Those Cheshire Sunspots,

they come and go, come and go …



There’s a technical report by Professor Emeritus and Civil Engineer, W.J.R. Alexander on drought and flood periods in South Africa, “A critical assessment of current climate change science.” that I consider merits serious study. The report is not copyright and may be distributed in full with attribution, as I intend to do here. The report was readily available to me on the internet when I made a hard copy of it for my files, round about 2011, however, since then it is no longer easily available. Professor Alexander has deep experience in his field of study and his findings should not go missing. I’m resurrecting the full copy for you so that it won’t be lost like the manuscripts of the Alexandria Library, destroyed almost two thousand years ago. At heart I am a librarian.


Professor Alexander had a long career in water resource development and flood studies in South Africa, beginning with a B.SC degree in what was then called the Department of Irrigation, later the Department of Water Affairs. He spent the next twenty years in the field, building dams, canals and pipelines and tunnels, including the 82 km long Orange -Fish Tunnel, which was the longest tunnel in the world. In 1970 he became Chief of the Division of Hydrology, collecting and publishing the hydrological data necessary for water resource development and management in a water -scarce country. He was also responsible for design of structures exposed to flood damage so a major challenge was the search for multi-year river flow prediction capabilities. He cites among his qualifications, Professor Emeritus, Department of Civil and Biosystems Engineering, University of Pretoria, Honorary Fellow, South African Institution of Civil Engineering and Member of the United Nations Scientific and Technical Committee on Natural Disasters.

There’s a long history of describing disaster…

Behold, there came seven years of great plenty throughout the land of Egypt – and there shall arise after them seven years of famine. Genesis 41, 29-30.

Professor Alexander quotes this biblical prophecy in a sort of preface to his Report to illustrate the problem of periodic changes in river flow, not only in Egypt, which had the first water level gauging structure built on Rodda island in 641 A.D. to measure river flow on the River Nile, but for South Africa in modern times, where measuring drought and river flooding water levels are a concern in the construction of stable storage to conserve water on the subcontinent.

In the Report’s introduction, Professor Alexander states that his conclusions are ‘solidly based on observation theory applied to a wealth of climate related data using methods that are daily in use by civil engineers and in the applied sciences.’ ( Report, 2006.W.J.R Alexander, p5.) He later contrasts his methodology with the theoretical study of complex atmospheric and oceanic processes by climate scientists, which he says ‘are little more than untested hypotheses in the absence of statistically verifiable confirmation.’ (2006 p8.) Every storage dam on a river is based on an analysis of recorded data. ‘Process theory,’ says Alexander on page 17 of his Report, ‘ which is the study of the processes that produce the rainfall and therefore the river flow, ‘does not feature in the design of these structures anywhere in the world, from the ancient civilisations through to the present day.- In contrast climatology is a young science, and is based on abstract process theory supported by limited measurements.’

In the beginning of Alexander’s Report of 2006 he cites three men who commented on the anomaly existing in South African, and other river data, the famous astronomer Sir Norman Lockyer and civil engineers, R.E. Hutchins and H.E Hurst. Their views give historical perspective to the study. Re Norman Lockyer:

‘At the beginning of the century, the famous astronomer, Sir Norman Lockyer wrote that one of the foremost achievements of the new century would be to forecast well in advance the incidence of famine in India or drought in Australia by means of analysis of sunspot spectra.’ (From the report of the Commission of Enquiry into Water Matters, 1970.) (In Alex Intro to 2006.)

R.E Hutchins was one of a generation of scientists and civil engineers who served in the British Colonial Office in India and then migrated to South Africa. He was stationed in Mysore, when 1.5 million people starved to death in a severe drought He came to South Africa in 1883 to continue research he had begun in India investigating predictable linkages between droughts and sunspot numbers. He studied documents and had discussions with others who had observed that droughts were often broken at eleven-year intervals by floods that occurred in 1822, 1841, 1863, 1874 and 1885 coincident with sunspot maxima In his book, ‘Cycles of drought and good seasons in South Africa,’ he wrote:

‘Many sunspots: good rain and cheap grain,. Few sunspots: bad rains and dear grain.

