A History of Solar Activity over Millennia
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Presented here is a review of present knowledge of the long-term behavior of solar activity on a multi-millennial timescale, as reconstructed using the indirect proxy method. The concept of solar activity is discussed along with an overview of the special indices used to quantify different aspects of variable solar activity, with special emphasis upon sunspot number.
Over long timescales, quantitative information about past solar activity can only be obtained using a method based upon indirect proxies, such as the cosmogenic isotopes 14C and 10Be in natural stratified archives (e.g., tree rings or ice cores). We give an historical overview of the development of the proxy-based method for past solar-activity reconstruction over millennia, as well as a description of the modern state. Special attention is paid to the verification and cross-calibration of reconstructions. It is argued that this method of cosmogenic isotopes makes a solid basis for studies of solar variability in the past on a long timescale (centuries to millennia) during the Holocene.
A separate section is devoted to reconstructions of strong solar energetic-particle (SEP) events in the past, that suggest that the present-day average SEP flux is broadly consistent with estimates on longer timescales, and that the occurrence of extra-strong events is unlikely.
Finally, the main features of the long-term evolution of solar magnetic activity, including the statistics of grand minima and maxima occurrence, are summarized and their possible implications, especially for solar/stellar dynamo theory, are discussed.
Keywordssolar activity paleo-astrophysics cosmogenic isotopes solar-terrestrial relations solar physics long-term reconstructions solar dynamo
The concept of the perfectness and constancy of the sun, postulated by Aristotle, was a strong belief for centuries and an official doctrine of Christian and Muslim countries. However, as people had noticed even before the time of Aristotle, some slight transient changes of the sun can be observed even with the naked eye. Although scientists knew about the existence of “imperfect” spots on the sun since the early 17th century, it was only in the 19th century that the scientific community recognized that solar activity varies in the course of an 11-year solar cycle. Solar variability was later found to have many different manifestations, including the fact that the “solar constant”, or the total solar irradiance, TSI, (the amount of total incoming solar electromagnetic radiation in all wavelengths per unit area at the top of the atmosphere) is not a constant. The sun appears much more complicated and active than a static hot plasma ball, with a great variety of nonstationary active processes going beyond the adiabatic equilibrium foreseen in the basic theory of sun-as-star. Such transient nonstationary (often eruptive) processes can be broadly regarded as solar activity, in contrast to the so-called “quiet” sun. Solar activity includes active transient and long-lived phenomena on the solar surface, such as spectacular solar flares, sunspots, prominences, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), etc.
The very fact of the existence of solar activity poses an enigma for solar physics, leading to the development of sophisticated models of an upper layer known as the convection zone and the solar corona. The sun is the only star, which can be studied in great detail and thus can be considered as a proxy for cool stars. Quite a number of dedicated ground-based and space-borne experiments are being carried out to learn more about solar variability. The use of the sun as a paradigm for cool stars leads to a better understanding of the processes driving the broader population of cool sun-like stars. Therefore, studying and modelling solar activity can increase the level of our understanding of nature.
On the other hand, the study of variable solar activity is not of purely academic interest, as it directly affects the terrestrial environment. Although changes in the sun are barely visible without the aid of precise scientific instruments, these changes have great impact on many aspects of our lives. In particular, the heliosphere (a spatial region of about 200 – 300 astronomical units across) is mainly controlled by the solar magnetic field. This leads to the modulation of galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) by the solar magnetic activity. Additionally, eruptive and transient phenomena in the sun/corona and in the interplanetary medium can lead to sporadic acceleration of energetic particles with greatly enhanced flux. Such processes can modify the radiation environment on Earth and need to be taken into account for planning and maintaining space missions and even transpolar jet flights. Solar activity can cause, through coupling of solar wind and the Earth’s magnetosphere, strong geomagnetic storms in the magnetosphere and ionosphere, which may disturb radio-wave propagation and navigation-system stability, or induce dangerous spurious currents in long pipes or power lines. Another important aspect is the link between solar-activity variations and the Earth’s climate (see, e.g., reviews by Haigh, 2007; Gray et al., 2010).
It is important to study solar variability on different timescales. The primary basis for such studies is observational (or reconstructed) data. The sun’s activity is systematically explored in different ways (solar, heliospheric, interplanetary, magnetospheric, terrestrial), including groundbased and space-borne experiments and dedicated missions during the last few decades, thus covering 3 – 4 solar cycles. However, it should be noted that the modern epoch is characterized by unusually-high solar activity dominated by an 11-year cyclicity, and it is not straightforward to extrapolate present knowledge (especially empirical and semi-empirical relationships and models) to a longer timescale. The current cycle 24 indicates the return to the normal moderate level of solar activity, as manifested, e.g., via the extended and weak solar minimum in 2008 – 2009 and weak solar and heliospheric parameters, which are unusual for the space era but may be quite typical for the normal activity (see, e.g., Gibson et al., 2011). Thus, we may experience, in the near future, the interplanetary conditions quite different with respect to those we got used to during the last decades.
Therefore, the behavior of solar activity in the past, before the era of direct measurements, is of great importance for a variety of reasons. For example, it allows an improved knowledge of the statistical behavior of the solar-dynamo process, which generates the cyclically-varying solarmagnetic field, making it possible to estimate the fractions of time the sun spends in states of very-low activity, what are called grand minima. Such studies require a long time series of solaractivity data. The longest direct series of solar activity is the 400-year-long sunspot-number series, which depicts the dramatic contrast between the (almost spotless) Maunder minimum and the modern period of very high activity. Thanks to the recent development of precise technologies, including accelerator mass spectrometry, solar activity can be reconstructed over multiple millennia from concentrations of cosmogenic isotopes 14C and 10Be in terrestrial archives. This allows one to study the temporal evolution of solar magnetic activity, and thus of the solar dynamo, on much longer timescales than are available from direct measurements.
This paper gives an overview of the present status of our knowledge of long-term solar activity, covering the period of Holocene (the last 11 millennia). A description of the concept of solar activity and a discussion of observational methods and indices are presented in Section 2. The proxy method of solar-activity reconstruction is described in some detail in Section 3. Section 4 gives an overview of what is known about past solar activity. The long-term averaged flux of solar energetic particles is discussed in Section 5. Finally, conclusions are summarized in Section 6.
2 Solar Activity: Concept and Observations
2.1 The concept of solar activity
The sun is known to be far from a static state, the so-called “quiet” sun described by simple stellar-evolution theories, but instead goes through various nonstationary active processes. Such nonstationary and nonequilibrium (often eruptive) processes can be broadly regarded as solar activity. Whereas the concept of solar activity is quite a common term nowadays, it is neither straightforwardly interpreted nor unambiguously defined. For instance, solar-surface magnetic variability, eruption phenomena, coronal activity, radiation of the sun as a star or even interplanetary transients and geomagnetic disturbances can be related to the concept of solar activity. A variety of indices quantifying solar activity have been proposed in order to represent different observables and caused effects. Most of the indices are highly correlated to each other due to the dominant 11-year cycle, but may differ in fine details and/or long-term trends. In addition to the solar indices, indirect proxy data is often used to quantify solar activity via its presumably known effect on the magnetosphere or heliosphere. The indices of solar activity that are often used for long-term studies are reviewed below.
2.2 Indices of solar activity
Solar (as well as other) indices can be divided into physical and synthetic according to the way they are obtained/calculated. Physical indices quantify the directly-measurable values of a real physical observable, such as, e.g., the radioflux, and thus have clear physical meaning as they quantify physical features of different aspects of solar activity and their effects. Synthetic indices (the most common being sunspot number) are calculated (or synthesized) using a special algorithm from observed (often not measurable in physical units) data or phenomena. Additionally, solar activity indices can be either direct (i.e., directly relating to the sun) or indirect (relating to indirect effects caused by solar activity), as discussed in subsequent Sections 2.2.1 and 2.2.2.
2.2.1 Direct solar indices
The most commonly used index of solar activity is based on sunspot number. Sunspots are dark areas on the solar disc (of size up to tens of thousands of km, lifetime up to half-a-year), characterized by a strong magnetic field, which leads to a lower temperature (about 4000 K compared to 5800 K in the photosphere) and observed as darkening.
Sunspot number is a synthetic, rather than a physical, index, but it has still become quite a useful parameter in quantifying the level of solar activity. This index presents the weighted number of individual sunspots and/or sunspot groups, calculated in a prescribed manner from simple visual solar observations. The use of the sunspot number makes it possible to combine together thousands and thousands of regular and fragmentary solar observations made by earlier professional and amateur astronomers. The technique, initially developed by Rudolf Wolf, yielded the longest series of directly and regularly-observed scientific quantities. Therefore, it is common to quantify solar magnetic activity via sunspot numbers. For details see the review on sunspot numbers and solar cycles (Hathaway and Wilson, 2004; Hathaway, 2010).
22.214.171.124 Wolf sunspot number (WSN) series
Note that the sun has been routinely photographed since 1876 so that full information on daily sunspot activity is available (the Greenwich series) with observational uncertainties being negligible for the last 140 years.
The routine production of the WSN series was terminated in Zürich in 1982. Since then, the sunspot number series is routinely updated as the International sunspot number Ri, provided by the Solar Influences Data Analysis Center in Belgium (Clette et al., 2007). The international sunspot number series is computed using the same definition (Equation 1) as WSN but it has a significant distinction from the WSN; it is based not on a single primary solar observation for each day but instead uses a weighted average of more than 20 approved observers.
In addition to the standard sunspot number Ri, there is also a series of hemispheric sunspot numbers RN and RS, which account for spots only in the northern and southern solar hemispheres, respectively (note that Ri = RN + RS). These series are used to study the N-S asymmetry of solar activity (Temmer et al., 2002).
126.96.36.199 Group sunspot number (GSN) series
188.8.131.52 Other indices
An example of a synthetic index of solar activity is the flare index, representing solar flare activity (e.g., Özgüç et al., 2003; Kleczek, 1952). The flare index quantifies daily flare activity in the following manner; it is computed as a product of the flare’s relative importance I in the Hα-range and duration t, Q = I t, thus being a rough measure of the total energy emitted by the flare. The daily flare index is produced by Bogazici University (Özgüç et al., 2003) and is available since 1936.
A traditional physical index of solar activity is related to the radioflux of the sun in the wavelength range of 10.7 cm and is called the F10.7 index (e.g., Tapping and Charrois, 1994). This index represents the flux (in solar flux units, 1 sfu = 10-22 Wm-2 Hz-1) of solar radio emission at a centimetric wavelength. There are at least two sources of 10.7 cm flux — free-free emission from hot coronal plasma and gyromagnetic emission from active regions (Tapping, 1987). It is a good quantitative measure of the level of solar activity, which is not directly related to sunspots. Close correlation between the F10.7 index and sunspot number indicates that the latter is a good index of general solar activity, including coronal activity. The solar F10.7 cm record has been measured continuously since 1947.
Another physical index is the coronal index (e.g., Rybanský et al., 2005), which is a measure of the irradiance of the sun as a star in the coronal green line. Computation of the coronal index is based on observations of green corona intensities (Fe XIV emission line at 530.3 nm wavelength) from coronal stations all over the world, the data being transformed to the Lomnický Štit photometric scale. This index is considered a basic optical index of solar activity. A synthesized homogeneous database of the Fe XIV 530.3 nm coronal-emission line intensities has existed since 1943 and covers seven solar cycles.
Often sunspot area is considered as a physical index representing solar activity (e.g., Baranyi et al., 2001; Balmaceda et al., 2005). This index gives the total area of visible spots on the solar disc in units of millionths of the sun’s visible hemisphere, corrected for apparent distortion due to the curvature of the solar surface. The area of individual groups may vary between tens of millionths (for small groups) up to several thousands of millionths for huge groups. This index has a physical meaning related to the solar magnetic flux emerging at sunspots. Sunspot areas are available since 1874 in the Greenwich series obtained from daily photographic images of the sun. In addition, some fragmentary data of sunspot areas, obtained from solar drawings, are available for earlier periods (Vaquero et al., 2004; Arlt, 2008).
An important quantity is solar irradiance, total and spectral (Fröhlich, 2012). Irradiance variations are physically related to solar magnetic variability (e.g., Solanki et al., 2000), and are often considered manifestations of solar activity, which is of primary importance for solar-terrestrial relations.
Other physical indices include spectral sun-as-star observations, such as the Ca II-K index (e.g., Donnelly et al., 1994; Foukal, 1996), the space-based Mg II core-to-wing ratio as an index of solar UVI (e.g., Donnelly et al., 1994; Viereck and Puga, 1999; Snow et al., 2005) and many others.
All the above indices are closely correlated to sunspot numbers on the solar-cycle scale, but may depict quite different behavior on short or long timescales.
2.2.2 Indirect indices
Sometimes quantitative measures of solar-variability effects are also considered as indices of solar activity. These are related not to solar activity per se, but rather to its effect on different environments. Accordingly, such indices are called indirect, and can be roughly divided into terrestrial/ geomagnetic and heliospheric/interplanetary.
Geomagnetic indices quantify different effects of geomagnetic activity ultimately caused by solar variability, mostly by variations of solar-wind properties and the interplanetary magnetic field. For example, the aa-index, which provides a global index of magnetic activity relative to a quiet-day curve for a pair of antipodal magnetic observatories (in England and Australia), is available from 1868 (Mayaud, 1972). An extension of the geomagnetic series is available from the 1840s using the Helsinki Ak(H) index (Nevanlinna, 2004a,b). Although the homogeneity of the geomagnetic series is compromised (e.g., Lukianova et al., 2009; Love, 2011), it still remains an important indirect index of solar activity. A review of the geomagnetic effects of solar activity can be found, e.g., in Pulkkinen (2007). It is noteworthy that geomagnetic indices, in particular low-latitude aurorae (Silverman, 2006), are associated with coronal/interplanetary activity (high-speed solarwind streams, interplanetary transients, etc.) that may not be directly related to the sunspot-cycle phase and amplitude, and therefore serve only as an approximate index of solar activity. One of the earliest instrumental geomagnetic indices is related to the daily magnetic declination range, the range of diurnal variation of magnetic needle readings at a fixed location, and is available from the 1780s (Nevanlinna, 1995). However, this data exists as several fragmentary sets, which are difficult to combine into a homogeneous data series.
Heliospheric indices are related to features of the solar wind or the interplanetary magnetic field measured (or estimated) in the interplanetary space. For example, the time evolution of the total (or open) solar magnetic flux is extensively debated (e.g., Lockwood et al., 1999; Wang et al., 2005; Krivova et al., 2007).
