Archive for September, 2008

Is There Any Industry Making Use of the Greenhouse Effect?

2008/09/28 8 comments

Yes, it is a genuine question. And no, I do not want to hear about Al Gore / other politicians / greenies / lobbyists.

Is there any type of industry making use of the greenhouse effect? I understand that CO2 is added to actual greenhouses, but not because it is a GHG. Would be interesting to find out if such a world-changing phenomenon is or has been of practical use.


If Whitened Cities Will Cool The World…

2008/09/28 1 comment

…doesn’t that mean that greyed-out cities have warmed the very same world?

I was going to post something along those lines tonight but I just noticed JPL kind of beat me to it (via Watts Up With That?).

In fact: let’s assume Hashem Akbari is right, and “higher albedo surfaces (roofs and pavements) directly cool the globe” and we better get the UN “to install cool roof/pavement in 100 largest cities“.

But in the past 100 years or so we did cover vast areas of the planet with rather grey tarmac/asphalt, in the form for example of road networks and airports.

Those have obviously lowered the overall albedo, directly WARMING the globe. Isn’t that one additional little dent against the “It’s all fault of humanity’s CO2” obsession, or what?

ps just wait until somebody states that old people are more friendly to the environment, because a white hairdo has a very high albedo

Warm Weather Does Not Concern The UK Met Office

2008/09/24 1 comment

An entire article about the unfavourable effects of the weather on people’s health, and not a single mention of anything relating to warmer conditions…

Does anybody know why the BBC and the UK Met Office are unable to logically follow the above, and proclaim a very, very good side of the expected warming in the next years?

Whatever Happened to Andrew Revkin?

2008/09/23 2 comments

Still a tad too many “will” statements, but lots less of “could” and “would” than in the past

Andrew C. Revkin’s blog (and printed articles) sound definitely less biased nowadays.

Is this the start of a Revkin Cooling trend?

Best comment so far to his latest blog:

There is a message here for both sides of the global warming debate and especially the media. Stop tying every short term fluctuation, whether it be ice sheets, hurricane numbers, or the number of mosquitoes in Kathmandu to global warming or the lack thereof. It’s no wonder that a large body of the public remains skeptical about the global warming community’s projections of catastrophe 30 years from now.

— Jack

In the Arctic, Some Things Never Change

MH on the Climate Sceptics group has posted a link to the report of a 1922 expedition in the Svalbards reaching 81°29′ North.

It’s another example of what makes the recent kayaking expedition by Lewis Gordon Pugh a load of human waste.

First warming had been noted in 1918, apparently. {sarcasm}All due to that soot from First World War, no doubt{/sarcasm}

Interestingly, the report mentions newly-available resources to mine, and the disappearance of previously-abundant wildlife.

Some things really really never change…

Evidence of Climate Change in Northeastern Italy

2008/09/17 11 comments

What happens when somebody finally gets down to identify actual climatic patterns in a specific area, without the AGW/GHG credo?

This is what happens: Static and Dynamic Agroclimatology in the Veneto region – Analysis of the 1956-2004 period, PhD thesis by Alessandro Chiaudani

(Main text is in Italian, but there is a summary in English between pages 8 and 9, and most graphs should be self-explanatory).

In particular one of Chiaudani’s findings may sound truly ironic:

an important aspect of climate evolution is represented by abrupt changes with different phases separated by break-points

In other words, at regional level it is possible to identify…TIPPING POINTS…that make local climate switch from one “climatic homogeneous phase” and another.

Results show the existence of a climatic breakpoint in the ’80 with a consequent change of climatic phase. This change point is particularly evident for temperatures and evapotranspiration […] The evidence of a change of phase in the ’80 is strengthened by (i) analysis of phenological data regarding some Veneto crops (grapevine, maize and soft wheat) (ii) analysis of climatic data of other Italian regions (Emilia Romagna and Piemonte) (iii) climatic and phenological analyses referred to other European regions

So it is exactly by throwing out the fashionable all-encompassing fixation with CO2, and by looking for breakpoints in some measured climate-related variables, that Chiaudani is able to identify specific climatic changes, rather than the usual vague scenarios of increasing floods and drought episodes.


However, Chiaudani’s work is not compatible with the ever-increasing temperature trends that are part-and-parcel of the AGW crowd.