What that correspondence is can be seen at a glance by inspecting the sunspot curve and the rainfall curve [in the diagram] The yellow curve rising steeply to a maximum and then falling away gradually to a minimum is the sunspot curve – a curve which ought to be graven on the mind of every man and woman in South Africa.’ (In Alex.2006, p9)

In 1950 the civil engineer H.E. Hurst analysed 1080 years of data from the Rodda Nilometer in Egypt recorded during the era 641 to 1946, which he intended using to determine the required storage capacity of the proposed new Aswan High Dam. He found an unexplained anomaly from wet to dry cycles in the records then analysed other long geophysical records such as sediment deposits, temperature, rainfall and sunspots/price of wheat data in which he found the same anomaly concerning periods of high values data and periods of low values data that do not vary randomly. This anomaly became known as the Hurst phenomenon, or Hurst’s Ghost.

‘It is now obvious,’ says Alexander, ‘that the anomalies observed by Hutchins in the 1880’s and Hurst 70 years later are directly related to climate perturbations. If these are regular occurrences, they should be predictable .’ (Alex. P9.)

In the 1970’s, hydrologists in the South African Department of Water Affairs encountered the problem observed by Hurst in Egypt, there were many periods where restrictions had to be imposed on the water supply of the Vaal and other South African rivers. A team of hydrologists led by Alexander was gathered to examine prior assumptions relating to river flow. Graphical analysis, beginning with the 1913 cycle showed there was a clear 20 year (later 21 year) periodicity in the data and that this was the cause of the difficulty with studying the data as a series of roughly 10 year sunspot cycles. Alternating cycles are identified by assigned negative values in Alexander’s research which showed the sunspot numbers per cycle as +442, -410, +605, -757, +950, -705, +829 and –785.

Alexander observed that: ‘The average numbers of sunspots in the alternate cycles that make up the double cycles were +706 and –664, demonstrating a meaningful difference in sunspot activity in the alternating cycles. As will be seen, the alternating sunspot cycles have appreciably different effects on the hydro-meteorological processes. It will later be demonstrated that it is not the annual sunspot densities that are important in identifying the relationship, but the rate of change in the densities. This is not apparent in the conventional graphs of the sunspot cycles where all numbers have positive values.’ (A. p19)

Alexander found: ‘The graphs showed that there was a clear pattern in the accumulated departures from the record mean values and these were approximately synchronous with sunspot activity. These were quite different from random deviations.’ (Ibid p16.) The findings were published in South Africa in 1978 ‘Long range prediction of river flow – a preliminary assessment.’

Alexander’s research continued and published in the South African Journal of Science, 1995, in which he detailed his analytical methods and said: ‘The acid test that will demonstrate whether or not the 20 year periodicity continues is at hand. If the drought is broken by widespread rainfall during the next two years it will surely be conclusive.’ (P16) Four months after publication, severe floods occurred in South Africa.

Alexander says that he was also the first to report a sustained increase in the rainfall of South Africa based on his studies.


All of Alexanders study is based on a wealth of official date, ( apart from the Southern Oscillation index and Zambesi River Flow Data.) this includes hydrological data from The South African Weather Service and Department of Water Affairs and Forestry and the World Data Centre for the Sunspot Index, beginning with the sunspot minimum that began in June, 1913 and ending with the sunspot minimum of March, 1996.

The methodology emphasised arithmetical and graphical interpretations rather than mathematical interpretations. The reasons, Professor Alexander claimed, were to avoid harmonic and spectral analysis which could introduce oscillatory behaviour that is not present in the data and also suppress the important, sudden changes that are present in hydro-meteorological time series.

What Professor Alexander found through his data investigation was # a strong positive correlation between sunspot incidence and river flow which are not random events. # He identified the presence of a twenty year periodicity in the hydro-meteorological data composed of two ten- year cycles, the first stronger than the second, and# a biblical ‘Joseph Effect’ in the data of approximately seven years dry followed by seven years wet periodicity.

The following are figures and tables Professor Alexander presents in his Report and his own words describing and analysing these graphics I begin with Figure 1 on page 23 of the Report:

From The Report.


Figure 1. Comparisons of the characteristics of annual sunspot numbers with corresponding characteristics of the annual flows in the Vaal River.