A special case of heliospheric indices is related to the galactic cosmic-ray intensity recorded in natural terrestrial archives. Since this indirect proxy is based on data recorded naturally throughout the ages and revealed now, it makes possible the reconstruction of solar activity changes on long timescales, as discussed in Section 3.
2.3 Solar activity observations in the pre-telescopic epoch
Instrumental solar data is based on regular observation (drawings or counting of spots) of the sun using optical instruments, e.g., the telescope used by Galileo in the early 17th century. These observations have mostly been made by professional astronomers whose qualifications and scientific thoroughness were doubtless. They form the basis of the Group sunspot-number series (Hoyt and Schatten, 1998), which can be more-or-less reliably extended back to 1610 (see discussion in Section 2.2.1). However, some fragmentary records of qualitative solar and geomagnetic observations exist even for earlier times, as discussed below (Sections 2.3.1 – 2.3.2).
2.3.1 Instrumental observations: Camera obscura
The invention of the telescope revolutionized astronomy. However, another solar astronomical instrument, the camera obscura, also made it possible to provide relatively good solar images and was still in use until the late 18th century. Camera obscuras were known from early times, and they have been used in major cathedrals to define the sun’s position (see the review by Vaquero, 2007; Vaquero and Vázquez, 2009). The earliest known drawing of the solar disc was made by Frisius, who observed the solar eclipse in 1544 using a camera obscura. That observation was performed during the Spörer minimum and no spots were observed on the sun. The first known observation of a sunspot using a camera obscura was done by Kepler in May 1607, who erroneously ascribed the spot on the sun to a transit of Mercury. Although such observations were sparse and related to other phenomena (solar eclipses or transits of planets), there were also regular solar observations by camera obscura. For example, about 300 pages of logs of solar observations made in the cathedral of San Petronio in Bologna from 1655 – 1736 were published by Eustachio Manfredi in 1736 (see the full story in Vaquero, 2007).
Therefore, observations and drawings made using camera obscura can be regarded as instrumental observations.
2.3.2 Naked-eye observations
Even before regular professional observations performed with the aid of specially-developed instruments (what we now regard as scientific observations) people were interested in unusual phenomena. Several historical records exist based on naked-eye observations of transient phenomena on the sun or in the sky.
From even before the telescopic era, a large amount of evidence of spots being observed on the solar disc can be traced back as far as to the middle of the 4th century BC (Theophrastus of Athens). The earliest known drawing of sunspots is dated to December 8, 1128 AD as published in “The Chronicle of John of Worcester” (Willis and Stephenson, 2001). However, such evidence from occidental and Moslem sources is scarce and mostly related to observations of transits of inner planets over the sun’s disc, probably because of the dominance of the dogma on the perfectness of the sun’s body, which dates back to Aristotle’s doctrine (Bray and Loughhead, 1964). Oriental sources are much richer for naked-eye sunspot records, but that data is also fragmentary and irregular (see, e.g., Clark and Stephenson, 1978; Wittmann and Xu, 1987; Yau and Stephenson, 1988). Spots on the sun are mentioned in official Chinese and Korean chronicles from 165 BC to 1918 AD. While these chronicles are fairly reliable, the data is not straightforward to interpret since it can be influenced by meteorological phenomena, e.g., dust loading in the atmosphere due to dust storms (Willis et al., 1980) or volcanic eruptions (Scuderi, 1990) can facilitate sunspots observations. Direct comparison of Oriental naked-eye sunspot observations and European telescopic data shows that naked-eye observations can serve only as a qualitative indicator of sunspot activity, but can hardly be quantitatively interpreted (see, e.g., Willis et al., 1996, and references therein). Moreover, as a modern experiment of naked-eye observations (Mossman, 1989) shows, Oriental chronicles contain only a tiny (1/200 – 1/1000) fraction of the number of sunspots potentially visible with the naked eye (Eddy et al., 1989). This indicates that records of sunspot observations in the official chronicles were highly irregular (Eddy, 1983) and probably dependent on dominating traditions during specific historical periods (Clark and Stephenson, 1978). Although naked-eye observations tend to qualitatively follow the general trend in solar activity according to a posteriori information (e.g., Vaquero et al., 2002), extraction of any independent quantitative information from these records seems impossible.
Visual observations of aurorae borealis at middle latitudes form another proxy for solar activity (e.g., Siscoe, 1980; Schove, 1983; Křivský, 1984; Silverman, 1992; Schröder, 1992; Lee et al., 2004; Basurah, 2004; Vázquez and Vaquero, 2010). Fragmentary records of aurorae can be found in both occidental and oriental sources since antiquity. The first known dated notation of an aurora is from March 12, 567 BC from Babylon (Stephenson et al., 2004). Aurorae may appear at middle latitudes as a result of enhanced geomagnetic activity due to transient interplanetary phenomena. Although auroral activity reflects coronal and interplanetary features rather than magnetic fields on the solar surface, there is a strong correlation between long-term variations of sunspot numbers and the frequency of aurora occurrences. Because of the phenomenon’s short duration and low brightness, the probability of seeing aurora is severely affected by other factors such as the weather (sky overcast, heat lightnings), the Moon’s phase, season, etc. The fact that these observations were not systematic in early times (before the beginning of the 18th century) makes it difficult to produce a homogeneous data set. Moreover, the geomagnetic latitude of the same geographical location may change quite dramatically over centuries, due to the migration of the geomagnetic axis, which also affects the probability of watching aurorae (Siscoe and Verosub, 1983; Oguti and Egeland, 1995). For example, the geomagnetic latitude of Seoul (37.5° N 127° E), which is currently less than 30°, was about 40° a millennium ago (Kovaltsov and Usoskin, 2007). This dramatic change alone can explain the enhanced frequency of aurorae observations recorded in oriental chronicles.
2.3.3 Mathematical/statistical extrapolations
Due to the lack of reliable information regarding solar activity in the pre-instrumental era, it seems natural to try to extend the sunspot series back in time, before 1610 AD, by means of extrapolating its statistical properties. Indeed, numerous attempts of this kind have been made even recently (e.g., Nagovitsyn, 1997; de Meyer, 1998; Rigozo et al., 2001). Such models aim to find the main feature of the actually-observed sunspot series, e.g., a modulated carrier frequency or a multi-harmonic representation, which is then extrapolated backwards in time. The main disadvantage of this approach is that it is not a reconstruction based upon measured or observed quantities, but rather a “post-diction” based on extrapolation. This method is often used for short-term predictions, but it can hardly be used for the reliable long-term reconstruction of solar activity. In particular, it assumes that the sunspot time series is stationary, i.e., a limited time realization contains full information on its future and past. Clearly such models cannot include periods exceeding the time span of observations upon which the extrapolation is based. Hence, the pre- or post-diction becomes increasingly unreliable with growing extrapolation time and its accuracy is hard to estimate.
Sometimes a combination of the above approaches is used, i.e., a fit of the mathematical model to indirect qualitative proxy data. In such models a mathematical extrapolation of the sunspot series is slightly tuned and fitted to some proxy data for earlier times. For example, Schove (1955, 1979) fitted the slightly variable but phase-locked carrier frequency (about 11 years) to fragmentary data from naked-eye sunspot observations and auroral sightings. The phase locking is achieved by assuming exactly nine solar cycles per calendar century. This series, known as Schove series, reflects qualitative long-term variations of the solar activity, including some grand minima, but cannot pretend to be a quantitative representation in solar activity level. The Schove series played an important historical role in the 1960s. In particular, a comparison of the Δ14C data with this series succeeded in convincing the scientific community that secular variations of 14C in tree rings have solar and not climatic origins (Stuiver, 1961). This formed a cornerstone of the precise method of solar-activity reconstruction, which uses cosmogenic isotopes from terrestrial archives. However, attempts to reconstruct the phase and amplitude of the 11-year cycle, using this method, were unsuccessful. For example, Schove (1955) made predictions of forthcoming solar cycles up to 2005, which failed. We note that all these works are not able to reproduce, for example, the Maunder minimum (which cannot be represented as a result of the superposition of different harmonic oscillations), yielding too high sunspot activity compared to that observed. From the modern point of view, the Schove series can be regarded as archaic, but it is still in use in some studies.
2.4 The solar cycle and its variations
The main feature of solar activity is its pronounced quasi-periodicity with a period of about 11 years, known as the Schwabe cycle. However, the cycle varies in both amplitude and duration. The first observation of a possible regular variability in sunspot numbers was made by the Danish astronomer Christian Horrebow in the 1770s on the basis of his sunspot observations from 1761 – 1769 (see details in Gleissberg, 1952; Vitinsky, 1965), but the results were forgotten. It took over 70 years before the amateur astronomer Schwabe announced in 1844 that sunspot activity varies cyclically with a period of about 10 years. This cycle, called the 11-year or Schwabe cycle, is the most prominent variability in the sunspot-number series. It is recognized now as a fundamental feature of solar activity originating from the solar-dynamo process. This 11-year cyclicity is prominent in many other parameters including solar, heliospheric, geomagnetic, space weather, climate and others. The background for the 11-year Schwabe cycle is the 22-year Hale magnetic polarity cycle. Hale found that the polarity of sunspot magnetic fields changes in both hemispheres when a new 11-year cycle starts (Hale et al., 1919). This relates to the reversal of the global magnetic field of the sun with the period of 22 years. It is often considered that the 11-year Schwabe cycle is the modulo of the sign-alternating Hale cycle (e.g., Sonett, 1983; Bracewell, 1986; Kurths and Ruzmaikin, 1990; de Meyer, 1998; Mininni et al., 2001), but this is only a mathematical representation. A detailed review of solar cyclic variability can be found in (Hathaway, 2010).
Sometimes the regular time evolution of solar activity is broken up by periods of greatly depressed activity called grand minima. The last grand minimum (and the only one covered by direct solar observations) was the famous Maunder minimum from 1645 – 1715 (Eddy, 1976, 1983). Other grand minima in the past, known from cosmogenic isotope data, include, e.g., the Spörer minimum around 1450 – 1550 and the Wolf minimum around the 14th century (see the detailed discussion in Section 4.2). Sometimes the Dalton minimum (ca. 1790 – 1820) is also considered to be a grand minimum. However, sunspot activity was not completely suppressed and still showed Schwabe cyclicity during the Dalton minimum. As suggested by Schüssler et al. (1997), this can be a separate, intermediate state of the dynamo between the grand minimum and normal activity, or an unsuccessful attempt of the sun to switch to the grand minimum state (Frick et al., 1997; Sokoloff, 2004). This is observed as the phase catastrophe of solar-activity evolution (e.g., Vitinsky et al., 1986; Kremliovsky, 1994). A peculiarity in the phase evolution of sunspot activity around 1800 was also noted by Sonett (1983), who ascribed it to a possible error in Wolf sunspot data and by Wilson (1988a), who reported on a possible misplacement of sunspot minima for cycles 4 – 6 in the WSN series. It has been also suggested that the phase catastrophe can be related to a tiny cycle, which might have been lost at the end of the 18th century because of very sparse observations (Usoskin et al., 2001b, 2002a, 2003b; Zolotova and Ponyavin, 2007). We note that a new independent evidence proving the existence of the lost cycle has been found recently in the reconstructed sunspot butterfly diagram for that period (Usoskin et al., 2009c).
The long-term change (trend) in the Schwabe cycle amplitude is known as the secular Gleissberg cycle (Gleissberg, 1939) with the mean period of about 90 years. However, the Gleissberg cycle is not a cycle in the strict periodic sense but rather a modulation of the cycle envelope with a varying timescale of 60 – 120 years (e.g., Gleissberg, 1971; Kuklin, 1976; Ogurtsov et al., 2002).
Longer (super-secular) cycles cannot be studied using direct solar observations, but only indicatively by means of indirect proxies such as cosmogenic isotopes discussed in Section 3. Analysis of the proxy data also yields the Gleissberg secular cycle (Feynman and Gabriel, 1990; Peristykh and Damon, 2003), but the question of its phase locking and persistency/intermittency still remains open. Several longer cycles have been found in the cosmogenic isotope data. A cycle with a period of 205 – 210 years, called the de Vries or Suess cycle in different sources, is a prominent feature, observed in various cosmogenic data (e.g., Suess, 1980; Sonett and Finney, 1990; Zhentao, 1990; Usoskin et al., 2004). Sometimes variations with a characteristic time of 600 – 700 years or 1000 – 1200 years are discussed (e.g., Vitinsky et al., 1986; Sonett and Finney, 1990; Vasiliev and Dergachev, 2002; Steinhilber et al., 2012; Abreu et al., 2012), but they are intermittent and can hardly be regarded as a typical feature of solar activity. A 2000 – 2400-year cycle is also noticeable in radiocarbon data series (see, e.g., Vitinsky et al., 1986; Damon and Sonett, 1991; Vasiliev and Dergachev, 2002). However, the non-solar origin of these super-secular cycles (e.g., geomagnetic or climatic variability) cannot be excluded.
2.4.2 Randomness vs. regularity
The short-term (days — months) variability of sunspot numbers is greater than the observational uncertainties indicating the presence of random fluctuations (noise). As typical for most real signals, this noise is not uniform (white), but rather red or correlated noise (e.g., Ostryakov and Usoskin, 1990; Oliver and Ballester, 1996; Frick et al., 1997), namely, its variance depends on the level of the signal. While the existence of regularity and randomness in sunspot series is apparent, their relationship is not clear (e.g., Wilson, 1994) — are they mutually independent or intrinsically tied together? Moreover, the question of whether randomness in sunspot data is due to chaotic or stochastic processes is still open.
