A synthesis of solar cycle prediction techniques


  • David H. Hathaway,

  • Robert M. Wilson,

  • Edwin J. Reichmann


A number of techniques currently in use for predicting solar activity on a solar cycle timescale are tested with historical data. Some techniques, e.g., regression and curve fitting, work well as solar activity approaches maximum and provide a month-by-month description of future activity, while others, e.g., geomagnetic precursors, work well near solar minimum but only provide an estimate of the amplitude of the cycle. A synthesis of different techniques is shown to provide a more accurate and useful forecast of solar cycle activity levels. A combination of two uncorrelated geomagnetic precursor techniques provides a more accurate prediction for the amplitude of a solar activity cycle at a time well before activity minimum. This combined precursor method gives a smoothed sunspot number maximum of 154 ± 21 at the 95% level of confidence for the next cycle maximum. A mathematical function dependent on the time of cycle initiation and the cycle amplitude is used to describe the level of solar activity month by month for the next cycle. As the time of cycle maximum approaches a better estimate of the cycle activity is obtained by including the fit between previous activity levels and this function. This Combined Solar Cycle Activity Forecast gives, as of January 1999, a smoothed sunspot maximum of 146 ± 20 at the 95% level of confidence for the next cycle maximum.