanly through the stalk. In Desha County, trees were down in Arkansas City, with some trees on houses. On top of the storm damage. RECORD HIGH TEMPERATURES were tied at North Little Rock at 97 degrees, and at Monticello, 99 degrees.