Earlier it was common to describe sunspot activity as a multi-harmonic process with several basic harmonics (e.g., Vitinsky, 1965; Sonett, 1983; Vitinsky et al., 1986) with an addition of random noise, which plays no role in the solar-cycle evolution. However, it has been shown (e.g., Rozelot, 1994; Weiss and Tobias, 2000; Charbonneau, 2001; Mininni et al., 2002) that such an oversimplified approach depends on the chosen reference time interval and does not adequately describe the long-term evolution of solar activity. A multi-harmonic representation is based on an assumption of the stationarity of the benchmark series, but this assumption is broadly invalid for solar activity (e.g., Kremliovsky, 1994; Sello, 2000; Polygiannakis et al., 2003). Moreover, a multi-harmonic representation cannot, for an apparent reason, be extrapolated to a timescale larger than that covered by the benchmark series. The fact that purely mathematical/statistical models cannot give good predictions of solar activity (as will be discussed later) implies that the nature of the solar cycle is not a multi-periodic or other purely deterministic process, but random (chaotic or stochastic) processes play an essential role in sunspot cycle formation (e.g., Moss et al., 2008; Käpylä et al., 2012). An old idea of the possible planetary influence on the dynamo has received a new pulse recently with some unspecified torque effect on the assumed quasi-rigid nonaxisymmetric tahocline (Abreu et al., 2012). If confirmed this idea would imply a significant multi-harmonic driver of the solar activity, but the question is still open. Different numeric tests, such as an analysis of the Lyapunov exponents (Ostriakov and Usoskin, 1990; Mundt et al., 1991; Kremliovsky, 1995; Sello, 2000), Kolmogorov entropy (Carbonell et al., 1994; Sello, 2000) and Hurst exponent (Ruzmaikin et al., 1994; Oliver and Ballester, 1998), confirm the chaotic/stochastic nature of the solar-activity time evolution (see, e.g., the recent review by Panchev and Tsekov, 2007).
It was suggested quite a while ago that the variability of the solar cycle may be a temporal realization of a low-dimensional chaotic system (e.g., Ruzmaikin, 1981). This concept became popular in the early 1990s, when many authors considered solar activity as an example of low-dimensional deterministic chaos, described by the strange attractor (e.g., Kurths and Ruzmaikin, 1990; Ostriakov and Usoskin, 1990; Morfill et al., 1991; Mundt et al., 1991; Rozelot, 1995; Salakhutdinova, 1999; Serre and Nesme-Ribes, 2000; Hanslmeier et al., 2013). Such a process naturally contains randomness, which is an intrinsic feature of the system rather than an independent additive or multiplicative noise. However, although this approach easily produces features seemingly similar to those of solar activity, quantitative parameters of the low-dimensional attractor have varied greatly as obtained by different authors. Later it was realized that the analyzed data set was too short (Carbonell et al., 1993, 1994), and the results were strongly dependent on the choice of filtering methods (Price et al., 1992). Developing this approach, Mininni et al. (2000, 2001) suggest that one consider sunspot activity as an example of a 2D Van der Pol relaxation oscillator with an intrinsic stochastic component.
Such phenomenological or basic principles models, while succeeding in reproducing (to some extent) the observed features of solar-activity variability, do not provide insight into the nature of regular and random components of solar variability. In this sense efforts to understand the nature of randomness in sunspot activity in the framework of dynamo theory are more advanced. Corresponding theoretical dynamo models have been developed (see reviews by Ossendrijver, 2003; Charbonneau, 2010), which include stochastic processes (e.g., Weiss et al., 1984; Feynman and Gabriel, 1990; Schmalz and Stix, 1991; Moss et al., 1992; Hoyng, 1993; Brooke and Moss, 1994; Lawrence et al., 1995; Schmitt et al., 1996; Charbonneau and Dikpati, 2000; Brandenburg and Sokoloff, 2002). For example, Feynman and Gabriel (1990) suggest that the transition from a regular to a chaotic dynamo passes through bifurcation. Charbonneau and Dikpati (2000) studied stochastic fluctuations in a Babcock.Leighton dynamo model and succeeded in the qualitative reproduction of the anti-correlation between cycle amplitude and length (Waldmeier rule). Their model also predicts a phase-lock of the Schwabe cycle, i.e., that the 11-year cycle is an internal “clock” of the sun. Most often the idea of fluctuations is related to the α-effect, which is the result of the electromotive force averaged over turbulent vortices, and thus can contain a fluctuating contribution (e.g., Hoyng, 1993; Ossendrijver et al., 1996; Brandenburg and Spiegel, 2008; Moss et al., 2008). Note that a significant fluctuating component (with the amplitude more than 100% of the regular component) is essential in all these model.
2.4.3 A note on solar activity predictions
Randomness (see Section 2.4.2) in the SN series is directly related to the predictability of solar activity. Forecasting solar activity has been a subject of intense study for many years (e.g., Yule, 1927; Newton, 1928; Gleissberg, 1948; Vitinsky, 1965) and has greatly intensified recently with a hundred of journal articles being published to predict the solar cycle No. 24 maximum (see, e.g., the review by Pesnell, 2012), following the boost of space-technology development and increasing debates on solar-terrestrial relations. In fact, the situation has not been improved since the previous cycle, No. 23. The predictions for the peak sunspot number of solar cycle No. 24 range by a factor of 5, between 40 and 200, reflecting the lack of a reliable consensus method (Tobias et al., 2006). Detailed review of the solar activity prediction methods and results have been recently provided by (Hathaway, 2009; Petrovay, 2010; Pesnell, 2012).
A detailed classification of the prediction methods is given by Pesnell (2012) who separates climatology, precursor, theoretical (dynamo model), spectral, neural network, and stock market prediction methods. All prediction methods can be generically divided into precursor and statistical (including the majority of the above classifications) techniques or their combinations (Hathaway et al., 1999). The fact that the prediction of solar cycle is not improved with adding more data (the new solar cycle) suggests that such methods are not able to give reliable prognoses.
The precursor methods are usually based on phenomenological, but sometimes physical, links between the poloidal solar-magnetic field, estimated, e.g., from geomagnetic activity in the declining phase of the preceding cycle or in the minimum time (e.g., Hathaway, 2009), with the toroidal field responsible for sunspot formation. These methods usually yield better short-term predictions of a forthcoming cycle maximum than the statistical methods, but cannot be applied to timescales longer than one solar cycle.
A new method based on sophisticated dynamo numerical simulations emerges (e.g., Dikpati and Gilman, 2006; Dikpati et al., 2008; Choudhuri et al., 2007; Jiang et al., 2007), but the results are contradictory with each other. Prospectives of this approach are also not clear because of the stochastic component, which drives the dynamo out of the deterministic regime, and uncertainties in the input parameters (Tobias et al., 2006; Bushby and Tobias, 2007; Karak and Nandy, 2012).
Some models, mostly based on precursor method, succeed in reasonable predictions of a forthcoming solar cycle (i.e., several years ahead), but they do not pretend to extend further in time. On the other hand, many claims of the solar activity forecast for 40 – 50 years ahead and even beyond have been made recently, often without sensible argumentation. However, so far there is no evidence of any method giving a reasonable prediction of solar activity beyond the solar-cycle scale (see, e.g., Section 2.3.3), probably because of the intrinsic limit of solar-activity predictability due to its stochastic/chaotic nature (Kremliovsky, 1995; Tobias et al., 2006). Accordingly, such attempts can be regarded as speculative, unless they are verified by the actual behavior of solar activity. Note that even an exact prediction of the amplitude of one solar cycle can be just a random coincidence and cannot serve as a proof of the method’s veracity. Only a sequence of successful predictions can form a basis for confidence, which requires several decades.
Note that several “predictions” of the general decline of the coming solar activity have been made recently (Solanki et al., 2004; Abreu et al., 2008; Lockwood et al., 2011), however, these are not really true predictions but rather the acknowledge of the fact that the Modern Grand maximum (Usoskin et al., 2003c; Solanki et al., 2004) must cease. Similar caution can be made about predictions of a Grand minimum (e.g., Lockwood et al., 2011; Miyahara et al., 2010) — a grand minimum should appear soon or later, but presently we are hardly able to predict its occurrence.
In this section, the concept of solar activity and quantifying indices is discussed, as well as the main features of solar-activity temporal behavior.
The concept of solar activity is quite broad and covers non-stationary and non-equilibrium (often eruptive) processes, in contrast to the “quiet” sun concept, and their effects upon the terrestrial and heliospheric environment. Many indices are used to quantify different aspects of variable solar activity. Quantitative indices include direct (i.e., related directly to solar variability) and indirect (i.e., related to terrestrial and interplanetary effects caused by solar activity), they can be physical or synthetic. While all indices depict the dominant 11-year cyclic variability, their relationships on other timescales (short scale or long-term trends) may vary to a great extent.
The most common and the longest available index of solar activity is the sunspot number, which is a synthetic index and is very useful for the quantitative representation of overall solar activity outside the grand minimum. During the grand Maunder minimum, however, it may give only a clue about solar activity whose level may drop below the sunspot formation threshold. The sunspot number series is available for the period from 1610 AD, after the invention of the telescope, and covers, in particular, the Maunder minimum in the late 17th century. Fragmentary non-instrumental observations of the sun before 1610, while giving a possible hint of relative changes in solar activity, cannot be interpreted in a quantitative manner.
Solar activity in all its manifestations is dominated by the 11-year Schwabe cycle, which has, in fact, a variable length of 9 — 14 years for individual cycles. The amplitude of the Schwabe cycle varies greatly — from the almost spotless Maunder minimum to the very high cycle 19, possibly in relation to the Gleissberg or secular cycle. Longer super-secular characteristic times can also be found in various proxies of solar activity, as discussed in Section 4.
Solar activity contains essential chaotic/stochastic components, that lead to irregular variations and make the prediction of solar activity for a timescale exceeding one solar cycle impossible.
3 The Proxy Method of Past Solar-Activity Reconstruction
In addition to direct solar observations, described in Section 2.2.1, there are also indirect solar proxies, which are used to study solar activity in the pre-telescopic era. Unfortunately, we do not have any reliable data that could give a direct index of solar variability before the beginning of the sunspot-number series. Therefore, one must use indirect proxies, i.e., quantitative parameters, which can be measured nowadays but represent different effects of solar magnetic activity in the past. It is common to use, for this purpose, signatures of terrestrial indirect effects induced by variable solar-magnetic activity, that is stored in natural archives. Such traceable signatures can be related to nuclear (used in the cosmogenic-isotope method) or chemical (used, e.g., in the nitrate method) effects caused by cosmic rays (CRs) in the Earth’s atmosphere, lunar rocks or meteorites.
The most common proxy of solar activity is formed by the data on cosmogenic radionuclides (e.g., 10Be and 14C), which are produced by cosmic rays in the Earth’s atmosphere (e.g, Stuiver and Quay, 1980; Beer et al., 1990; Bard et al., 1997; Beer, 2000). Other cosmogenic nuclides, which are used in geological and paleomagnetic dating, are less suitable for studies of solar activity (see e.g., Beer, 2000; Beer et al., 2012). Cosmic rays are the main source of cosmogenic nuclides in the atmosphere (excluding anthropogenic factors during the last decades) with the maximum production being in the upper troposphere/stratosphere. After a complicated transport in the atmosphere, the cosmogenic isotopes are stored in natural archives such as polar ice, trees, marine sediments, etc. This process is also affected by changes in the geomagnetic field and climate. Cosmic rays experience heliospheric modulation due to solar wind and the frozen-in solar magnetic field. The intensity of modulation depends on solar activity and, therefore, cosmic-ray flux and the ensuing cosmogenic isotope intensity depends inversely on solar activity. An important advantage of the cosmogenic data is that primary archiving is done naturally in a similar manner throughout the ages, and these archives are measured nowadays in laboratories using modern techniques. If necessary, all measurements can be repeated and improved, as has been done for some radiocarbon samples. In contrast to fixed historical archival data (such as sunspot or auroral observations) this approach makes it possible to obtain homogeneous data sets of stable quality and to improve the quality of data with the invention of new methods (such as accelerator mass spectrometry). Cosmogenic isotope data is the main regular indicator of solar activity on the very long-term scale but it cannot resolve the details of individual solar cycles. The redistribution of nuclides in terrestrial reservoirs and archiving may be affected by local and global climate/circulation processes, which are, to a large extent, unknown for the past. However, a combined study of different nuclides data, whose responses to terrestrial effects are very different, may allow for disentangling external and terrestrial signals.
3.1 The physical basis of the method
3.1.1 Heliospheric modulation of cosmic rays
3.1.2 Geomagnetic shielding
The shielding effect is the strongest at the geomagnetic equator, where the present-day value of Pc may reach up to 17 GV in the region of India. There is almost no cutoff in the geomagnetic polar regions (λG ≥ 60°). However, even in the latter case the atmospheric cutoff becomes important, i.e., particles must have rigidity above 0.5 GV in order to initiate the atmospheric cascade which can reach ground (see Section 3.1.3).
The geomagnetic field is seemingly stable on the short-term scale, but it changes essentially on centurial-to-millennial timescales (e.g., Korte and Constable, 2006). Such past changes can be evaluated based on measurements of the residual magnetization of independently-dated samples. These can be paleo- (i.e., natural stratified archives such as lake or marine sediments or volcanic lava) or archaeological (e.g., clay bricks that preserve magnetization upon baking) samples. Most paleo-magnetic data preserve not only the magnetic field intensity but also the direction of the local field, while archeo-magnetic samples provide information on the intensity only. Using a large database of such samples, it is possible to reconstruct (under reasonable assumptions) the largescale magnetic field of the Earth. Data available provides good global coverage for the last 3 millennia, allowing for a reliable paleomagnetic reconstruction of the true dipole moment (DM) or virtual dipole moment2 (VDM) and its orientation (the ArcheoInt collaboration — Genevey et al., 2008). Less precise, but still reliable reconstructions of the DM and its orientation are possible for the last seven millennia (the CALS7K.2 model by Korte and Constable, 2005), however they may slightly underestimate the dipole moment, especially in the earlier part of the period (Korte and Constable, 2008). Directional paleomagnetic reconstruction are less reliable on a longer timescale, because of the spatial sparseness of the paleo/archeo-magnetic samples in the earlier part of the Holocene (Korte et al., 2011). Some paleomagnetic reconstructions are shown in Figure 4. All paleomagnetic models depict a similar long-term trend — an enhanced intensity during the period between 1500 BC and 500 AD and a significantly lower field before that.
Changes in the dipole moment M inversely modulate the flux of CR at Earth, with strong effects in tropical regions and globally. The migration of the geomagnetic axis, which changes the geomagnetic latitude λG of a given geographical location is also important; while not affecting the global flux of CR, it can dramatically change the CR effect regionally, especially at middle and high latitude. These changes affect the flux of CR impinging on the Earth’s atmosphere both locally and globally and must be taken into account when reconstructing solar activity from terrestrial proxy data (Usoskin et al., 2008, 2010). Accounting for these effects is quite straightforward provided the geomagnetic changes in the past are known independently, e.g., from archeo and paleo-magnetic studies (Donadini et al., 2010). However, because of progressively increasing uncertainties of paleomagnetic reconstructions back in time, it presently forms the main difficulty for the proxy method on the long-term scale (Snowball and Muscheler, 2007), especially in the early part of the Holocene. On the other hand, the geomagnetic field variations are relatively well known for the last few millennia (Genevey et al., 2008; Korte and Constable, 2008).