Alexander says:
‘A reference datum value of–200 was used in the sunspot data in order to accommodate the negative values. This has no effect on the interpretations. The top panels are the conventional dimensionless histograms, where all values are expressed as multiples of the record mean values. While the cyclicity is apparent in the sunspot panel it is not recognisable in the river flow. The river flow histogram shows the high degree of asymmetry about the mean value with many more values less than the mean value than above it. This is typical of river flow data in dry climates.

The most informative graphical presentations are those in the second panels, which show the accumulated departures from the record mean values. These are obtained by subtracting the mean values (1.0) from each of the values in the histogram. Some of the values will be negative. These are accumulated one at a time and the sum plotted.

An increase in the accumulated departures of the sunspot numbers during the period of record is immediately apparent. The maximum negative departures occurred at the start of the 21-year periods, identified as (A), (C), (E) and (G).

The comparison with that of the flow in the Vaal River is very instructive. The reversals at points (A), (C), (E) and (G) are virtually identical with the corresponding reversals in the sunspot data. They occurred during the hydrological years beginning October 1933, 1954, 1974, and 1995. The rising limbs A-B, C-D and E-F are sequences of years where the inflows were greater than the mean value. The falling limbs B-C, D-E, and F-G are sequences where the inflows were less than the mean value.

Notice also the absence of 11-year periodicity in the correlogram of the Vaal River. It is no wonder that climate change scientists have been unable to detect synchronous relationships with the 11-year sunspot cycle. It does not exist! This is because the properties of the alternating solar cycles are fundamentally different to the extent that the climatic responses are also very different.’


‘There are several interesting features in this table. There is an almost three-fold, sudden increase in the annual flows in the Vaal River from the three previous years to the three subsequent years. This is directly associated with [an almost] six-fold increase in sunspot numbers. The second important point is the consistency in the range of sunspot numbers before and after the reversal. The totals for the three prior years varied between 25 and 60, and the totals of the three immediately subsequent years varied between 250 and 400. It is very clear that these are systematic changes associated with the sunspot minima, and are not random events.

This relationship exists despite the long and complex energy path starting at the Sun and ending in the river flow that enters Vaal Dam. The only residual energy is the potential energy, which is a function of the elevation of the water mass above sea-level. This residual energy has its origin in solar activity; followed by the arrival on the Earth’s atmosphere, continents and oceans; followed by the poleward movement of the energy through complex atmospheric and oceanic processes; followed by the systems that produce the rainfall; and finally by the complex rainfall-runoff processes. The survival of the periodic signals on its own demonstrates a strong and unequivocal relationship between variation in solar activity and the corresponding variation in climatic responses.’

Table 6 is a combination of the independent observations by Tyson (1987) and Bredenkamp (2000) each relating to different climatic processes and different analytical methodologies, and a comparison with sunspot cycles. The first and most important observation is the presence of alternating sequences of wet and dry years, and the corresponding alternating sequences of sunspot cycles. While the comparative years are not precise, there can be no doubt at all that a meaningful relationship exists with sunspot cyclicity.’ (Alexander P27.)


(Tyson  P.D.  Climate change an variability in Sth Africa Oxford Uni Press 1987.)

(Bredenkamp D.B.Groundwater monitoring. Water Research Commission Report  No. 838/1/0.)

Compare the length of the sequences of wet and dry years with the biblical seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. The ancient Egyptians were well aware of these alternating sequences in the annual flows of the life-giving Nile River.’ (Alexander. p28.)

To read Part 1 of Alexander’s Report, ‘ The Scientific Basis,’ in its entirety or the rest of the Report, the link is here…………….A critical assessment of current climate change science – W.J.R. Alexander. Part 2 of the Report, entitled ‘The Natural Environment,’ centres on Alexander’s findings that increase in global temperatures has increased rainfall and that climate science papers based on climate models have failed to take this fact into account. Alexander makes the argument on page 34 of his Report that his rainfall data shows that there has been a sustained increase in the mean annual rainfall over South Africa from 497mm to 543 mm during the 78 year period of continuous district rainfall records which agrees with the IPCC figure of a world-wide increase of between 0.5 and 1% per decade during the 20th century.

