Digital Diatribes

A presentation of data on climate and other stuff

Sunspot Update – February 2009

Posted by The Diatribe Guy on February 9, 2009

sun02092 The picture at the left is the now familiar sight of a blank sun, as seen on February 9, 2009. This continues to be a remarkably interesting time.

UPDATE:I would like to point out a comment (#4) by Tad Cook below. I am indebted to his helpful explanation on the nature of the determination of sunspot counts by month in the NOAA data set. With his explanation, take my presentation below in the spirit of a presentation of the data from a table where the last six months are preliminary estimates. In the future, when referencing that data, I will try and be sure to acknowledge that. Mr. Cook has, apparently, been digging into the daily sunspot numbers and believes that the actual January number will be around 3.2 when the final numbers are determined.

What I find interesting is that we hear all sorts of different opinions as to what, if anything, this all means to us. I find the sunspot cycles fascinating from a cycles/data perspective. I have done some correlation analysis that seems to imply that the length of the cycle matters. However, there are limitations to that analysis because it does not remove the effects of other major variables, so until I do a more thorough job on that it is simply a curiosity. There is this paper that implies the same thing, though, in stating that length of the cycle is inversely related to temperature. I have shown the collapsed charts that consider both magnitude and length in recent decades. I have summarized two papers by John A. Eddy here and here that seems to make the case for solar minimums driving temperature downward. Overall, the Landscheidt papers certainly focus on correlations of solar and planetary activity in conjunction with climate. Some feel that focusing on cyclical movements of planets and the sun becomes too astrological. I disagree with that assessment, but the criticism is out there.

But those aren’t the only opinions. If you frequent Watts Up With That? you will be familiar with a frequent commenter/contributor by the name of Leif Svalgaard. Leif, as far as I can tell, is a reasonable fellow who is interested in the science of the sun, and not particularly concerned with advancing one agenda over another. I have seen him equally berate the way NOAA uses the information as well as those who he feels makes equally inastute predictions/observations of the meaning of what the sun is currently doing. He has extensive work here which I admit to not spending as much time on as I’d like. I have, however, kept an eye on many interesting charts he has put together in this source. I mention Leif as an example of someone who I think has the right attitude and motivations regarding the science, but who does not embrace the correlation between sunspot cycles and climate like many others do. Agree or disagree with him, I don’t see any agenda with his opinion. He has scientific bases for having reached that conclusion. He is also not a fan of many of Landscheidt’s methods.

So, basically, we don’t know a whole lot. We have correlations of past events, and different and improving instruments to assess all aspects of the sun. But we don’t necessarily know a lot.

What we do have, nonetheless, is sunspot data. And whether you think the sun tells us little aboout climate or whether you think we’re heading into another ice age, the data is fascinating.

The January sunspot number was another extremely low value (1.5). Once again, this drove down the averages we see. It also lengthened the current cycle (as measured from 12-month average minimum value to 12-month average minimum) to 148 months. It was already longer than the previous 13 cycles, and this status continues. If this cycle lengthens by 2 more months (which is possible – February 2008 was pretty low [2.1] but March 2008 had a count of 9.3), it will become longer than the previous 17 cycles, and we will only know about 2 other cycles that were longer.

As for observed averages, the 12-month, 24-month, and 36-month average sunspot numbers are all the lowest values since 1914, 1914, and 1915 respectively. The 48, 60, 72, and 84 month averages are lowest since 1935, 1936, 1936, and 1937 respectively. The 96, 108, and 120 month averages are the lowest since 1979, and the 132 and 144 month averages are the lowest since 1946.

For those who prefer charts, here are a few:








12 Responses to “Sunspot Update – February 2009”

  1. Tad Cook said

    Regarding this:

    “The January sunspot number was another extremely low value (1.5). Once again, this drove down the averages we see”.

    While sunspot numbers have been low, it hasn’t been quite that low. In fact, the average daily sunspot number for January 2009 was over twice that value.

