34th Solar Physics Division Meeting, June 2003
Session 6 Solar Wind and Heliosphere
Poster, Monday, June 16, 2003, 3:30-5:00pm, Mezzanine

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[6.03] Solar Activity Heading for a Maunder Minimum?

K. H. Schatten (ai-solutions), W. K. Tobiska (Space Environment Technologies/SpaceWx)

Long-range (few years to decades) solar activity prediction techniques vary greatly in their methods. They range from examining planetary orbits, to spectral analyses (e.g. Fourier, wavelet and spectral analyses), to artificial intelligence methods, to simply using general statistical techniques. Rather than concentrate on statistical/mathematical/numerical methods, we discuss a class of methods which appears to have a “physical basis.” Not only does it have a physical basis, but this basis is rooted in both “basic” physics (dynamo theory), but also solar physics (Babcock dynamo theory). The class we discuss is referred to as “precursor methods,” originally developed by Ohl, Brown and Williams and others, using geomagnetic observations.

My colleagues and I have developed some understanding for how these methods work and have expanded the prediction methods using “solar dynamo precursor” methods, notably a “SODA” index (SOlar Dynamo Amplitude). These methods are now based upon an understanding of the Sun's dynamo processes- to explain a connection between how the Sun's fields are generated and how the Sun broadcasts its future activity levels to Earth. This has led to better monitoring of the Sun's dynamo fields and is leading to more accurate prediction techniques. Related to the Sun’s polar and toroidal magnetic fields, we explain how these methods work, past predictions, the current cycle, and predictions of future of solar activity levels for the next few solar cycles.

The surprising result of these long-range predictions is a rapid decline in solar activity, starting with cycle #24. If this trend continues, we may see the Sun heading towards a "Maunder” type of solar activity minimum – an extensive period of reduced levels of solar activity. For the solar physicists, who enjoy studying solar activity, we hope this isn’t so, but for NASA, which must place and maintain satellites in low earth orbit (LEO), it may help with reboost problems. Space debris, and other aspects of objects in LEO will also be affected.

This research is supported by the NSF and NASA.


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