3.1.3 Cosmic-ray-induced atmospheric cascade
The “hadronic” nucleonic component is formed by the products of nuclear collisions of primary cosmic rays and their secondaries with the atmospheric nuclei, and consists mostly of superthermal protons and neutrons.
The “soft” or electromagnetic component consists of electrons, positrons and photons.
The “hard” or muon component consists mostly of muons; pions are short lived and decay almost immediately upon production, feeding muons and the “soft” component.
The development of the cascade depends mostly on the amount of matter traversed and is usually linked to residual atmospheric depth, which is very close to the static barometric pressure, rather than to the actual altitude, that may vary depending on the exact atmospheric density profile.
Cosmogenic isotopes are a by-product of the hadronic branch of the cascade (details are given below). Accordingly, in order to evaluate cosmic-ray flux from the cosmogenic isotope data, one needs to know the physics of cascade development. Several models have been developed for this cascade, in particular its hadronic branch with emphasis on the generation of cosmogenic isotope production. The first models were simplified quasi-analytical (e.g., Lingenfelter, 1963; O’Brien and Burke, 1973) or semi-empirical models (e.g., Castagnoli and Lal, 1980). With the fast advance of computing facilities it became possible to exploit the best numerical method suitable for such problems — Monte-Carlo (e.g., Masarik and Beer, 1999, 2009; Webber and Higbie, 2003; Webber et al., 2007; Usoskin and Kovaltsov, 2008a; Kovaltsov and Usoskin, 2010; Kovaltsov et al., 2012; Argento et al., 2013). The fact that models, based on different independent Monte-Carlo packages, namely, a general GEANT tool and a specific CORSIKA code, yield similar results provides additional verification of the approach.
3.1.4 Transport and deposition
3.2 Radioisotope 14C
The most commonly used cosmogenic isotope is radiocarbon 14C. This radionuclide is an unstable isotope of carbon with a half-life (T1/2) of about 5730 years. Since the radiocarbon method is extensively used in other science disciplines where accurate dating is a key issue (e.g., archeology, paleoclimatology, quaternary geology), it was developed primarily for this task. The solar-activity-reconstruction method, based on radiocarbon data, was initially developed as a by-product of the dating techniques used in archeology and Quaternary geology, in an effort to improve the quality of the dating by means of better information on the 14C variable source function. The presentday radiocarbon calibration curve, based on a dendrochronological scale, uninterruptedly covers the whole Holocene (and extending to 50,000 BP — Reimer et al., 2009) and provides a solid quantitative basis for studying solar activity variations on the multi-millennial time scale.
A potentially interesting approach has been made by Lal et al. (2005), who measured the amount of 14C directly produced by CR in polar ice. Although this method is free of the carboncycle influence, the first results, while being in general agreement with other methods, are not precise.
Variations of the cosmic-ray flux on a geological timescale due to the changing galactic background (e.g., a nearby supernova explosion or crossing the dense galactic arm).
Secular-to-millennial variations are caused by the slowly-changing geomagnetic field. This is an important component of the variability, which needs to be independently evaluated from paleo and archeo-magnetic studies.
Modulation of cosmic rays in the heliosphere by solar magnetic activity. This variation is the primary aim of the present method.
Short-term variability of CR on a daily scale (suppression due to interplanetary transients or enhancement due to solar energetic-particle events) can be hardly resolved in radiocarbon data.
Therefore, the production rate of 14C in the atmosphere can be modelled for a given time (namely, the modulation potential and geomagnetic dipole moment) and location. The global production rate Q is then obtained as a result of global averaging.
There is still a small unresolved discrepancy in the absolute value of the modeled 14C production rate. Different models yield the global-average production rate of 1.7 – 2.3 atoms cm-2 s-1 (see, e.g., O’Brien, 1979; Masarik and Beer, 1999; Goslar, 2001; Usoskin et al., 2006b; Kovaltsov et al., 2012, and references therein), which is consistent with a direct estimate of the radiocarbon reservoir, based on analyses of the specific 14C activity on the ground, 1.76 – 2.0 (Suess, 1965; Damon et al., 1978; O’Brien, 1979). On the other hand, the steady-state production calculated from the 14C inventory in the carbon-cycle model (see Section 3.2.3) typically yields 1.6 – 1.7 atoms cm-2 s-1 for the pre-industrial period (e.g., Goslar, 2001, and references therein). Thus, results obtained from the carbon cycle models and production models agree only marginally in the absolute values, and this needs further detailed studies. The situation has been improved recently, when the newest numerical model (Kovaltsov et al., 2012) yields the global average production of 1.64 and 1.88 atoms cm-2 s-1 for the modern and pre-industrial periods, respectively. In 14C-based reconstructions, the pre-industrial steady-state production is commonly used.
3.2.3 Transport and deposition
Using the carbon cycle model and assuming that all its parameters are constant in time, one can evaluate the production rate Q from the measured Δ14C data. This assumption is well validated for the the Holocene (Damon et al., 1978; Stuiver et al., 1991) as there is no evidence of considerable oceanic change or other natural variability of the carbon cycle (Gerber et al., 2002), and accordingly all variations of Δ14C predominantly reflect the production rate. This is supported by the strong similarity of the fluctuations of the 10Be data in polar ice cores (Section 3.3) compared to 14C, despite their completely different geochemical fate (Bard et al., 1997; Steinhilber et al., 2012). However, the changes in the carbon cycle during the last glaciation and deglaciation were dramatic, especially regarding ocean ventilation; this and the lack of independent information about the carbon cycle parameters, make it hardly possible to qualitatively estimate solar activity from 14C before the Holocene.
3.2.4 The Suess effect and nuclear bomb tests
Unfortunately, cosmogenic 14C data cannot be easily used for the last century, primarily because of the extensive burning of fossil fuels. Since fossil fuels do not contain 14C, the produced CO2 dilutes the atmospheric 14CO2 concentration with respect to the pre-industrial epoch. Therefore, the measured Δ14C cannot be straightforwardly translated into the production rate Q after the late 19th century, and a special correction for fossil fuel burning is needed. This effect, known as the Suess effect (e.g., Suess, 1955), can be up to −25h in Δ14C in 1950 (Tans et al., 1979), which is an order of magnitude larger than the amplitude of the 11-year cycle of a few h. Moreover, while the cosmogenic production of 14C is roughly homogeneous over the globe and time, the use of fossil fuels is highly nonuniform (e.g., de Jong and Mook, 1982) both spatially (developed countries, in the northern hemisphere) and temporarily (World Wars, Great Depression, industrialization, etc.). This makes it very difficult to perform an absolute normalization of the radiocarbon production to the direct measurements. Sophisticated numerical models (e.g., Sabine et al., 2004; Mikaloff Fletcher et al., 2006) aim to account for the Suess effect and make good progress. However, the results obtained indicate that the determination of the Suess effect does not yet reach the accuracy required for the precise modelling and reconstruction of the 14C production for the industrial epoch. As noted by Matsumoto et al. (2004), “... not all is well with the current generation of ocean carbon cycle models. At the same time, this highlights the danger in simply using the available models to represent state-of-the-art modeling without considering the credibility of each model.” Note that the atmospheric concentration of another carbon isotope 13C is partly affected by land use, which has also been modified during the last century.
Another anthropogenic activity greatly disturbing the natural variability of 14C is related to the atmospheric nuclear bomb tests actively performed in the 1960s. For example, the radiocarbon concentration nearly doubled in the early 1960s in the northern hemisphere after nuclear tests performed by the USSR and the USA in 1961 (Damon et al., 1978). On one hand, such sources of momentary spot injections of radioactive tracers (including 14C) provide a good opportunity to verify and calibrate the exchange parameters for different carbon-cycle reservoirs and circulation models (e.g., Bard et al., 1987; Sweeney et al., 2007). Thus, the present-day carbon cycle is more-or-less known. On the other hand, the extensive additional production of isotopes during nuclear tests makes it hardly possible to use the 14C as a proxy for solar activity after the 1950s (Joos, 1994).
These anthropogenic effects do not allow one to make a straightforward link between preindustrial data and direct experiments performed during more recent decades. Therefore, the question of the absolute normalization of 14C model is still open (see, e.g., the discussion in Solanki et al., 2004, 2005; Muscheler et al., 2005).
3.2.5 The effect of the geomagnetic field
As discussed in Section 3.1.2, knowledge of geomagnetic shielding is an important aspect of the cosmogenic isotope method. Since radiocarbon is globally mixed in the atmosphere before deposition, its production is affected by changes in the geomagnetic dipole moment M, while magnetic-axis migration plays hardly any role in 14C data.
The crucial role of paleomagnetic reconstructions has long been known (e.g., Elsasser et al., 1956; Kigoshi and Hasegawa, 1966). Many earlier corrections for possible geomagnetic-field changes were performed by detrending the measured Δ14C abundance or production rate Q (Stuiver and Quay, 1980; Voss et al., 1996; Peristykh and Damon, 2003), under the assumption that geomagnetic and solar signals can be disentangled from the production in the frequency domain. Accordingly, the temporal series of either measured Δ14C or its production rate Q is decomposed into the slow changing trend and faster oscillations. The trend is supposed to be entirely due to geomagnetic changes, while the oscillations are ascribed to solar variability. Such a method, however, obliterates all information on possible long-term variations of solar activity. Simplified empirical correction factors were also often used (e.g., Stuiver and Quay, 1980; Stuiver et al., 1991). The modern approach is based on a physics-based model (e.g., Solanki et al., 2004; Vonmoos et al., 2006) and allows the quantitative reconstruction of solar activity, explicitly using independent reconstructions of the geomagnetic field. In this case the major source of errors in solar activity reconstructions is related to uncertainties in the paleomagnetic data (Snowball and Muscheler, 2007). These errors are insignificant for the last millennium (Usoskin et al., 2006a), but become increasingly important for earlier times.
3.3 Cosmogenic isotope 10Be
The cosmogenic isotope 10Be is useful for long-term studies of solar activity because of its long half-life of around 1.5 × 106 years. Its concentration is usually measured in stratified ice cores allowing for independent dating. Because of its long life, the beryllium concentration is difficult to measure by the decay rate (Beer, 2000). Accordingly, the 10Be/9Be ratio needs to be precisely measured at an accuracy better than 10-13. This can be done using AMS (Accelerator Mass Spectrometry) technique, which makes the measurements complicated and expensive. Correction for the decay is straightforward and does not include isotope fractionating. From the measured samples, first the 10Be concentration is defined, usually in units of 104 atoms/g. Sometimes, a correction for the snow precipitation amount is considered leading to the observable 10Be flux, which is the number of atoms, precipitating to the surface per cm2 per second.
There exist different 10Be series suitable for studies of long-term solar activity, coming from ice cores in Greenland and Antarctica. They have been obtained from different cores with different resolutions, and include data from Milcent, Greenland (Beer et al., 1983), Camp Century, Greenland (Beer et al., 1988), Dye 3, Greenland (Beer et al., 1990), Dome Concordia and South Pole, Antarctica (Raisbeck et al., 1990), GRIP, Greenland (Yiou et al., 1997), GISP2, Greenland (Finkel and Nishiizumi, 1997), Dome Fuji, Antarctica (Horiuchi et al., 2007, 2008), Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica (Ruth et al., 2007), etc. We note that data on 10Be in other archives, e.g., lake sediments, is usually more complicated to interpret because of the potential influence of the climate (Horiuchi et al., 1999; Belmaker et al., 2008).
The isotope 10Be is produced as a result of spallation of atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen (carbon is less abundant by far in the atmosphere and makes a negligible contribution) by the nucleonic component of the cosmic-ray-induced atmospheric cascade (Section 3.1.3).
A small contribution may also exist from photo-nuclear reactions (Bezuglov et al., 2012). The cross section (a few mb) of the spallation reactions is almost independent of the energy of impacting particles and has a threshold of about 15 MeV. Thus, the production of 10Be is defined mostly by the multiplicity of the nucleonic component, which increases with the energy of primary cosmic rays (see Figure 8). Maximum production occurs at an altitude of 10 – 15 km due to a balance between the total energy of the cascade (which increases with altitude) and the number of secondaries (decreasing with altitude). Most of the global 10Be is produced in the stratosphere (55 – 70%) and the rest in the troposphere (Lal and Peters, 1967; Masarik and Beer, 1999, 2009; Usoskin and Kovaltsov, 2008a; Kovaltsov and Usoskin, 2010).
Computation of 10Be isotope production is straightforward, provided a model of the atmospheric cascade is available. The first consistent model was developed by D. Lal et al. (Bhandari et al., 1966; Lal and Peters, 1967; Lal and Suess, 1968), using an empirical approach based on fitting simplified model calculations to measurements of the isotope concentrations and “star” (inelastic nuclear collisions) formations in the atmosphere. Next was an analytical model by O’Brien (1979), who solved the problem of the GCR-induced cascade in the atmosphere using an analytical stationary approximation in the form of the Boltzmann equation. Those models were based on calculating the rate of inelastic collisions or “stars” and then applying the mean spallation yield per “star”. A new step in the modelling of isotope production was made by Masarik and Beer (1999), who performed a full Monte-Carlo simulation of a GCR-initiated cascade in the atmosphere and used cross sections of spallation reactions directly instead of the average “star” efficiency. Modern models (Webber and Higbie, 2003; Webber et al., 2007; Usoskin and Kovaltsov, 2008a; Kovaltsov and Usoskin, 2010) are based on a full Monte-Carlo simulation of the atmospheric cascade, using improved cross sections. The global production rate of 10Be is about 0.02 – 0.03 atoms cm-2 s-1 (Masarik and Beer, 1999; Webber et al., 2007; Kovaltsov and Usoskin, 2010), which is lower than that for 14C by two orders of magnitude (about 2 atoms cm-2 s-1; see Section 3.2.2). The yield function of 10Be production is shown in Figure 8A and the differential production rate in Figure 8B. One can see that the peak of 10Be sensitivity, especially in polar regions, is shifted towards lower energies (below 1 GeV) compared with a neutron monitor. This implies that the 10Be isotope is relatively more sensitive to less energetic CR and is, therefore, more affected by solar energetic particles (Usoskin et al., 2006b). Comparison of model computations with direct beryllium production experiments (Usoskin and Kovaltsov, 2008a; Kovaltsov and Usoskin, 2010), and also the results of modelling of the short-living 7Be isotope (Usoskin et al., 2009a) suggest that some numerical models (Masarik and Beer, 1999; Webber and Higbie, 2003; Webber et al., 2007) tend to underestimate the production.