And whatever Hansens has to say about tipping points, the existence of one of them around 1980 cannot easily live together with the notion that we are slowly but steadily bringing the whole planet to ruin by emitting CO2, and a catastrophe is looming (Chiaudani finds some interesting correlation between the 1980’s climatic changes the winter-time NAO index, and the EAWR – East Atlantic West Russian index).

Hence, as supreme paradox, for once that there is evidence for climate change, do not expect it to be any popular among people that blame human activities for…climate change.

Royal Diminishing Society

2008/09/16 2 comments

A slightly off-topic post…

I am talking about the Royal Society, once based on nobody’s words, but where today keeping up the appearances is the only thing that matters.

They’ve just sacked somebody everybody agrees with, including…the Royal Society!

Trouble appears to have been, the RS fears some words could be “open to misinterpretation”. The shock! The horror!

The end result is that they’re diminished, in the words of Lord Robert Winston. This most curious story may be useful to understand recent RS attitudes about people doubting AGW…

ps just to be clear, I do not think creationism can be taken as a viable alternative to evolution, and I consider Intelligent Design as bordering on the blasphemous

IPCC Confirms Its Status as a Political Organization

2008/09/12 5 comments

Well, sort of…after all, they just had their “elections“. And the individual countries’ did push hard to get the best seats for next round of reporting:

Each round of the IPCC assessment process kicks off with an election, where national delegations vote for the panel’s chairman, the co-chairs of its three working groups —which respectively deal with climate science, impacts and adaptation, and mitigation — and an array of vice-chairs.

But after last year’s glory, this time countries eagerly sought seats on the prestigious panel. According to Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology in California and new co-chair of Working Group II, nations stake “a flag in the ground” when they commit a big-name expert — and corequisite staff and funding, in the case of wealthy nations — to support the panel.

If that’s not a series of political machinations, then what is? Like in politics, one doesn’t have to be competent to get the top jobs. In fact, there is now at least one Working Group chaired by two people that are officially not experts in the field:

Some were surprised, however, that Working Group II will be led by two physical scientists — Chris Field and Vicente Barros, a University of Buenos Aires hydrologist — rather than by a social scientist or economist. Field, known for his research on carbon cycles, “is very much a natural scientist,” says Colin Prentice, a geoscientist at the University of Bristol, UK. “It’s a big change for him.”

Working Group II’s remit is about “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability“.

The good thing is that whenever their fifth report comes out, I’ll be able to claim to know about the subject as much as the IPCC’s own Working Group Chairmen!

Greenpeace Trial: Why the UK Government Wanted to Lose

2008/09/12 1 comment

From Nature’s Climate Feedback: “Shock climate change verdict acquits Hansen’s heroes

Criminal damage in the name of climate change is not a criminal offence, according to a shock ruling from a British court…Eco-warriors’ UK paper of choice The Independent says the verdict “will have shocked ministers and energy companies”. In the Guardian, veteran environment correspondent Jon Videl says it will “embarrass the government and lead to more direct action protests against energy companies”.

From Greenpeace’s website (via Anthony Watt’s blog):

The Nasa scientist who first drew attention to global warming 20 years ago appeared in a British court yesterday as a key witness in support of climate change activists charged with damaging a power station…Yesterday, Prof Hansen…said Britain had a responsibility to take a lead on limiting climate change because it was responsible – owing to its long industrial past – for much of the CO2 already in the atmosphere. Phasing out coal-burning power stations was crucial in tackling global warming, he told the court. “Somebody needs to stand up and take a leadership role,” Prof Hansen said. […]

The so-called “Kingsnorth case” was a trial-by-jury. Given the verdict, it means that Hansen and the defence team in general have convinced the jury that it is a bad idea to build coal-based power stations: bad enough for a certain class of criminal damages to be considered necessary.

And why so bad? Because burning coal is linked to global warming and unimaginable future disasters.

The verdict also means that the prosecution was unable to convince the jury otherwise. But wait! What could have the prosecution done?

Could they have dared to demonstrate that burning coal is not linked to global warming?

Had that happened, the entire “Anthropogenic Global Warming is real” construct of successive UK Governments would have collapsed. No more Kyoto, no more dreams of “carbon taxes” and “carbon allowances”. Instead now, since the “phasing out” of “coal-burning power stations” has been shown as “crucial” in a court of law, either lights will starting going off in the Sceptred Isle _or_ nuclear power will be given a very high priority.