    If you add together all the daily sunspot numbers for January, the sum equals 98. Divide that by 31 days for the month, and the resulting average is about 3.2.

    Otherwise, interesting article.

  2. Fran Manns, Ph.D., P.Geo. (Ontario) said

    Keeping in mind that windmills are hazardous to birds, be wary of the unintended consequences of believing and contributing to the all-knowing environmental lobby groups.
    Climate and economy are being linked. Yes there has been warming since the Pleistocene. Climate is a multiple input, multiple loop, multiple output, complex system. The facts and the hypotheses do not support CO2 as a serious ‘pollutant’. In fact it is plant fertilizer and seriously important to all life on the planet. It is the red herring used by the left to unwind our economy. That issue makes the science relevant.
    Water vapour (0.4% overall by volume in air, but 1 – 4 % near the surface) is the most effective green house gas followed by methane (0.0001745%). The third ranking greenhouse gas is CO2 (0.0383%), and it does not correlate well with global warming or cooling either; in fact, CO2 in the atmosphere trails warming which is clear natural evidence for its well-studied inverse solubility in water: CO2 dissolves in cold water and bubbles out of warm water. The equilibrium in seawater is very high; making seawater a great ‘sink’; CO2 is 34 times more soluble in water than air is soluble in water.
    CO2 has been rising and Earth has been warming. However, the correlation trails. Correlation, moreover, is not causation. The causation is being studied, however, and while the radiation from the sun varies only in the fourth decimal place, the magnetism is awesome.
    “Using a box of air in a Copenhagen lab, physicists traced the growth of clusters of molecules of the kind that build cloud condensation nuclei. These are specks of sulphuric acid on which cloud droplets form. High-energy particles driven through the laboratory ceiling by exploded stars far away in the Galaxy – the cosmic rays – liberate electrons in the air, which help the molecular clusters to form much faster than climate scientists have modeled in the atmosphere. That may explain the link between cosmic rays, cloudiness and climate change.”
    As I understand it, the hypothesis of the Danish National Space Center goes as follows:
    Quiet sun → reduced magnetic and thermal flux = reduced solar wind → geomagnetic shield drops → galactic cosmic ray flux → more low-level clouds and more snow → more albedo effect (more heat reflected) → colder climate
    Active sun → enhanced magnetic and thermal flux = solar wind → geomagnetic shield response → less low-level clouds → less albedo (less heat reflected) → warmer climate
    That is how the bulk of climate change might work, coupled with (modulated by) sunspot peak frequency there are cycles of global warming and cooling like waves in the ocean. When the waves are closely spaced, the planets warm; when the waves are spaced farther apart, the planets cool.
    The ultimate cause of the solar magnetic cycle may be cyclicity in the Sun-Jupiter centre of gravity. We await more on that.
    Although the post 60s warming period appears to be over, it has allowed the principal green house gas, water vapour, to kick in with more humidity, clouds, rain and snow depending on where you live to provide the negative feedback that scientists use to explain the existence of complex life on Earth for 550 million years. Ancient sedimentary rocks and paleontological evidence indicate the planet has had abundant liquid water over the entire span. The planet heats and cools naturally and our gasses are the thermostat.
    Check the web site of the Danish National Space Center.

  3. The Diatribe Guy said

    #1: There are different sources that show different numbers. My source is the NOAA data set, which I have a link to on the right. It shows 1.5 for January.

    I’m not here to argue the merits of NOAA, just wanted to let you know where the number’s coming from.

  4. Tad Cook said


    Thank you very much for providing the link to monthly mean sunspot numbers from NOAA:

    Unfortunately, this is not giving you the average of the daily sunspot number for any month. Confusing to laymen (I am also a layman!) and NOAA doesn’t seem to define what these numbers actually are.

    This is actually a smoothed data set. The way it is calculated is a bit arcane, even more so than the method used to calculate the daily sunspot number from observation.