Although the production of 10Be can be more or less precisely modelled, a simple normalization “surface”, similar to that shown in Figure 9 for 14C, is not easy to produce because of partial mixing in the atmosphere (see Section 3.3.3). Simplified models, assuming either only global (e.g., Beer, 2000) or polar production (Bard et al., 1997; Usoskin et al., 2004), have been used until recently. However, it has been recognized that a more realistic model of the limited atmospheric mixing should be used. Without detailed knowledge of 10Be transport in the atmosphere, it is impossible to relate the quantitatively-measured concentration to the production (as done for 14C using the carbon cycle), and one has to assume that the measured abundance is proportional (with an unknown coefficient) to the production rate in a specific geographical region (see Section 3.3.3).
3.3.3 Atmospheric transport
After production, the 10Be isotope has a seemingly simple (Figure 6) but difficult-to-accountfor fate in the atmosphere. Its atmospheric residence time depends on scavenging, stratosphere-troposphere exchange and inter-tropospheric mixing (e.g., McHargue and Damon, 1991). Soon after production, the isotope becomes attached to atmospheric aerosols and follows their fate. In addition, it may be removed from the lower troposphere by wet deposition (rain and snow). The mean residence time of the aerosol-bound radionuclide in the atmosphere is quite different for the troposphere, being a few weeks, and stratosphere, where it is one to two years (Raisbeck et al., 1981). Accordingly, 10Be produced in the troposphere is deposited mostly locally, i.e., in the polar regions, while stratospheric 10Be can be partly or totally mixed. In addition, because of the seasonal (usually Spring) intrusion of stratospheric air into the troposphere at mid-latitudes, there is an additional contribution of stratospheric 10Be. Therefore, the measured 10Be concentration (or flux) in polar ice is modulated not only by production but also by climate/precipitation effects (e.g., Steig et al., 1996; Bard et al., 1997). This led Lal (1987) to the extreme conclusion that variations of polar 10Be reflect a meteorological, rather than solar, signal. However, comparison between Greenland and Antarctic 10Be series and between 10Be and 14C data (e.g., Bard et al., 1997; Horiuchi et al., 2008; Beer et al., 2012) suggests that the beryllium data mostly depicts production variations (i.e., solar signal) on top of which some meteorological effects can be superposed (see also Section 3.7.3).
Since both assumptions of the global and purely-local polar production of 10Be archived in polar ice are over-simplified, several attempts have been made to overcome this problem. For instance, McCracken (2004) proposed several simple mathematical models of partial atmospheric mixing (without division in the troposphere and stratosphere) and compared them with observed data. From this semi-empirical approach McCracken concluded that M2 (full mixing above 60° latitude and a limited mixing between 40° and 60° latitude) is a reasonable model for Antarctica. Vonmoos et al. (2006) assumed that the production of 10Be recorded in Greenland is related to the entire hemisphere in the stratosphere (i.e, global stratospheric mixing) but is limited to latitudes above 40° latitude in the troposphere (partial tropospheric mixing). This approach uses either semi-empirical or indirect arguments in choosing the unknown degree of mixing.
3.3.4 Effect of the geomagnetic field
In order to properly account for geomagnetic changes (Section 3.1.2), one needs to know the effective region in which the radionuclide is produced before being stored in the archive analyzed. For instance, if the concentration of 10Be measured in polar ice reflects mainly the isotope’s production in the polar atmosphere (as, e.g., assumed by Usoskin et al., 2003c), no strong geomagnetic signal is expected to be observed, since the geographical poles are mostly related to high geomagnetic latitudes. On the other hand, assuming global mixing of atmospheric 10Be before deposition in polar ice (e.g., Masarik and Beer, 1999), one expects that only changes in the geomagnetic dipole moment affect will the signal. However, because of partial mixing, which can be different in the stratosphere and troposphere, taking into account migration and displacement of the geomagnetic dipole axis may be essential for a reliable reconstruction of solar variability from 10Be data (McCracken, 2004). Therefore, only a full combination of the transport and production models, the latter explicitly including geomagnetic effects estimated from paleomagnetic reconstructions, can adequately account for geomagnetic changes and separate the solar signal. These will form the next generation of physics-based models for the cosmogenic-isotope proxy method. We note that paleomagnetic data should ideally not only provide the dipole moment (VADM or VDM) but should also provide estimates of the geomagnetic axis attitude and displacement of the dipole center (Korte et al., 2011).
3.4 Other potential proxy
An interesting new potential proxy for solar activity (or cosmic ray) variability on the long-term centennial-to-millennial time scale has been proposed recently by Traversi et al. (2012). This is the nitrate content in a polar ice core Talos Dome in Antarctica, which has a favorite location in the sense of snow accumulation and conservation of such volatile specie as nitrate. Nitraterelated species are partly produced in the stratosphere/troposphere as a result of the ionization of the atmospheric air by cosmic rays and, partly, via terrestrial sources (e.g., lightnings) and are subject to air transport (Rozanov et al., 2012). As shown by Traversi et al. (2012), the nitrate concentration/flux measured in the Talos Dome ice core for the Holocene period agrees well with the cosmogenic data of 14C in tree rings and 10Be in both Antarctic and Greenland ice cores, on the time scales from centennia to millennia. Due to the large errors of the ice core dating, 200 – 300 years (Schüpbach et al., 2011), shorter time scales cannot be considered. The level of the nitrate variability is generally consistent with that predicted by theoretical models assuming its production by GCR in the atmosphere (Semeniuk et al., 2011; Rozanov et al., 2012). Thus, the nitrate in an ice core provides a potential to become a new proxy of long-term solar activity, with independent atmospheric fate, which would strengthen the robustness of the reconstructions. However, an independent confirmation of the result and a more detailed model are needed before it can serve as a new quantitative proxy. Note that the mechanism of the nitrate production and transport is not related to the possible nitrate peaks claimed to be caused by strong solar energetic-particle events (see Section 5.3).
3.5 Towards a quantitative physical model
Several methods have been developed historically to convert measured cosmogenic-isotope data into a solar activity index, ranging from very simple regressions to physics-based models. A new step in long-term solar-activity reconstruction has been made recently, which is the development of the proxy method in which physics-based models are used, instead of a phenomenological regression, to link SN with cosmogenic-isotope production (Usoskin et al., 2003c, 2007; Solanki et al., 2004; Vonmoos et al., 2006; Muscheler et al., 2007; Steinhilber et al., 2008). Due to recent theoretical developments, it is now possible to construct a chain of physical models to model the entire relationship between solar activity and cosmogenic data.
Computation, considering independently-known secular geomagnetic changes (see Section 3.2.5) and a model of the CR-induced atmospheric cascade, of the GCR spectrum parameter quantified via the modulation potential φ (Section 3.5.2), some reconstructions being terminated at this point;
Computation of a heliospheric index, whether of the open solar magnetic flux or of the average HMF intensity at the Earth’s orbit (Section 3.5.2)
Computation of a solar index (sunspot number series), corresponding to the above-derived heliospheric parameter (Section 3.5.3).
Presently, all these steps can be completed using appropriate models. Some models stop after computations of the modulation potential as its translation into the solar index may include additional uncertainties. Although the uncertainties of the models may be considerable, the models allow a full basic quantitative reconstruction of solar activity in the past. However, much needs to be done, both theoretically and experimentally, to obtain an improved reconstruction.
3.5.1 Regression models
It is equally dangerous to evaluate other solar/heliospheric/terrestrial indices from sunspot numbers, by extrapolating an empirical relation obtained for the last few decades back in time. This is because the last decades (after the 1950s), which are well covered by direct observations of solar, terrestrial and heliospheric parameters, correspond to a very high level of solar activity. After a steep rise in activity level between the late 19th and mid 20th centuries, the activity remained at a roughly constant high level, being totally dominated by the 11-year cycle without a long-term trends. Accordingly, all empirical relations built based on data for this period are focused on the 11-year variability and can overlook possible long-term trends (Mursula et al., 2003). This may affect all regression-based reconstructions, whose results cannot be independently (directly or indirectly) tested. In particular, this may be related to solar irradiance reconstructions, which are often based on regression-like models, built and verified using data for the last three solar cycles, when there was no strong trend in solar activity.
3.5.2 Reconstruction of heliospheric parameters
Modulation of GCR in the heliosphere (see Section 3.1.1) is mostly defined by the turbulent heliospheric magnetic field (HMF), which ultimately originates from the sun and is thus related to solar activity. It has been shown, using a theoretical model of the heliospheric transport of cosmic rays (e.g., Usoskin et al., 2002b), that on the long-term scale (beyond the 11-year solar cycle) the modulation potential φ is closely related to the open solar magnetic flux Fo, which is a physical quantity describing the solar magnetic variability (e.g., Solanki et al., 2000; Krivova et al., 2007).
3.5.3 A link to sunspot numbers
As very important for the climate research, the variations of the total solar irradiance (TSI) are sometimes reconstructed from the solar proxy data (Steinhilber et al., 2009; Vieira et al., 2011). However, the absolute range of the TSI variability on the centennial-millennial time scales still remains unknown (Schmidt et al., 2012).
3.6 Solar activity reconstructions
Detailed computational models of cosmogenic isotope production in the atmosphere (e.g., Masarik and Beer, 1999) have opened up a new possibility for long-term solar-activity reconstruction (e.g., Beer, 2000). The first quantitative reconstructions of solar activity from cosmogenic proxy appeared in the early 2000s based on 10Be deposited in polar ice (Beer et al., 2003; Usoskin et al., 2003c).
3.7 Verification of reconstructions
Because of the diversity of the methods and results of solar-activity reconstruction, it is vitally important to verify them. Even though a full verification is not possible, there are different means of indirect or partial verification, as discussed below. Several solar-activity reconstructions on the millennium timescale, which differ from each other to some degree and are based on terrestrial cosmogenic isotope data, have been published recently by various groups. Also, they may suffer from systematic effects. Therefore, there is a need for an independent method to verify/calibrate these results in order to provide a reliable quantitative estimate of the level of solar activity in the past, prior to the era of direct observations.
3.7.1 Comparison with direct data
The most direct verification of solar-activity reconstruction is a comparison with the actual GSN sunspot data for the last few centuries. However, regression-based models (see Section 3.5.1) cannot be tested in this way, since it would require a long set of independent direct data outside the “training” interval. It is usual to include all available data into the “training” period to increase the statistics of the regression, which rules out the possibility of testing the model. On the other hand, such a comparison to the actual GSN since 1610 can be regarded as a direct test for a physics-based model since it does not include phenomenological links over the same time interval. The period of the last four centuries is pretty good for testing purposes since it includes the whole range of solar activity levels from the nearly spotless Maunder minimum to the modern period of a very active sun. As an example, a comparison between the observed GSN and the 14C-based (Solanki et al., 2004) and 10Be-based (Usoskin et al., 2003c) reconstructions is shown in Figure 18. The agreement between the actual and reconstructed sunspot numbers is quite good, the correlation coefficient for the 14C-based series is r = 0.93 with the RMS deviation between the two series being six for the period of 1610 – 1900 (Solanki et al., 2004). We want to stress that this reconstruction is fully physics based and does not include any fitting to the whole GSN data series; thus this comparison verifies the approach in both absolute level and relative variations. The agreement between GSN and 10Be-based reconstructions (Usoskin et al., 2003c) is also good (r = 0.78, RMS = 10 for 1700 – 1985). In this case, however, the comparison can only test the relative variation because of the unknown proportionality coefficient between the measured concentration of 10Be and the production rate (Section 3.3.3), which is fitted to match the overall level of the reconstructed solar activity. One can see that the reconstructed sunspot series generally follows the real GSN series, depicting the same main features, namely, the Maunder minimum, the tiny Dalton minimum, a slight decrease of activity around 1900 (sometimes called the modern minimum) as well as a steep rise in the first half of the 20th century. This validates the reliability of the physics-based reconstruction of sunspot numbers. Note, however, that individual 11-year cycles are poorly resolved in these reconstructions.
Models focused on the reconstruction of heliospheric parameters (HMF or the modulation potential φ) cannot be verified in this manner since no heliospheric data exists before the middle of the 20th century. Comparison to direct cosmic-ray data after the 1950s (or, with caveats, after the 1930s — McCracken and Beer, 2007) is less conclusive, since the latter are of shorter length and correspond to a period of high solar activity, leading to larger uncertainties during grand minima.
It is important that some (semi)empirical relations forming the basis for the proxy method are established for the recent decades of high solar activity. The end of the Modern grand maximum of activity and the current low level of activity, characterized by the highest ever observed cosmic ray flux as recorded by ground-based neutron monitors, the very low level of the HMF and geomagnetic activity, should help to verify the connections between solar activity, cosmic ray fluxes, geomagnetic activity, the heliospheric magnetic field, and open field. Since some of these connections are somewhat controversial, these extreme conditions should help to quantify them better.
3.7.2 Meteorites and lunar rocks: A direct probe of the galactic cosmic-ray flux
Another more-or-less direct test of solar/heliospheric activity in the past comes from cosmogenic isotopes measured in lunar rock or meteorites. Cosmogenic isotopes, produced in meteoritic or lunar rocks during their exposure to CR in interplanetary space, provide a direct measure of cosmic-ray flux. Uncertainties due to imprecisely known terrestrial processes, including the geomagnetic shielding and redistribution process, are naturally avoided in this case, since the nuclides are directly produced by cosmic rays in the body of the rock, where they remain until they are measured, without any transport or redistribution. The activity of a cosmogenic isotope in meteorite/ lunar rock represents an integral of the balance between the isotope’s production and decay, thus representing the time-integrated CR flux over a period determined by the mean life of the radioisotope. The results of different analyses of measurements of cosmogenic isotopes in meteoritic and lunar rocks show that the average GCR flux remained roughly constant — within 10% over the last million years and within a factor of 1.5 for longer periods of up to 109 years (e.g., Vogt et al., 1990; Grieder, 2001).