And so in hindsight one can rest assured that under no circumstance could the UK Government afford to win the “Kingsnorth case”. And as a matter of fact, it lost it. After all, this is a crucial year for the future of Britain’s power supply. Look at another note from the Greenpeace’s article:

Before travelling to Kent, Prof Hansen met the David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, who is thought to be unhappy about the plan for Kingsnorth, which is being promoted by John Hutton, the Business Secretary. Mr Brown will have the final say later this year.

Greenpeace 1 – Coal power 0? More like Miliband 1 – Hutton 0…

ps It was a silly trial anyway…couldn’t they leave the giant “Gordon” written on the chimneys? And what energy company sees £15,000 as more than a grain of dust?

AGWers Are Ogres

Are all the people shouting out the end of the world is nigh unless we stop emitting CO2, very simply just scaring the heck out of young children?

if you believe climate change is upon us, ready to destroy our civilization, are you basically like a monstrous ogre, a creature whose mere thought of may keep a child awake all night long?

Either that, or Allegra Goodman’s brief essay on “The stuff of nightmares for 21st century kids” (IHT, Sep 9) is a shameless and/or made-up plug for her upcoming novel.

Something Odd About Regional Arctic Sea Ice

There is something strange about the Arctic sea ice data posted at Cryosphere Today.

If I sum up each individual sea’s contribution (plots at the bottom of this post), the totals do no agree with the overall Northern Hemisphere values.

This is a list of anomaly and absolute values in millions sq km, region by region for Sep 10, 2007; March 01, 2008 and Sep 09, 2008:

(Approximated values obtained with Plot Digitizer. I have asked Chapman for the actual figures…if I get them, I’ll change the post accordingly)

Region,Anomaly Sep 07,Anomaly Mar 08,Anomaly Sep 08,Absolute Sep 07,Absolute Mar 08,Absolute Sep 08,Mean Sep 07,Mean Mar 08,Mean Sep 08
Arctic Basin,-0.97,0.07,-0.75,2.37,4.2,2.59,3.34,4.13,3.34
Hudson Bay,-0.02,-0.05,-0.02,0,1.22,0,0.02,1.27,0.02
St Lawrence,0,0,0,0,0.19,0,0,0.19,0
East Siberian,-0.31,0.01,-0.31,0.01,0.9,0.01,0.32,0.89,0.32
Canadian Archipelago,-0.13,0,-0.1,0.11,0.6,0.14,0.24,0.6,0.24

Northern Hemisphere,-2.05,-0.48,-1.92,2.94,13.85,3.17,4.99,14.33,5.09


(The “Mean” columns reconstruct the 1979-2000 mean by subtracting the anomaly from the absolute measured ice cover)

You can see that my digitization appears to consistently underestimate the anomalies, and overestimate the absolute measured ice cover. The result is that there is for example a huge 720,000sq km difference between the total of all 1979-2000 March means, and the value reported for the Northern Hemisphere on Cryosphere Today.

It would be nice to know if anybody else has attempted this, and/or has the actual values rather than the graphs.

NOTE ADDED 11 SEP: Unfortunately the graphs below do not use the same scale, so visual inspection can be misleading

With Millions Under Climate Threat, Gayoom (and Oxfam) Are Unethical

2008/09/10 5 comments

Today’s IHT sported what may be the most absurd climate-related speech by a politician. In a sentence, we are lectured on human rights by somebody that has been President of his country since November 1978.

That’s not all:

  • President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is officially the Dictator of the Maldives
  • He has been re-elected since 1978 five times, every time by 90%+ of the votes (as sole candidate for the job)
  • He is Head of Government, Head of State, Commander-in-Chief (well, George W Bush is that too) but has also been for a very long time Defence Minister and Finance Minister before being ridiculed about it
  • having been forced towards democratic reforms, President Gayoom is working hard to get himself re-elected under a Presidential system (for a change)
  • as recently as 2003, he was still imposing “severe restrictions on freedom of the press, and political parties were unable to function.” according to Amnesty International
  • as recently as August 13, 2004, responded to popular protests by declaring a State of Emergency, sending the police to rough up unarmed civilians, and arrested parliamentarians and members of the opposition
  • despite all his earlier promises, President Gayoom has just rescheduled to an unspecified date the first multi-party Presidential elections expected for 10 October

Wouldn’t the above recommend to thread carefully on the subject of human rights, if only to avoid the risk of being called a hypocrite, coming out in the open so clearly picking up only the “human rights” of one’s convenience?

