Dr. Jeff Kuhn

Recalibrate our ideas about climate change? Ok, I’m open to that maybe. Science is about inquiry, independent of authority, not about facts. When I heard Dr. Jeff Kuhn say that, I melted like I would on a hot day. I couldn’t agree more. Too often I find that people are discouraged from trying their hand at understanding what is happening in the world today. As a professor at the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, Dr. Kuhn is not only encouraging citizen scientists, but he is asking important questions about the relationship between the sun and climate change. He thinks the sun plays a major part in climate change.

“We can’t predict the climate on Earth until we understand these changes on the Sun.”

He made this statement after he and his colleagues noticed a tiny change in the sun’s diameter in a sunspot cycle in 2010. The change was tiny despite the daily frenzy of solar activity.

Studying the sun for long term effects on the earth’s climate leads to more need for scientific study and observation. So, the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST) (since renamed the The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST)) aims to help astronomers like Dr. Jeff Kuhn achieve a better understanding of the causal relationship between the sun and climate change. The DKIST is currently being built.  It should be operational in 2017.

According to Jeff Kuhn, it could revolutionize our understanding of the sun, provide us observations and data that could help us predict and defend against solar storms and recalibrate our ideas about climate change. It will be located at Haleakala, Hawaii and has been heavily criticized by local stakeholders who are focused on the cultural, biological and spiritual impact of building the telescope on the land. Meanwhile, feasibility and mitigation plans have been submitted while the debate continues.

Kuhn’s curiosity about the relationship between the sun and climate change intrigues many however. While acknowledging that we can’t change the sun, he asks probing questions to determine whether the sun will be brighter than it is today in twenty years. To determine how that might affect sea level changes is critical to choosing the best social policies.

He’s also been using NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite to monitor the sun’s diameter and the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).

“To be able to predict what the sun will do, we need both the big picture and the details,” Kuhn said. “Just as powerful hurricanes on Earth start as a gentle breeze, the analogs of terrestrial storms on the sun start as small kinks on the sun’s magnetic field.”

Ultimately, he believes that to understand climate change, we need to look very closely at the surface of the sun to see how our climate relates to the changes in the sun. If we understand the shape-shifting causes, then the sun’s qualities could shed some light on changes in the Earth’s climate. By tracking the sun over a full 11 year solar cycle, Kuhn hopes that the measurements that are gathered can improve accuracy even further.

If the slightest changes in the sun’s shape can alter its brightness and influence weather and climate on Earth, there are so many unanswered questions. Patterns might frighten some of us and intrigue others to some degree, but looking at the bright side, we still don’t have all the answers.

Sources: YouTube, University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, Maui Magazine, Calder’s Updates WordPress, Space.com, Boing Boing, National Geographics





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