3.7.3 Comparison between isotopes
As an indirect test of the solar-activity reconstruction, one can compare different isotopes. The idea behind this test is that two isotopes, 14C and 10Be, have essentially different terrestrial fates, so that only the production signal, namely, solar modulation of cosmic rays, can be regarded as common in the two series. Processes of transport/deposition are completely different (moreover, the 14C series is obtained as an average of the world-wide-distributed samples). The effect of changing geomagnetic fields is also different (although not completely) for the two isotopes, since radiocarbon is globally mixed, while 10Be is only partly mixed before being stored in an archive. Even comparison between data of the same 10Be isotope, but measured in far-spaced ice cores (e.g., Greenland and Antarctica), may help in separating climatic and extraterrestrial factors, since meteorology in the two opposite polar areas is quite different.
The first thorough consistent comparison between 10Be and 14C records for the last millennium was performed by Bard et al. (1997). They assumed that the measured 10Be concentration in Antarctica is directly related to CR variations. Accordingly, 14C production was considered as proportional to 10Be data. Then, applying a 12-box carbon-cycle model, Bard et al. (1997) computed the expected Δ14C synthetic record. Finally, these 10Be-based Δ14C variations were compared with the actual measurements of Δ14C in tree rings, which depicted a close agreement in the profile of temporal variation (coefficient of linear correlation r = 0.81 with exact phasing). Despite some fine discrepancies, which can indicate periods of climatic influence in either (or both) of the series, that result has clearly proven the dominance of solar modulation of cosmogenic nuclide production variations during the last millennium. This conclusion has been confirmed (e.g., Usoskin et al., 2003c; Muscheler et al., 2007) in the sense that quantitative solar-activity reconstructions, based on 10Be and 14C data series for the last millennium, yield very similar results, which differ only in small details. However, a longer comparison over the entire Holocene timescale suggests that, while centennial variations of solar activity reconstructed from the two isotopes are very close to each other, there might be a discrepancy in the very long-term trend (Vonmoos et al., 2006; Muscheler et al., 2007), whose nature is not clear (climate changes, geomagnetic effects or model uncertainties).
Recently, Usoskin et al. (2009b) studied the dominance of the solar signal in different cosmogenic isotope data on different time scales. They compared the expected 10Be variations computed from 14C-based reconstruction of cosmic ray intensity with the actually measured 10Be abundance at the sites and found that: (1) There is good agreement between the 14C and 10Be data sets, on different timescales and at different locations, confirming the existence of a common solar signal in both isotope data; (2) The 10Be data are driven by the solar signal on timescales from about centennial to millennial time scales; (3) The synchronization is lost on short (< 100 years) timescales, either due to local climate or chronological uncertainties (Delaygue and Bard, 2011) but the solar signal becomes important even at short scales during periods of Grand minima of solar activity, (4) There is an indication of a possible systematic uncertainty in the early Holocene (cf., Vonmoos et al., 2006), likely due to a not-perfectly-stable thermohaline circulation. Overall, both 14C- and 10Be-based records are consistent with each other over a wide range of timescales and time intervals.
Thus, comparison of the results obtained from different sources implies that the variations of cosmogenic nuclides on the long-term scale (centuries to millennia) during the Holocene are primarily defined by the solar modulation of CR.
3.8 Composite reconstruction
Most of the earlier solar activity reconstructions are based on single proxy records, either 14C or 10Be. Although they are dominated by the same production signal, viz. solar activity, (see Section 3.7.3), they still contain essential fractions of noise.
A full physics-based multi-proxy composite reconstruction of the solar activity on the millennial time scale is still pending.
In this section, a proxy method of past-solar-activity reconstruction is described in detail.
This method is based on the use of indirect proxies of solar activity, i.e., quantitative parameters, which can be measured now, but represent signatures, stored in natural archives, of the different effects of solar magnetic activity in the past. Such traceable signatures can be related to nuclear or chemical effects caused by cosmic rays in the Earth’s atmosphere, lunar rocks or meteorites. This approach allows one to obtain homogeneous data sets with stable quality and to improve the quality of data when new measurement techniques become available. It provides the only possible regular indicator of solar activity on a very long-term scale.
The most common proxy of solar activity is formed by data of the cosmogenic radionuclides, 10Be and 14C, produced by cosmic rays in the Earth’s atmosphere. After a complicated transport in the atmosphere, these cosmogenic isotopes are stored in natural archives such as polar ice, trees, marine sediments, from where they can now be measured. This process is also affected by changes in the geomagnetic field and the climate.
Radioisotope 14C, measured in independently-dated tree rings, forms a very useful proxy for long-term solar-activity variability. It participates in the complicated carbon cycle, which smoothes out spatial and short-term variability of isotope production. For the Holocene period, with its stable climate, it provides a useful tool for studying solar activity in the past. Existing models allow the quantitative conversion between the measured relative abundance of 14C and the production rate in the atmosphere. The use of radiocarbon for earlier periods, the glacial and deglaciation epochs, is limited by severe climate and ocean ventilation changes. Radiocarbon data cannot be used after the end of the 19th century because of the Suess effect and atmospheric nuclear tests.
Another solar activity proxy is the cosmogenic 10Be isotope measured in stratified polar ice cores. Atmospheric transport of 10Be is relatively straightforward, but its details are as of yet unresolved, leading to the lack of a reliable quantitative model relating the measured isotope concentration in ice to the atmospheric production. Presently, it is common to assume that the production rate is proportional, with an unknown coefficient, to the measured concentration. However, a newly-developed generation of models, which include 3D atmospheric-circulation models, will hopefully solve this problem soon.
Recently a new proxy, nitrate concentration measured in an Antarctic ice core, has been proposed for long-term solar activity reconstructions, but it still needs verification and model support.
Modern physics-based models make it possible to build a chain, which quantitatively connects isotope production rate and sunspot activity, including subsequently the GCR flux quantified via the modulation potential, the heliospheric index, quantified via the open solar magnetic flux or the average HMF intensity at the Earth’s orbit, and finally the sunspot-number series. Presently, all these steps can be made using appropriate models allowing for a full basic quantitative reconstruction of solar activity in the past. The main uncertainties in the solar-activity reconstruction arise from paleo-magnetic models and the overall normalization.
An independent verification of the reconstructions, including direct comparison with sunspot numbers, cosmogenic isotopes in meteorites and the comparison of different models with each other, confirms their veracity in both relative variations and absolute level. It also implies that the variations in cosmogenic nuclides on the long-term scale (centuries to millennia) during the Holocene are primarily defined by the solar modulation of CR.
4 Variability of Solar Activity Over Millennia
Several reconstructions of solar activity on multi-millennial timescales have been performed recently using physics-based models (see Section 3) from measurements of 14C in tree rings and 10Be in polar ice. The validity of these models for the last few centuries was discussed in Section 3.7. In this section we discuss the temporal variability of thus-reconstructed solar activity on a longer scale.
4.1 Quasi-periodicities and characteristic times
On the other hand, an analysis of the occurrence of grand minima (see Section 4.2) shows no clear periodicity except for a marginal 2400 year clustering, implying that the occurrence of grand minima and maxima is not a result of long-term cyclic variability but is defined by stochastic/chaotic processes.
4.2 Grand minima of solar activity
A very particular type of solar activity is the grand minimum, when solar activity is greatly reduced. The most famous is the Maunder minimum in the late 17th century, which is discussed below in some detail (for a detailed review see the book by Soon and Yaskell, 2003). Grand minima are believed to correspond to a special state of the dynamo (Sokoloff, 2004; Miyahara et al., 2006b), and its very existence poses a challenge for the solar-dynamo theory. It is noteworthy that dynamo models do not agree on how often such episodes occur in the sun’s history and whether their appearance is regular or random. For example, the commonly used mean-field dynamo yields a fairly-regular 11-year cycle (Charbonneau, 2010), while dynamo models including a stochastic driver predict the intermittency of solar magnetic activity (Choudhuri, 1992; Schüssler et al., 1994; Schmitt et al., 1996; Ossendrijver, 2000; Weiss and Tobias, 2000; Mininni et al., 2001; Charbonneau, 2001). Most of the models predict purely random occurrence of the grand minima, without any intrinsic long-term memory (Moss et al., 2008). Although cosmogenic isotope data suggest the possible existence of such memory (Usoskin et al., 2007), statistics is not sufficient to distinguish between the two cases (Usoskin et al., 2009d).
4.2.1 The Maunder minimum
The Maunder minimum is a representative of grand minima in solar activity (e.g., Eddy, 1976), when sunspots have almost completely vanished from the solar surface, while the solar wind kept blowing, although at a reduced pace (Cliver et al., 1998; Usoskin et al., 2001a). There is some uncertainty in the definition of its duration; the “formal” duration is 1645 – 1715 (Eddy, 1976), while its deep phase with the absence of apparent sunspot cyclic activity is often considered as 1645 – 1700, with the low, but very clear, solar cycle of 1700 – 1712 being ascribed to a recovery or transition phase (Usoskin et al., 2000). The Maunder minimum was amazingly well covered (more than 95% of days) by direct sunspot observations (Hoyt and Schatten, 1996), especially in its late phase (Ribes and Nesme-Ribes, 1993). On the other hand, sunspots appeared rarely (during ∼ 2% of the days) and seemingly sporadically, without an indication of the 11-year cycle (Usoskin and Mursula, 2003). This makes it almost impossible to apply standard methods of time-series analysis to sunspot data during the Maunder minimum (e.g., Frick et al., 1997)). Therefore, special methods such as the distribution of spotless days vs. days with sunspots (e.g., Harvey and White, 1999; Kovaltsov et al., 2004) or an analysis of sparsely-occurring events (Usoskin et al., 2000) should be applied in this case. Using these methods, Usoskin et al. (2001a) have shown that sunspot occurrence during the Maunder minimum was gathered into two large clusters (1652 – 1662 and 1672 – 1689), with the mass centers of these clusters being in 1658 and 1679 – 1680. Together with the sunspot maxima before (1640) and after (1705) the deep Maunder minimum, this implies a dominant 22-year periodicity in sunspot activity throughout the Maunder minimum (Mursula et al., 2001), with a subdominant 11-year cycle emerging towards the end of the Maunder minimum (Ribes and Nesme-Ribes, 1993; Mendoza, 1997; Usoskin et al., 2000) and becoming dominant again after 1700. Similar behavior of a dominant 22-year cycle and a weak subdominant Schwabe cycle during the Maunder minimum has been found in other indirect solar proxy data: auroral occurrence (Křivský and Pejml, 1988; Schlamminger, 1990; Silverman, 1992) and 14C data (Stuiver and Braziunas, 1993; Kocharov et al., 1995; Peristykh and Damon, 1998; Miyahara et al., 2006b). This is in general agreement with the concept of “immersion” of 11-year cycles during the Maunder minimum (Vitinsky et al., 1986, and references therein). This concept means that full cycles cannot be resolved and sunspot activity only appears as pulses around cycle-maximum times.
An analysis of 10Be data (Beer et al., 1998) implied that the 11-year cycle was weak but fairly regular during the Maunder minimum, but its phase was inverted (Usoskin et al., 2001a). A recent theoretical study (Owens et al., 2012; Wang and Sheeley Jr, 2013) confirms that such a phase change between cosmic rays and solar activity can appear for very weak cycles.
The time behavior of sunspot activity during the Maunder minimum yielded the following general scenario (Vitinsky et al., 1986; Ribes and Nesme-Ribes, 1993; Sokoloff and Nesme-Ribes, 1994; Usoskin et al., 2000, 2001a; Miyahara et al., 2006b). Transition from the normal high activity to the deep minimum did not have any apparent precursor. On the other hand, newly recovered data suggest that the start of the Maunder minimum might had been not very sudden but via a regular cycle of reduced height (Vaquero et al., 2011). A 22-year cycle was dominant in sunspot occurrence during the deep minimum (1645 – 1700), with the subdominant 11-year cycle, which became visible only in the late phase of the Maunder minimum. There is an indication that the length of solar cycle may slightly extend during and already slightly before a grand minimum (Miyahara et al., 2004; Nagaya et al., 2012). The 11-year Schwabe cycle started dominating solar activity after 1700. Recovery of sunspot activity from the deep minimum to normal activity was gradual, passing through a period of nearly-linear amplification of the 11-year cycle. It is interesting to note that such a qualitative evolution of a grand minimum is consistent with predictions of the stochastically-forced return map (Charbonneau, 2001).
Although the Maunder minimum is the only one with available direct sunspot observations, its predecessor, the Spörer minimum from 1450 – 1550, is covered by precise bi-annual measurements of 14C (Miyahara et al., 2006a). An analysis of this data (Miyahara et al., 2006a,b) reveals a similar pattern with the dominant 22-year cycle and suppressed 11-year cycle, thus supporting the idea that the above general scenario may be typical for a grand minimum. A similar pattern has been recently also for an un-named grand minima in the 4-th century BC (Nagaya et al., 2012).
A very important feature of sunspot activity during the Maunder minimum was its strong north-south asymmetry, as sunspots were only observed in the southern solar hemisphere during the end of the Maunder minimum (Ribes and Nesme-Ribes, 1993; Sokoloff and Nesme-Ribes, 1994). This observational fact has led to intensive theoretical efforts to explain a significant asymmetry of the sun’s surface magnetic field in the framework of the dynamo concept (see the review by Sokoloff, 2004, and references therein). Note that a recent discovery (Arlt, 2008, 2009) of the Staudacher’s original drawings of sunspots in late 18th century shows that similarly asymmetric sunspot occurrence existed also in the beginning of the Dalton minimum in 1790s (Usoskin et al., 2009c). However, the northern hemisphere dominated at that period contrary to the situation during the Maunder minimum.
4.2.2 Grand minima on a multi-millennial timescale
Approximate dates (in -BC/AD) of grand minima in reconstructed solar activity.
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A list of 27 grand minima, identified in the quantitative solar-activity reconstruction of the last 11,000 years, shown in Figure 21, is presented in Table 1 (after Usoskin et al., 2007). The cumulative duration of the grand minima is about 1900 years, indicating that the sun in its present evolutionary stage spends ∼ 1/6 (17%) of its time in a quiet state, corresponding to grand minima. Note that the definition of grand minima is quite robust.