Of course not.

See “With millions under threat, inaction is unethical” by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

And that’s still not all: apparently, President Gayoom has teamed up with Oxfam, and he specifically mentions the upcoming “Climate Wrongs and Human Rights” Oxfam report. Too bad that report contains a lie.

Oh well…what’s a little untruth when there is a chance to prop up a ruler of three decades, by lucky chance exactly during his election campaign?

Oxfam should be more than ashamed by this.

Oxfam’s Climate Lie

2008/09/10 4 comments

As a student of international law, and a longtime supporter of human rights everywhere, I can only condemn the cavalier use of facts and truth by Oxfam in its pursuit of an AGW-based agenda.

From Oxfam’s “Climate Wrongs and Human Rights: Putting people at the heart of climate-change policy“:

In the opening remarks, the present tense:

In failing to tackle climate change with urgency, rich countries are effectively violating the human rights of millions of the world’s poorest people. Continued excessive greenhouse-gas emissions primarily from industrialised nations are – with scientific certainty – creating floods, droughts, hurricanes, sea-level rise, and seasonal unpredictability. The result is failed harvests, disappearing islands, destroyed homes, water scarcity, and deepening health crises, which are undermining millions of peoples’ rights to life, security, food, water, health, shelter, and culture

In Chapter 1, “How climate change undermines human rights“, the future tense.

Look for example at table 2 “Current and projected impacts of climate change upon human rights“.

I simply cannot find any “current impact” listed in there. Since Oxfam can only talk about “future impacts“, there is no climate-related violation of human rights at present.

The statement in the opening remarks is wrong. In fact, it’s a lie.

I have done a fair bit of work with Amnesty International in the past, and I do remember how important it was (and still is) to stick to facts and ascertained truths, as every lie and every fantasy, even if based on good intent, would inevitably bite back, discrediting the organization and its causes.

And so: if Oxfam is truly worried about future impacts on human rights, it should talk about future impacts on human rights. The fact that it feels compelled to masquerade them instead as present impacts shows that Oxfam doesn’t have a strong enough case to present.

Kayaking at 83N, in 1895

2008/09/09 1 comment

More evidence that the so-called Polar Defense Project has likely been more a publicity stunt than a serious attempt at showing the retreat of Arctic sea ice: contrarily to Lewis Pugh’s claim of having gone “further north than anyone has ever kayaked before“, reports of people paddling northwards of Pugh’s 2008 maximum (80° 31′ 26″ N, or more likely 80° 14′ 56″ N) can be as old as 1895.

That’s the year when famous Norse explorer Fridtjof Nansen reached Franz Josef Land going south, after going nearer to the North Pole than anyone before, travelling with Hjalmar Johansen:

The two men started out on March 14, 1895 with three sleds, two kayaks and a bunch of dogs. They reached 86° 14´ N one month later and then turned back, expecting to find land at 83°N. No such luck though, and that’s when the kayaks came handy for it took open water crossings until July 24, when they finally found [Franz Josef Land]

There are even reports of Nansen swimming to get his kayak back…and that would be another non-first in Lewis Pugh’s career.

And why no mention of Lonnie Dupre and Eric pulling and paddling “modified canoes” all the way to the North Pole in July 2006?

In truth, there are companies offering regular kayaking trips to the North of Pugh’s 2008 “achievement”: for example TraveLearn’s “Arctic Adventures” where tourists are brought to Phipps Island, 80° 42´ N .

For as little as $4,600, Lewis Pugh can better his “achievement” next year.

The Only Good Climate Geoengineering Project

2008/09/09 2 comments

…is the one killed on sight!

No, seriously, it is quite fun to watch the increasing efforts in dreaming up one way or another to cool down the planet before it actually become warm enough to cause any concern. I sure everybody in that field good luck, and who knows if anything useful will come out of sheer serendipity.