    This describes how the smoothing is done:

    “The R12 index is a twelve-month smoothed relative sunspot number. To calculate the R12 index for July 1980 add half of the Jan 1980 value plus the sum of the Feb through Dec 1980 values plus half of the Jan 1981 value and by divide the sum twelve:


    (where n1 = Jan 1980, n7 = July 1980 and n13 = Jan 1981)”

    That is from

    But even this explanation is deficient. They are working with monthly numeric averages of daily sunspot numbers, which is what I described in my first post. Add together all the daily sunspot numbers for any month, then divide the sum by the number of days in that month. This is the number they use when they say “sum of the Feb through Dec 1980 values”.

    The tricky part is, they use data for 13 months, such that they take the average of the first month in the set, divide by 2, and also the last month in the set, divided by two, and add that in to the sum of the 11 months in between, before dividing by 12. This gives you the smoothed number for the MIDDLE month in the data set.

    Clear as mud? 😉 The method for calculating the smoothed number was developed a very long time ago, I think in the 19th century. To be consistent, the same method is used today.

    You can see from this method that the latest smoothed sunspot number could only be for July 2008, which is why at the bottom of it says “Note: Data are preliminary after Jun 08″.

    By the way, this shows that the table data has not been updated with sunspot numbers through the end of January 2009, because if it was, the note would say that data are preliminary after Jul 08”.

    So what do the numbers mean after July (or in this case, June) 2008?

    They are based on guesswork. And the later they are, the less accurate they are.

    The reason they state the data is preliminary is that they need 13 months of actual data to calculate the smoothed number. The following month would require data from February 2008 through February 2009, and this month isn’t over yet.

    So what is the LEAST accurate figure in this table? January 2009, because half of the data is from predictions, and half is actual data. Before we know for sure the smoothed sunspot number for January 2009 we need to use all the monthly averages from June 2008 through June 2009. The smoothed montly data gets increasingly inaccurate the later it is. August 2008 has only 1 month of projected data, Septemer 2 months, and so on.

    SO, when you said “The January sunspot number was another extremely low value (1.5). Once again, this drove down the averages we see. It also lengthened the current cycle (as measured from 12-month average minimum value to 12-month average minimum) to 148 months”, I had to check my data, because I knew the actualy sunspot number (averaged) for the month was higher.

    Here is the data I worked with, from NOAA, and verified against NASA numbers at

    01/09/2009 14 69.7
    01/10/2009 17 70.9
    01/11/2009 20 70.0
    01/12/2009 12 69.3
    01/13/2009 11 70.5
    01/14/2009 0 71.2
    01/15/2009 0 71.1
    01/16/2009 0 70.8
    01/17/2009 0 71.9
    01/18/2009 0 71.1
    01/19/2009 13 70.8
    01/20/2009 0 70.4
    01/21/2009 0 69.4
    01/22/2009 0 69.0
    01/23/3009 0 70.0
    01/24/2009 0 68.8
    01/25/2009 0 69.8
    01/26/2009 0 69.9
    01/27/2009 11 69.7

    The numbers in the right column are the daily noon 10.7 cm solar flux, measured at the Penticton observatory in British Columbia.

    I don’t show data after January 27 or prior to January 9 because there were no sunspots on any of those days.

    Sum together all those numbers, divide by January’s 31 days, and you get the monthly average, which is approximately 3.16129, which is why I said 3.2.

    When you say that this January number lengthens the present cycle to 148 months, we will only know if this is true after sunspots increase.

    Now I have my OWN smoothed numbers, based on 3 months of KNOWN data (so December 2008 is the latest known month), and I show that we may have hit minimum back in August 2008. That method certainly isn’t official but I like it because it is smooth, but much more responsive to change then the 13 month method.

    But even though the number of cycle 23 spots (based on magnetic signature) is far outnumbered by the number of cycle 24 spots, we won’t know when the actual minimum occured for sure until a couple of years after the minimum. The smoothed data is what produces those nice looking 11 year cycles you’ve seen.