The question of whether the occurrence of grand minima in solar activity is a regular or chaotic process is important for understanding the action of the solar-dynamo machine. Even a simple deterministic numerical dynamo model can produce events comparable with grand minima (Brandenburg et al., 1989). Such models can also simulate a sequence of grand minima occurrences, which are irregular and seemingly chaotic (e.g., Jennings and Weiss, 1991; Tobias et al., 1995; Covas et al., 1998). The presence of long-term dynamics in the dynamo process is often explained in terms of the α-effect, which, being a result of the electromotive force averaged over turbulent vortices, can contain a fluctuating part (e.g., Hoyng, 1993; Ossendrijver et al., 1996) leading to irregularly occurring grand minima (e.g., Brandenburg and Spiegel, 2008). The present dynamo models can reproduce almost all the observed features of the solar cycle under ad hoc assumptions (e.g., Pipin et al., 2012), although it is still unclear what leads to the observed variability. Most of these models predict that the occurrence of grand minima is a purely random “memoryless” Poisson-like process, with the probability of a grand minimum occurring being constant at any given time. This unambiguously leads to the exponential shape of the waiting-time distribution (waiting time is the time interval between subsequent events) for grand minima.
Usoskin et al. (2007) performed a statistical analysis of grand minima occurrence time (Table 1) and concluded that their occurrence is not a result of long-term cyclic variations, but is defined by stochastic/chaotic processes. Moreover, waiting-time distribution deviates from the exponential law. This implies that the event occurrence is still random, but the probability is nonuniform in time and depends on the previous history. In the time series it is observed as a tendency of the events to cluster together with a relatively-short waiting time, while the clusters are separated by long event-free intervals (cf. Section 4.1). Such behavior can be interpreted in different ways, e.g., self-organized criticality or processes related to accumulation and release of energy. This poses a strong observational constraint on theoretical models aiming to explain the long-term evolution of solar activity (Section 4.4.1). However, as discussed by Moss et al. (2008) and Usoskin et al. (2009d), the observed feature can be an artefact of the small statistics (only 27 grand minima are identified during the Holocene), making this result only indicative and waiting for a more detailed investigation.
4.3 Grand maxima of solar activity
4.3.1 The modern episode of active sun
In the last decades we were living in a period of a very active sun with a level of activity that is unprecedentedly high for the last few centuries covered by direct solar observation. The sunspot number was growing rapidly between 1900 and 1940, with more than a doubling average group sunspot number, and has remained at that high level until recently (see Figure 1). Note that growth comes mostly from raising the cycle maximum amplitude, while sunspot activity always returns to a very low level around solar cycle minima. While the average group sunspot number for the period 1750 – 1900 was 35 ± 9 (39 ± 6, if the Dalton minimum in 1797 — 1828 is not counted), it stands high at the level of 75 ± 3 for 1950 – 2000. Therefore, the modern active sun episode, which started in the 1940s, can be regarded as the modern grand maximum of solar activity, as opposed to a grand minimum (Wilson, 1988b). As first shown by Usoskin et al. (2003c) and Solanki et al. (2004), such high activity episodes occur quite seldom.
However, as we can securely say now, after the very weak solar minimum in 2008 – 2009 (e.g., Gibson et al., 2011), solar activity returns to its normal moderate level, or perhaps even to a low-activity stage, comparable to the Dalton minimum in the turn of 18 – 19th centuries (e.g., Lockwood et al., 2011). Thus, the high activity episode known as the Modern grand maximum is over.
Is such high solar activity typical or is it something extraordinary? While it is broadly agreed that the modern active sun episode is a special phenomenon, the question of how (a)typical such upward bumps are from “normal” activity is a topic of hot debate.
4.3.2 Grand maxima on a multi-millennial timescale
The question of how often grand maxima occur and how strong they are, cannot be studied using the 400-year-long series of direct observations. An increase in solar activity around 1200 AD, also related to the Medieval temperature optimum, is sometimes qualitatively regarded as a grand maximum (Wilson, 1988b; de Meyer, 1998), but its magnitude is lower than the modern maximum (Usoskin et al., 2003c). Accordingly, it was not included in a list of grand maxima by Eddy (1977a,b).
A quantitative analysis is only possible using proxy data, especially cosmogenic isotope records. Using a physics-based analysis of solar-activity series reconstructed from 10Be data from polar (Greenland and Antarctica) archives, Usoskin et al. (2003c, 2004) stated that the modern maximum is unique in the last millennium. Then, using a similar analysis of the 14C calibrated series, Solanki et al. (2004) found that the modern activity burst is not unique, but a very rare event, with the previous burst occurring about 8 millennia ago. An update (Usoskin et al., 2006a) of this result, using a more precise paleo-magnetic reconstruction by Korte and Constable (2005) since 5000 BC, suggests that an increase of solar activity comparable with the modern episode might have taken place around 2000 BC, i.e., around 4 millennia ago. This result is confirmed by the most recent composite reconstruction by Steinhilber et al. (2012). The result by Solanki et al. (2004) has been disputed by Muscheler et al. (2005) who claimed that equally high (or even higher) solar-activity bursts occurred several times during the last millennium, circa 1200 AD, 1600 AD and at the end of the 19th century. We note that the latter claimed peak (ca. 1860) is not confirmed by direct solar or geomagnetic data. However, as argued by Solanki et al. (2005), the level of solar activity reconstructed by Muscheler et al. (2005) was overestimated because of an erroneous normalization to the data of ground-based ionization chambers (see also McCracken and Beer, 2007). This indicates that the definition of grand maxima is less robust than grand minima and is sensitive to other parameters such as geomagnetic field data or overall normalization.
Approximate dates (in -BC/AD) of grand maxima in the SN-L series (after Usoskin et al., 2007).
4.4 Related implications
Reconstructions of long-term solar activity have different implications in related areas of science. The results, discussed in this overview, can be used in such diverse research disciplines as theoretical astrophysics, solar-terrestrial studies, paleo-climatology, and even archeology and geology. We will not discuss all possible implications of long-term solar activity in great detail but only briefly mention them here.
4.4.1 Theoretical constrains
The basic principles of the occurrence of the 11-year Schwabe cycle are more-or-less understood in terms of the solar dynamo, which acts, in its classical form (e.g., Parker, 1955), as follows (see detail in Charbonneau, 2010). Differential rotation Ω produces a toroidal magnetic field from a poloidal one, while the “α-effect”, associated with the helicity of the velocity field or Joy’s Law tilt of active regions, produces a poloidal magnetic field from a toroidal one. This classical model results in a periodic process in the form of propagation of a toroidal field pattern in the latitudinal direction (the “butterfly diagram”). As evident from observation, the solar cycle is far from being a strictly periodic phenomenon, with essential variations in the cycle length and especially in the amplitude, varying dramatically between nearly spotless grand minima and very large values during grand maxima. The mere fact of such great variability, known from sunspot data, forced solar physicists to develop dynamo models further. Simple deterministic numerical dynamo models, developed on the basis of Parker’s migratory dynamo, can simulate events, which are seemingly comparable with grand minima/maxima occurrence (e.g., Brandenburg et al., 1989). However, since variations in the solar-activity level, as deduced from cosmogenic isotopes, appear essentially nonperiodic and irregular, appropriate models have been developed to reproduce irregularly-occurring grand minima (e.g., Jennings and Weiss, 1991; Tobias et al., 1995; Covas et al., 1998). Models, including an ad hoc stochastic driver (Choudhuri, 1992; Schmitt et al., 1996; Ossendrijver, 2000; Weiss and Tobias, 2000; Mininni et al., 2001; Charbonneau, 2001; Charbonneau et al., 2004), are able to reproduce the great variability and intermittency found in the solar cycle (see the review by Charbonneau, 2010). A recent statistical result of grand minima occurrence (Usoskin et al., 2007, Section 4.3.2) shows disagreement between observational data, depicting a degree of self-organization or “memory”, and the above dynamo model, which predicts a pure Poisson occurrence rate for grand minima (see Section 4.2). This poses a new constraint on the dynamo theory, responsible for long-term solar-activity variations (Sokoloff, 2004; Moss et al., 2008).
The sun spends about 3/4 of its time at moderate magnetic-activity levels, about 1/6 of its time in a grand minimum and about 1/5 – 1/10 in a grand maximum. Recent solar activity corresponds to a grand maximum, which has ceased after solar cycle 23.
Occurrence of grand minima and maxima is not a result of long-term cyclic variations but is defined by stochastic/chaotic processes.
Observed statistics of the occurrence of grand minima and maxima display deviation from a “memory-less” Poisson-like process, but tend to either cluster events together or produce long event-free periods. This can be interpreted in different ways, such as self-organized criticality (e.g., de Carvalho and Prado, 2000), a time-dependent Poisson process (e.g., Wheatland, 2003), or some memory in the driving process (e.g., Mega et al., 2003).
Grand minima tend to be of two different types: short minima of Maunder type and long minima of Spörer type. This suggests that a grand minimum is a special state of the dynamo.
Duration of grand maxima resemble a random Possion-like process, in contrast to grand minima.
4.4.2 Solar-terrestrial relations
The sun ultimately defines the climate on Earth supplying it with energy via radiation received by the terrestrial system, but the role of solar variability in climate variations is far from being clear. Solar variability can affect the Earth’s environment and climate in different ways (see, e.g., reviews by Haigh, 2007; Gray et al., 2010). Variability of total solar irradiance (TSI) measured during recent decades is known to be too small to explain observed climate variations (e.g., Foukal et al., 2006; Fröhlich, 2006). On the other hand, there are other ways solar variability may affect the climate, e.g., an unknown long-term trend in TSI (Solanki and Krivova, 2004; Wang et al., 2005) or a terrestrial amplifier of spectral irradiance variations (Shindell et al., 1999; Haigh et al., 2010). Uncertainties in the TSI/SSI reconstructions remain large (Shapiro et al., 2011; Schmidt et al., 2012), making it difficult to assess climate models on the long-term scale. Alternatively, an indirect mechanism also driven by solar activity, such as ionization of the atmosphere by CR (Usoskin and Kovaltsov, 2006) or the global terrestrial current system (Tinsley and Zhou, 2006) can modify atmospheric properties, in particular cloud cover (Ney, 1959; Svensmark, 1998; Usoskin and Kovaltsov, 2008b). Even a small change in cloud cover modifies the transparency/absorption/reflectance of the atmosphere and affects the amount of absorbed solar radiation, even without changes in the solar irradiance. However, the direct role of this effect is estimated to be small (Usoskin et al., 2008; Gray et al., 2010).
Accordingly, improved knowledge of the solar driver’s variability may help in disentangling various effects in the very complicated system that is the terrestrial climate (e.g., de Jager, 2005; Versteegh, 2005; Gray et al., 2010). It is of particular importance to know the driving forces in the pre-industrial era, when all climate changes were natural. Knowledge of the natural variability can lead to an improved understanding of anthropogenic effects upon the Earth’s climate.
Studies of the long-term solar-terrestrial relations are mostly phenomenological, lacking a clear quantitative physical mechanism. Even phenomenological and empirical studies suffer from large uncertainties, related to the quantitative interpretation of proxy data, temporal and spatial resolution (Versteegh, 2005). Therefore, more precise knowledge of past solar activity, especially since it is accompanied by continuous efforts of the paleo-climatic community on improving climatic data sets, is crucial for improved understanding of the natural (including solar) variability of the terrestrial environment.
4.4.3 Other issues
The proxy method of solar-activity reconstruction, based on cosmogenic isotopes, was developed from the radiocarbon dating method, when it was recognized that the production rate of 14C is not constant and may vary in time due to solar variability and geomagnetic field changes. Neglect of these effects can lead to inaccurate radiocarbon (or more generally, cosmogenic nuclide) dating, which is a key for, e.g., archeology and Quaternary geology. Thus, knowledge of past solar activity and geomagnetic changes allows for the improvement of the quality of calibration curves, such as the IntCal (Stuiver et al., 1998; Reimer et al., 2004, 2009) for radiocarbon, eventually leading to more precise dating.
Long-term variations in the geomagnetic field are often evaluated using cosmogenic isotope data. Knowledge of source variability due to solar modulation is important for better results.
In this section, solar activity on a longer scale is discussed, based on recent reconstructions.
According to these reconstructions, the sun has spent about 70% of its time during the Holocene, which is ongoing, in a normal state characterized by medium solar activity. About 15 – 20% of the time the sun has experienced a grand minimum, while 10 — 15% of the time has been taken up by periods of very high activity.
One of the main features of long-term solar activity is its irregular behavior, which cannot be described by a combination of quasi-periodic processes as it includes an essentially random component.
Grand minima, whose typical representative is the Maunder minimum of the late 17th century, are typical solar phenomena. A total of 27 grand minima have been identified in reconstructions of the Holocene period. Their occurrence suggests that they appear not periodically, but rather as the result of a chaotic process within clusters separated by 2000 – 2500 years. Grand minima tend to be of two distinct types: short (Maunder-like) and longer (Spörer-like). The appearance of grand minima can be reproduced by modern stochastic-driven dynamo models to some extent, but some problems still remain to be resolved.
The modern level of solar activity (after the 1940s) was very high, corresponding to a grand maximum, which are typical but rare and irregularly-spaced events in solar behavior. However, this grand maximum has ceased after solar cycle 23. The duration of grand maxima resembles a random Possion-like process, in contrast to grand minima.
These observational features of the long-term behavior of solar activity have important implications, especially for the development of theoretical solar-dynamo models and for solar-terrestrial studies.
5 Solar Energetic Particles in the Past
It is not straightforward to evaluate the average SEP flux even for the modern instrumental epoch of direct space-borne measurements (e.g., Mewaldt et al., 2007). For example, estimates for the average flux of SEPs with an energy above 30 MeV (called f30 henceforth) for individual cycles may vary by an order of magnitude, from 10 cm-2 s-1 for cycle 21 up to 70 cm-2 s-1 for cycle 19 (Reedy, 2012). Moreover, estimates of the SEP flux were quite uncertain during the earlier years of space-borne measurements because of two effects, which are hard to account for (e.g., Reeves et al., 1992; Tylka et al., 1997). One is related to the very high flux intensities of SEPs during the peak phase of events, when a detector can be saturated because of the dead-time effect (the maximum trigger rate of the detector is exceeded). The other is related to events with high energy solar particles, which can penetrate into the detector through the walls of the collimator or the detector, leading to an enhanced effective acceptance cone with respect to the “expected” one. Since the SEP fluence is defined by major events, these effects may lead to an underestimate of the average flux of SEPs. The modern generation of detectors are better suited for measuring high fluxes. The average f 30 flux for the last five solar cycles (1954 – 2006) is estimated at about 35 cm-2 s-1 (Smart and Shea, 2002; Shea et al., 2006).[
5.1 Cosmogenic isotopes
The development of the method of cosmogenic isotopes makes it possible to estimate occurrence of extreme SEP events in the past. Some earlier attempts were inconclusive. For example, Usoskin et al. (2006b) found that a typical strong SEP event leaves no distinguishable signature in 14C but may be observed from ice core 10Be records. However, the question of the possible rare occurrence of extreme SEP events on the millennial time scale is important not only from the theoretical point of view, but also for assessment of radiation risks for space-borne missions, especially manned ones. What can be the strongest SEP event originated from the sun, how often they can occur? These questions need to be answered. Several attempts have been made to evaluate that from the cosmogenic isotope data (Lingenfelter and Hudson, 1980; Usoskin et al., 2006b; Webber et al., 2007), but the result was grossly uncertain (Hudson, 2010; Schrijver et al., 2012), mostly because of the large model uncertainties of the radionuclide production.