There is one single point though that I find it impossible to do without. We do know almost nothing about our planet, its atmosphere and its climate, There must therefore be a basic rule for all geoengineering implementations: allow only those that can be turned on and off wholly, and at will.

That is, they must be REVERSIBLE.

If it’s planetary control that we want, we must be in absolute control of it. So no release of stuff in the atmosphere or oceans if we do not have a way to remove all that same stuff, whenever we want to, for example in the case that something goes bad (almost an absolute certainty, especially during the first attempts).

It would be extremely silly to repeat with the atmosphere or the oceans the mistakes of the past, like those that made rabbits and cane toads enter Australia and become incontrollable pests.

So from the list of climate-related geoengineering projects just published by The Economist, these are the verdicts:

  • Fertilize the ocean with iron: NO
  • Plant genetically-modified fast-growing trees: YES, if for example a gene is added to kill them all if need be
  • Reacting CO2 with hydrogen – YES
  • Magnetically eject CO2 into outer space – YES
  • Polluting the stratosphere – NO
  • Polluting the upper troposphere – NO
  • Spraying clouds with seawater – YES, just for the fun of it. Who knows, perhaps we will finally learn how clouds form

Notably, the article does mention the issue of how to justify intervention (potentially bad for Canada and Russia) or nonintervention (potentially bad for Panama, if the Northwest Passage becomes commercially viable). But then it proceeds to praise climate geoengineering as a

big experiment, but it would at least be a planned one—unlike the equally big, but unplanned experiment that is now being conducted by motor cars, power stations, cement factories and logging companies all across the planet

There is a logical fallacy at work there. In fact, intervention cannot have the same moral weight as nonintervention: with the former, whoever does it is taking upon themselves the responsibility for the change. But we can dwell into those matters at a different time…

Psychosociological Reasons for AGW Belief

2008/09/08 2 comments

From the BBC, no less, in an article explaining the popularity of catastrophisms of all kind:

[…] cultural historian Paul S Boyer, author of When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture [says]: “It is deeply appealing at a psychological level because the idea of meaninglessness is deeply threatening. Human societies have always tried to create some kind of framework of meaning to give history and our own personal lives some kind of significance.” […]

thinking about the ways the world might end, or the timing, may be fulfilling a basic human need.  “It comes down to an issue of power,” says Michael Molcher, editor of the magazine The End is Nigh. “What you get during times of particular discontent or war or famine or during general bad times is a rise in apocalyptic preaching and ideas. It is a way for people to control the way their world works. The one thing we can never predict is the time and manner of our own deaths.

Cue ominously dangerous ideas of geoengineering

Simple Climate Questions? An Engineer Replies

2008/09/08 1 comment

(my answer to “Simple Question, Simple Answer… Not“, guest commentary by Spencer R. Weart, of the American Institute of Physics on RealClimate)

Would it be possible to have an actual senior engineer present their (presumably, mainstream) views of anthropogenic climate change and of the use of models?

As a (senior? and scientifically trained) engineer myself, I can guess what Mr Weart is aiming at, but he’s still using a language that brings down no barrier. For example, a statement such as

“Gilbert N. Plass used the data and computers to demonstrate that adding carbon dioxide to a column of air would raise the surface temperature”

will and does definitely make people suspicious.

You see, I have seen dozens, and I am sure there are out there hundreds of thousands of designs that have been “demonstrated” in a computer only to fail miserably when put into practice.

In fact, one point that I don’t think Mr Weart realizes (and likely, it’s all part of the miscommunication) is that it’s the engineers that have to deal with the actual world out there, and all its complexity, starting from but having to go beyond what calculations (formulae and/or models) suggest.

It really is the job of engineers to understand the complexity of the real world, and to make things work within that complexity.

There is little point in arguing to your manager that, say, in the computer your revolutionary design of a car needs only 2 gallons per 100 miles, when the actual thing is measured as drinking much more than that.

The one rule common to all engineered system is, the more stuff you put in, the higher the chances that something will go wrong. In Mr Weart’s case: the more factors need to be made to interact using models and supercomputers to calculate “global warming”, the higher the chance that the computed answer won’t be the right one.

Therefore, rather than accusing engineers of looking for simple answers (likely, misunderstanding them), Mr Weart should try to bridge the gap.