    By the way, the cycle end is not defined by the minimum between cycles. The two cycles actually overlap, with increasing numbers of new-cycle spots overlapping a declining number of old cycle spots.

  5. The Diatribe Guy said

    #4: Thanks a lot, Tad. Very interesting and thorough. This does help me understand teh data I am looking at a lot better. I was aware of the monthly convention that you state with regard to the calculation of the monthly average, but was unaware of the 13-month smoothing process. In the future I will need to clarify the preliminary aspect of the data when using the NOAA data set.

    And yes, I am aware that my definition of cycle length is not the official determination of it. I expressed it in this way for strict calculation purposes, since I can go back and calculate a 12-month average quite easily. I am not necessarily concerned that my calculated minimum lines up exactly with the defined minimum. Simply as a point of interest, I am measuring the number of months from the minimum 12-month average to the next minumum 12-month average. I tried to be clear in my previous posts about that differentiation, but didn’t really address it in this post.

    I find your comment to be a very valuable addition to the thread. It has helped me better understand the mechanics of the calculation. Thanks for sharing it. It also brings to light a comment someone made some time ago about needing to do a 13-month average in Excel on sunspot data. I never understood that, but in light of your comment I now understand what they were talking about.

  6. John A. Jauregui said

    Nothing has done more to “GREEN” the planet over the last century than elevated levels of CO2 (regardless of the source), together with moderate sun-driven warming. Numerous government and academic studies show clearly that doubling CO2 levels increases plant growth by 33 percent, on average. It is no accident that commercial green houses spend significant sums on CO2 generators to drive up growth environment CO2 levels toward the 1000 PPI optimum to increase plant production. Farmers, ranchers, foresters and, in fact, every living thing has benefitted from this rare natural gift of warming together with CO2 enriched atmosphere. The real question in all of this is why have world governments, with the help of academia and the media, worked so hard to convince people that warming is bad and that they, the people, are personally response for it? If you want to make a difference in this world focus on and address this last great question.

  7. Andrew Chantrill said

    Excellent thread, very interesting.

    I too have tried plotting sunspot numbers, spotless days etc, but am somewhat thwarted by the fact all data sets I have found show only the total (or average) number of sunspots per day (or per month); they do not distinguish if they are from cycle 23 or 24, even though that should be possible to identify.

    Anyone help?

  8. The Diatribe Guy said

    I didn’t download this, but it looked promising:

    Here’s a nice butterfly chart that I think provides that indication:

    Looks like you might be able to really dig into the the sunspot by area here:

  9. Andrew Chantrill said

    Thanks for the info. I have downloaded all three. The butterfly plot is attractive but doesn’t contain the data I need. The other two may contain the data, but it’s certainly not obvious to me to which cycle the spots belong…

    I’ll take another look when I have some more time.

    Thanks once again!

    A 🙂

  10. Ian Cooper said

    To Andrew Chantrill,

    I decided recently to try and keep up with the tally of spotless days myself by plotting them onto a simple Excel spread sheet. I used the daily info from I started with 2006 at first, but from other sources I extended this back to the first month that had a spotless day, i.e. January 2004.

    The total for each month is tabled in the far right column, then the total for each year follows the December total. A running total is at the bottom of the page. As each day goes by I just ammend the monthly total which automatically adjusts the annual, and over all totals.

    I too was interested in which cycle the spots belonged to, so I colour coded each cycle for easy visual recognition. So far as I can tell the only day that we have had spots from both cycles at once was when the first SSC 24 spot emerged on Jan 4th, 2008.

    As you scroll down the page you can get a feel for any patterns that maybe emerging. Note that this is just to show spotless days, rather than sun spot numbers. If anyone is interested in seeing this spreadsheet then contact me at

    Feel free to suggest or implement improvements as you see fit.



  11. […] warming is natural, not anthropogenic.  Hmm, perhaps it’s the sun, stupid.  More […]

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