A new step forward has been done recently by Usoskin and Kovaltsov (2012), who analyzed two 14C and five 10Be records over the last millennia and searched for possible signatures of extreme SEP events.
A list of candidates for extreme SEP events found in different cosmogenic isotope records throughout the Holocene: approximate year, dataset used (Dye3 — McCracken et al. (2004); NGRIP — Berggren et al. (2009); IntCal09 — Reimer et al. (2009); GRIP — Yiou et al. (1997); Dome Fuji — Horiuchi et al. (2008); South Pole — Raisbeck et al. (1990); M12 — Miyake et al. (2012)), and the F30 fluence [cm−2]. Table after Usoskin and Kovaltsov (2012).
1460 – 1462 AD
1.5 × 1010
9.7 × 109
1.3 × 1010
1 × 1010
1 × 1010
2.0 × 1010
1.3 × 1010
1.5 × 1010
1.3 × 1010
2.0 × 1010
1.5 × 1010
1.1 × 1010
1.7 × 1010
1.5 × 1010
2.4 × 1010
1.6 × 1010
2.4 × 1010
1.2 × 1010
1.2 × 1010
2.0 × 1010
2.6 × 1010
2.0 × 1010
2.4 × 1010
5.3 × 1010 †
4 × 1010 †
7.0 × 1010 †
The list includes 23 candidates for extreme SEP events with the fluence F30 exceeding 1010 cm-2, viz. the greatest fluence observed for the space era in 1960 (Shea and Smart, 1990). Note that only two of these candidates appear in more than one series — the events of ca. 1460 AD and ca. 780 AD. The former had signatures in two annual 10Be series, NGRIP and Dye3. The later was observed in two 14C series, biennial M12 and 5-yr IntCal09, and in quasi-decadal Dome Fuji 10Be series. The quasi-decadal South Pole 10Be series does not show an increase ca. 780 AD placing an upper limit on the strength of the event.
We note that the event of ca. 775 AD was analyzed using biennial 14C data by Miyake et al. (2012), who suggested that the event was probably caused by γ-rays from an unknown nearby supernova. This event is confirmed by annual 14C data from a German oak tree (Usoskin et al., 2013). However, because of the use of an inappropriate carbon cycle model, Miyake et al. (2012) grossly (by a factor of 5) overestimated the corresponding 14C production, leading to the need of a supernova. Moreover, this leads to a strong disagreement between 14C and 10Be data sets, since this event is not observed in the South Pole record and is not exceptionally strong in the Dome Fuji record. However, if an appropriate model of the carbon cycle is used, the production of 14C appears in a reasonable range, being consistent with 10Be (Usoskin et al., 2013). Therefore, there is no need to involve such an exotic object as a nearby supernova whose remnants are unknown for us — the event of ca. 775 – 780 AD can be consistently explained by a extreme but not exceptional SEP event.
One can see that the break in the distribution marginally hinted in the directly observed SEP events at around F30 = (5 – 7) ×109 cm-2 (nonproportionally fewer strong events observed) is confidently confirmed by the cosmogenic isotope data. In particular, no event with F30 > 2 × 1010 cm-2 was found over the last 600 years using annually resolved 10Be data. It is noteworthy that the idea of an possible extreme Carrington SPE of 1859 AD (McCracken et al., 2001) is discarded (see also Wolff et al., 2012). On the longer time scale of 11 millennia, no event with F30 > 5 × 1010 cm-2 has been found. This gives a new strict observational constraint on the occurrence probability of extreme SPEs.
According to Usoskin and Kovaltsov (2012) practical limits can be set as F30 ≈ 1, 2 — 3 and 5 ∼ 1010 cm-2 (10, 20 – 30 and 50 times greater than the SEP event of February 23, 1956), for the occurrence probability of 10-2, 10-3, and 10-4 yr-1, respectively. The mean SEP flux is found as ≈ 40 (cm2 s)-1 in agreement with estimates from the lunar rocks. On average, extreme SPEs contribute about 10% to the total SEP fluence.
5.2 Lunar and meteoritic rocks
Since energy spectra of SEP and GCR are dramatically different, one may think of a natural spectrometer to separate their effects and thus evaluate their fluxes independently. A spectrometer that is able to separate cosmic rays is lunar (or meteoritic) rocks.
A disadvantage of this approach is that lunar samples are not stratified and do not allow for temporal separation. The measured isotope activity is a balance between production and decay and, therefore, represents the production (and the ensuing flux) integrated over the life-time of the isotope before the sample has been measured. However, using different isotopes with different life times, one can evaluate the cosmic-ray flux integrated over different timescales.
Estimates of 4π omni-directional integral (above 30 MeV) flux, f30 in [cm2s]−1, of solar energetic particles, obtained from different sources.
f30 (cm−2 s−1)
1954 – 2008
Jull et al. (1998)
Fink et al. (1998)
5 × 105 yr
Nishiizumi et al. (2009)
Kohl et al. (1978)
Grismore et al. (2001)
Michel et al. (1996)
Fink et al. (1998)
Nishiizumi et al. (2009)
2 × 106 yr
Nishizumi et al. (1997)
5 × 106 yr
Kohl et al. (1978)
2 × 106 yr
21Ne, 22Ne, 38Ar
Rao et al. (1994)
However, this method is not able to provide an estimate of the occurrence rate of extreme SEP events. If one assumes that the entire average SEP flux is produced within one extreme event occurring at half of the isotope’s life-time ago (Reedy, 1996), an upper limit for the occurrence of extreme SEP events can be placed. This is an unrealistically extreme assumption, which may lead to an overestimate by many orders of magnitude, but it sets the very conservative upper limit which cannot be exceeded.
5.3 Nitrates in polar ice
It has been discussed until recently that another quantitative index of strong SEP events (with F30 × 109 cm-2) might be related to nitrate (NO3- records measured in polar ice cores. The concentration of nitrates has been measured in polar ice from both the Southern (South Pole, e.g., Dreschhoff and Zeller, 1990) and Northern (Greenland, e.g., Zeller and Dreschhoff, 1995; Dreschhoff and Zeller, 1998) polar caps, depicting pronounced spikes associated with strong SEP events (McCracken et al., 2001). As a result of the analysis a list of large SEP events since 1560 and their fluences have been published (see Table 1 in McCracken et al., 2001) and widely used.
However, as shown by several independent recent studies (Wolff et al., 2012; Usoskin and Kovaltsov, 2012) on the example of the Carrington event (September 1859), the nitrate spikes are not related to SEP events. According to McCracken et al. (2001), the nitrate spike and the associated SEP event was the strongest in the entire record (F30 ≈ 2 ∼ 1010 cm-2). Wolff et al. (2012) have measured, with high resolution, nitrate content in 14 ice cores from Antarctic and Greenland for a few decades around 1859. Only one Greenland series depicts a spike which can be associated with the event, all other series have no signatures. Moreover, all similar spikes found in Greenland datasets are accompanied by chemical tracers (ammonium, formate, black carbon, etc.) clearly pointing to the anthropogenic source of nitrates . biomass burning plumes. No significant spikes have been found in the Antarctic records. Wolff et al. (2012) concluded that “Nitrate spikes cannot be used to derive the statistics of SEPs.” Another confirmation of this conclusion was made by Usoskin and Kovaltsov (2012), who calculated, from the F30 fluence proposed by McCracken et al. (2001) for the Carrington event, the 10Be production. If the Carrington SEP event was so strong, it would have necessarily left its clear signature in the annually resolved 10Be record, which however contradicts to the real data from NGRIP and Dye3 ice cores.
Thus, the nitrate record in polar ice cannot serve as an index of SEP events. On the other hand, it may be used to study long-term variability of GCR (see Section 3.4).
In this section, estimates of the averaged long-term flux of SEPs are discussed.
Measurements of cosmogenic isotopes with different life times in lunar and meteoritic rocks allow one to make rough estimates of the SEP flux over different timescales. The directly space-bornemeasured SEP flux for past decades is broadly consistent with estimates on longer timescales — up to millions of years. The same measurements can provide a very conservative upper estimate for the occurrence rate of extreme SEP events. Terrestrial cosmogenic isotope data in dated archives (tree trunks, ice cores) give a possibility to assess the occurrence rate of strong SEP events on the time scales up to ten of millennia. Measurements of nitrates in polar ice have been shown to be an invalid index of strong SEP events in the past.
Different estimates of the extreme (quantified as the fluence of SEP with energy above 10 MeV) SEP event occurrence probability are summarized in Figure 28).
An analysis of various kinds of data suggests that the distribution of the intensity of SEP events has a break, and the occurrence of extra-strong events (with the F30 fluence exceeding 5 × 1010 cm-2) is unlikely on the multi-millennial time scale.
In this review the present knowledge of long-term solar activity on a multi-millennial timescale, as reconstructed using the indirect proxy method, is discussed.
Although the concept of solar activity is intuitively understandable as a deviation from the “quiet” sun concept, there is no clear definition for it, and different indices have been proposed to quantify different aspects of variable solar activity. One of the most common and practical indices is sunspot number, which forms the longest available series of direct scientific observations. While all other indices have a high correlation with sunspot numbers, dominated by the 11-year cycle, the relationship between them at other timescales (short- and long-term trends) may vary to a great extent.
On longer timescales, quantitative information of past solar activity can only be obtained using the method based upon indirect proxy, i.e., quantitative parameters, which can be measured nowadays but represent the signatures, stored in natural archives, of the different effects of solar magnetic activity in the past. Such traceable signatures can be related to nuclear or chemical effects caused by cosmic rays in the Earth’s atmosphere, lunar rocks or meteorites. The most common proxy of solar activity is formed by data from the cosmogenic radionuclides, 10Be and 14C, produced by cosmic rays in the Earth’s atmosphere and stored in independently-dated stratified natural archives, such as tree rings or ice cores. Using a recently-developed physics-based model it is now possible to reconstruct the temporal behavior of solar activity in the past, over many millennia. The most robust results can be obtained for the Holocene epoch, which started more than 11,000 years ago, whose stable climate minimizes possible uncertainties in the reconstruction. An indirect verification of long-term solar-activity reconstructions supports their veracity and confirms that variations of cosmogenic nuclides on the long-term scale (centuries to millennia) during the Holocene make a solid basis for studies of solar variability in the past. However, such reconstructions may still contain systematic uncertainties related to unknown changes in the geomagnetic field or climate of the past, especially in the early part of the Holocene.
Measurements of the concentration of different cosmogenic isotopes in lunar and meteoritic rocks make it possible to estimate the SEP flux on different timescales. Directly space-borne-measured SEP flux for recent decades is broadly consistent with estimates on longer timescales — up to millions of years. The occurrence of extra-strong events, with the fluence of SEP (with energy greater than 30 MeV) exceeding 5 × 1010 cm-2 is unlikely on the multimillenial time scale.
Solar activity is dominated by the 11-year Schwabe cycle on an interannual timescale. Some additional longer characteristic times can be found, including the Gleissberg secular cycle, de Vries/Suess cycle, and a quasi-cycle of 2000 – 2400 years. However, all these longer cycles are intermittent and cannot be regarded as strict phase-locked periodicities.
One of the main features of long-term solar activity is that it contains an essential chaotic/stochastic component, which leads to irregular variations and makes solar-activity predictions impossible for a scale exceeding one solar cycle.
The sun spends about 70% of its time at moderate magnetic activity levels, about 15 – 20% of its time in a grand minimum and about 10 – 15% in a grand maximum.
Grand minima are a typical but rare phenomena in solar behavior. Their occurrence appears not periodically, but rather as the result of a chaotic process within clusters separated by 2000 – 2500 years. Grand minima tend to be of two distinct types: short (Maunder-like) and longer (Spörer-like).
The recent level of solar activity (after the 1940s) was very high, corresponding to a prolonged grand maximum, but it is ceasing now to the normal moderate level. Grand maxima are also rare and irregularly occurring events, though the exact rate of their occurrence is still a subject of debates.
These observational features of the long-term behavior of solar activity have important implications, especially for the development of theoretical solar-dynamo models and for solar-terrestrial studies.
2 The concept of VDM assumes that the geomagnetic dipole is centered at the planet’s center and its axis is aligned with the true magnetic axis.
3 Isotope’s activity quantifies (a) in the radiometric 14 technique its decay rate, and is usually given in terms of disintegrations per minute per gram of carbon, and (b) in the AMS technique, the 14C/12C ratio, all normalized to the standard.
4 This is not a prediction of future solar activity, but only a statistical estimate.
I thank the editorial board of the Living Reviews in Solar Physics for the invitation to prepare this review and organizational aid. This work would be impossible without encouraging discussions, as well as direct and indirect help, from my colleagues Gennady Kovaltsov and Sami Solanki, whose invaluable support is acknowledged with my greatest gratitude. I have also greatly benefited from lively and open discussions and debates with Rainer Arlt, Edouard Bard, Jürg Beer, Narendra Bhandari, late Giuliana Cini Castagnoli, Paul Charbonneau, Ed Cliver, Vincent Courtillot, Cornelis de Jager, Gisella Dreschhoff, Erwin Flückiger, Peter Foukal, Yves Gallet, Agnés Genevey, David Hathaway, Monika Korte, Natalia Krivova, Bernd Kromer, Devendra Lal, Michael Lockwood, Ken McCracken, David Moss, Kalevi Mursula, Raimund Muscheler, Hiroko Miyahara, Heikki Nevanlinna, Keran O’Brien, Valery Ostryakov, Alexander Ruzmaikin, Dieter Schmitt, Manfred Schüssler, Margaret Shea, Don Smart, Ian Snowball, Dmitry Sokoloff, Willie Soon, Leif Svalgaard, Carla Taricco, Rita Traversi, Jóse Vaquero, and many others. I thank Evguenia Usoskina for help with editing this text. I am happy to acknowledge those colleagues who work in this field and make it living and vibrant.
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