An example of another scientific endeavor, apart from climate change, where extremely complex, just-made modelling has been successfully applied as-is into an engineering project, would definitely be a good starting point.

Polar Kayaker Lewis Pugh Could Have Gone Further…in 1979!

2008/09/07 6 comments

What’s worse than a gimmick?

A trip to the Cryosphere Today’s archive can reveal evidence that Lewis Gordon Pugh’s “achievement” of having “kayaked to within 1,000 km (620 miles) of the North Pole to highlight a rapid shrinking of Arctic ice” has really been no achievement at all.

In fact, had he tried the same in 1979, he may have actually gone a little further.

Sea Ice 2008 09 06

Sea Ice 2008 09 06

Sea Ice 1979 09 05

Sea Ice 1979 09 05

The following is an animated comparison of the sea ice status around the Svalbard. Remember: the one with MORE ice around those islands is the image from 2008, not 1979.

1979 09 05 Svalbard

1979 09 05 Svalbard

2008 09 06 Svalbard

2008 09 06 Svalbard

I chose 1979 because of course it is the first year of complete satellite observations of polar sea ice extension, and by luckly chance the year when the aforementioned extension was the largest ever recorded (by satellite).

There’s more than could be said about the differences between September 1979 and September 2008 (a large part of the sea ice loss appears to concern Northeastern Siberia, i.e. the East Siberian Sea). For now one can only guess why the Polar Defense Project chose to kayak in the Greenland Sea, where the anomaly in September 2008 from the 1979-2000 mean is close to zero (as evident in the animated picture above).

One wonders if Mr Pugh had any intention to reach the North Pole…otherwise, the judgement of whoever helped him plan his trip, must be seriously questioned. There was and still there is simply no indication whatsoever that a Svalbard-North Pole passage will open this decade or next.

Polar Kayaking Gimmick a Hope for the Future

2008/09/05 4 comments

I am starting to think it’s great news when gimmicks like the kayaking attempt to the North Pole are organized and publicized…being so pointless and empty, their chances of actually do any harm to the real world is close to zero.

Don’t they realize, can’t they realize, that setting up flags on an ice floe is no more “polar defense” than flying Tibetan flag is “actually helping the Dalai Lama and his people”?

Whoever does “raise awareness”, they surely feel much better afterwards. In their utter futility, they dream of the “symbolism”, don’t they.

Still, Tibet remains in its troubles, just like the the North Pole will. Whatever those troubles truly are.


Let’s see what they claim on their website, having decided to turn back in front of an impassable “wall of ice” around 81N:

  1. Lewis Gordon Pugh is so proud” of “the team because they achieved the incredible feat of spending the whole day erecting 192 flags
  2. They went “further north than anyone has ever kayaked before” (next year I’ll rent a nuclear submarine and bring a surfing board to the North Pole)
  3. The way the team has pulled together (and this despite the individual team members not knowing each other at all prior to the trip)” (who is he kidding? hundreds of expeditions do that every year, and nobody has ever thought it could be an achievement more than being capable of eating one’s food is)
  4. Press coverage (well, not a lot in this Google search. And not a lot in this other Google search here either)
  5. er..
  6. that’s it

After all, if blog entries are as important as the case of the missing flag, what should one expect? Compare that to the original aim:

Adventurer Lewis Gordon Pugh plans to become the first person to kayak to the North Pole. His journey will show how cracks in the ice have made it possible to travel through what used to be permafrost.

(and they call it permafrost!)

And yes, Lewis Gordon Pugh himself does state in an earlier video that it would be “a failure” not to be able to reach the North Pole at all (link to that video, halfway through this page).


Should I admire those people for their “incredible efforts“? Not at all.

Had they paddled up by themselves, I surely would have. But all it has turned into was a very expensive way to move people up to 81N with a great boat to comfortably live in and no destination whatsoever.

With minimal danger, the Polar Defense Project is no Himalayan mountaineering on the K2. Worse, it pretends to be world-changing.


The above of course reminds me of the E-day fudge (or fraud).

And so it offers even more hope: if AGWers can’t see their mistakes, they won’t be learning from them.

Moving onwards to next gimmick!

Solar Images Archive and the Identification of Sunspots

2008/09/04 4 comments
2008 08 22 K

A sunspot, or not a sunspot?