Over the whole of South Africa this rainfall consists of high and low rainfall events but Alexander argues that it is the high rainfall events that are most significant, saturating the soils that sustain natural vegetation and agricultural crops. Claims that seasonal and daily properties of rainfall may have been adversely affected by climate change, despite the general increase in rainfall, are illogical. Elementary physics require that an increase in global temperature must result in an increase in evaporation from oceans, lakes, rivers and dams and from damp soil . It is equally obvious, Alexander argues that excess moisture must return to earth in the form of increased rainfall . Papers based on modelling warning of threats to biomes and potential desertification with habitat and species destruction have ignored the data.

Here’s a quote from the Part 2 of the Report:

‘In southern Africa in general, and in South Africa in particular, we have a wealth of routinely observed hydrometeorological data that is collected at a rate of about half a million station-days per year. Many rainfall records exceed 100 years in length. Yet this data is totally ignored by these authors who rely solely on the outputs of global climate models and simplistic rainfall and run-off model assumptions for their analysis. (A p 46.)

This concludes my survey of Professor W.J.R.Alexander’s 2006 Report. Herewith I add the following as a possible mechanism for the sunspot/rainfall correlation that Professor Alexander observed…

Galactic Cosmic Rays a mechanism?

The cosmic ray link between solar activity and the terrestrial climate is that changing solar activity is responsible for a varying solar wind strength. When the sun has more sunspots it has higher magnetic activity. A stronger solar wind will reduce the flux of cosmic ray reaching Earth, since a larger amount of energy is lost as they propagate up the solar wind.

The cosmic rays themselves come from outside the solar system supposedly from exploding stars. Since cosmic rays dominate the tropospheric ionization, an increased solar activity will translate into a reduced ionization, and empirically also to a reduced low altitude cloud cover. Since low altitude clouds have a net cooling effect (their “whiteness” is more important than their “blanket” effect), increased solar activity implies a warmer climate.

As a follow on, I’m posting an extract to a post by astro-physicist Professor Nir Shaviv with links to the research that he and Professor Henrik Svensmark have done on cosmic rays and sunspots as a factor in middle latitudes rainfall process on Earth. In this post he also draws attention to the successful outcomes of Jasper Kirkby’s Cloud Chamber experiment which was so delayed by bureaucracy but which has been successful in what it set out to do. See below.

The Cloud is Clearing.

By Nir Shaviv.

The CLOUD collaboration from CERN finally had their results published in nature, showing that ionization increases the nucleation rate of condensation nuclei. The results are very beautiful and they demonstrate, yet again, how cosmic rays (which govern the amount of atmospheric ionization) can in principle have an affect on climate.

What do I mean? First, it is well known that solar variability has a large effect on climate. In fact, the effect can be quantified and shown to be 6 to 7 times larger than one could naively expect from just changes in the total solar irradiance. This was shown by using the oceans as a huge calorimeter (e.g., as described here). Namely, an amplification must-be-operating.

One mechanism which was suggested, and which now has ample evidence supporting it, is that of solar modulation of the cosmic ray flux, known to govern the amount of atmospheric ionization. This in turn modifies the formation of cloud condensation nuclei, thereby changing the cloud characteristics (e.g., their reflectivity and lifetime). Look here.

So, how do we know that this mechanism is necessarily working? Well, we know that cosmic rays have a climatic effect because of clear correlations between unique cosmic ray flux variations and different climate variability. One nice example (and not because I discovered it 😉 ) is the link between cosmic ray flux variations over geological times scales (caused by spiral arm passages) and the appearance of glaciations (more about it here). We also know empirically that the effect of the cosmic rays is through the tampering in the properties of cloud. This is through the study of Forbush decreases which are several day long decreases in the galactic cosmic ray flux reaching the Earth. Following such events, one clearly sees a change in the aerosol and cloud properties (more here).

So what is new? Well, the new results just published in nature by Kirkby and company are the results of the CLOUD experiment. This experiment mimics the conditions found in the atmosphere (i.e., air, water vapor, and trace gasses, such as sulfuric acid and ammonia). It is a repeat of the Danish SKY experiment carried out by Henrik Svensmark and his colleagues (e.g., read about it here), and it produces the same results—namely, they show that an increase in the rate of atmospheric ionization increases the formation rate of condensation nuclei. The only difference is that the CLOUD experiment, with its considerably higher budget, has a better control on the different setup parameters. Moreover, those parameters can be measured over a wider range. This allows the CLOUD experiment to more vividly see the effect.