2nd UPDATE Sep 5 – Image issues fixed. Or so I believe…

1st UPDATE Sep 5 – There are issues with the OAR server and some images are not showing properly. I will try again to source those images, or switch to MLSO’s.

Who would have thought that counting sunspots were such an opinion-based activity, near a minimum in solar activity?

After the back-and-forth revelations about August 2008 being spotless for the whole of humanity apart from one observer in Catania, Italy, whose keen eye has made both SIDC and NOAA change their mind, a friend pointed me in the direction of two web-based PSPT Solar Images Archives, one from 1996, beyond the usual SOHO stuff.

And an analysis of those archives reveals not only how different can the Sun appear at different wavelengths (a trivial concept, after all) but also how what looks like a sunspot in one image may be pretty much invisible in another.

But if some sunspots appear to be much easier to identify if the “correct” filters are used during observation, wouldn’t a more precise definition of “sunspot” be needed? For example “it appears in at least 3 filters” or “it can be seen in the SOHO MDI channel” or whatever else.

Otherwise when the Sun will wake up later this year or next, the count of sunspots is going to be truly enormous, and comparisons with the past impossible.


What is the PSPT?

The Precision Solar Photometric Telescope (PSPT) [by the National Science Foundation (NSF)] produces seeing-limited full-disk digital (2048×2048) images in the blue continuum (409.4nm, FWHM 0.3nm), red continuum (607.1nm, FWHM 0.5nm), CaII K (393.4nm, FWHM 0.3nm) […] with an unprecedented 0.1% pixel-to-pixel relative photometric precision. […]
The National Solar Observatory (NSO) designed and built three PSPT units, a prototype which is currently in operation at the Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma (OAR), and two primaries for installation at NSO Sac Peak and Mauna Loa Solar Observatory (MLSO).

OAR provides “full disc images of the Sun from 1996” to today. The corresponding MLSO query page is hosted by the University of Colorado and starts in 2005.


A few words on the available filters:

1. K (393.3nm)

Light at this wavelength is extremely faint but when the brilliant photospheric emissions are filtered out, the Ca II K line provides important information on the large-scale magnetic field structure in the chromosphere.

Because the blue Calcium K Line (393.3 nm) is sensitive to magnetic fields, magnetically active structures show up in high contrast against the surrounding chromosphere. Places where moderate magnetic fields exist show up bright whereas images of high magnetic fields are dark.

2. B (409.4nm “blue continuum”)
3. R (607.2nm “red continuum”)

The difference between those images can be used to identify sunspots.

4. C (430.6nm, the so-called G-band)

Many observations in the G-band are done in order to investigate the photospheric bright points and the connected magnetic elements, making use of the increased contrast of these structures

In the G-band the photospheric faculae show high contrast even near the solar disk center

5. G (535.7nm)

Used because free of Fraunhofer lines, this filter sits at the top of solar irradiance. It is the band used for measurements of the Sun’s diameter from the ground



Let’s look now at the Aug 21-22 situation, when the only activity of the month has been reported. Well, there is something going on, but it’s only apparent in the K filter.

Remember, the K filter takes very faint light. Humans looking in the normal visible bands (B, R and most of all G) cannot see anything at all.

2008 08 21 K

2008 08 21 K

2008 08 22 K

2008 08 22 K

2008 08 21 B

2008 08 21 B

2008 08 22 B

2008 08 22 B

2008 08 21 R

2008 08 21 R

2008 08 22 C

2008 08 22 C

2008 08 21 C

2008 08 21 C

2008 08 21 G

2008 08 21 G

2008 08 22 G

2008 08 22 G


Following are the pictures from June 20, when last numbered spot #1000 has been seen or maybe not.

Now there is something to look at in the B, R and G filters, but once again it’s only K that reveals the thing whole.

2008 06 20 K

2008 06 20 K

2008 06 20 B

2008 06 20 B

2008 06 20 R

2008 06 20 R

2008 06 20 C

2008 06 20 C

2008 06 20 G

2008 06 20 G


As a way of comparison, look at the pictures from Jul 14, 2005, when sunspots were aplenty, in all filters.

2005 07 14 K

2005 07 14 K

2005 07 14 B

2005 07 14 B

2005 07 14 R

2005 07 14 R

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