A comment in conclusion: Nature is the ultimate reality and nature’s mysteries are many- layered. Humans questioning those mysteries have made discoveries about that reality. investigation, on one level, through our senses, our questions and measuring, like that Rodda Nilometer in Egypt, and at deeper levels, using the same approach with new tools enabling us to ‘see’ further, such as telescopes , microscopes and space probes. To learn what is real and evolving in our world requires open enquiry and not closing down research. Those investigations by Alexander, Svensmark and Shaviv warrant serious consideration in our attempts to discover this reality. Closing down alternative investigation and asserting that only CO2 may be considered as the driving dynamic of our weather is anti-science and not a verified truth.

A coterie of group-think climate scientists peer-promoting each others papers does not further the discovery of nature’s reality. To quote another cat figure from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, ‘The mouse’s tale:

‘I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,’ says cunning old Fury.



  1. Indeed, my serf.

    In younger days, during the drought of the early 1980s, I decided to wade around the edges of the Myall Lakes, an enormous brackish system of the NSW midcoast. It was something one could only do comfortably in drought, so I took the opportunity. By chance, a professor of hydrology was holidaying on one of the many shallow draught yachts which work as houseboats on the Myall system. He invited me on board for drinks and told me how all his research of the previous years had been concerned with flood mitigation as a reaction to the soakings of the 1970s, especially those years after 1973 when the whole map of Australia turned blue. They had simply not anticipated the changes of the early 80s.

    Roll forward to the flooding after the Millennium Drought. The fad for desalination was provoked by “scientific” convictions that the rains had gone forever. So it was the Melbourne’s plant could not be finished because of flood delays, and Sydney’s was smashed by huge storms. Those desal plants still cost over a half-million a day, operating or not.

    Some good reading here!

  2. Happy to hear from you, mosomoso, and read about your direct experiences with drought . That fad for expensive desalination a result of theory over the data observed by the professor of hydrology you met and Professor Alexander’s Report. Hope you’re doing okay with the lock-down. We in Viktoria are having the lo-o-o-ongest lock-down in the world and that’s a fact.

  3. Hi Serf, another fine dissertation.
    Seem Apollo likes to occasionally throw us curve balls.
    From rotations to orbits with their ever changing apogee/perigee’s; cycles, upon cycles, upon cycles… we live in a universal oscillatory tapestry of change.
    Perception gives us the day, maybe even the year, with a degree of predictability, beyond that, it is in the lap of the Gods.
    PS. If I ever get around to writing science fiction, it will defiantly have a ‘galactic cosmic ray flux gun’.

  4. Yes, Jack, our ability to change the weather, living as we do in a complex universe, doesn’t amount to much. Nice to hear your response , haven’t read any comments from you @ Jo Nova for a while. Like sunspots we come and go, come and go :: – :: )

    • Hi Serf
      Don’t get me wrong, “it is in the lap of the Gods” was tongue in cheek. My (badly made) point was something like: We humans rarely look for causes beyond direct perception and attribute these unknown causes to the supernatural.
      I fully support the study you have explained and IMHO, peeling back the layers in search of truth is the most important part of our journey.
      My brain good work not, time long lock down, crazy gone world! 😀

  5. 🙂 I got your point, didn’t think you meant otherwise.
    Agree about lock downs and crazy world. Isolation can send us nutz.”Free speech, freedom of movement fer all.” is what serfs’say! “I’m trying to work on another post but can’t settle to it…

    • Still on the subject of cycles, but in the less concrete area of human psych, are you aware of the four turnings. Covered in a book, ‘The Fourth Turning’ by William Strauss & Neil Howe.
      I found it quite interesting because of the cyclic nature explained, it is quite prophetic.
      I once held the idea that humanity advances in a linear fashion. Start off not knowing to much, and with time, as we learn, continually becoming more knowledgeable, smarter and wiser. However I found reality didn’t fit my view of the world to well (I tried to modify reality, but…). I found the four turnings idea a more apt model for our apparent advancement of 2 steps forward, 1 step back.
      Here is a link to a site that give an outline.
      I would not be surprised if you were already aware of this concept.

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