Potential role of low solar activity this winter as solar minimum deepens and the wide-ranging impacts of increasing cosmic rays

Reblogged from Watts Up With That

Guest post by Paul Dorian

*Potential role of low solar activity this winter as solar minimum deepens and the wide-ranging impacts of increasing cosmic rays*

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The sun is blank again today and for the 200th day in 2019 as the solar minimum deepens; image courtesy NASA

Overview
The sun continues to be very quiet and it has been without sunspots on 200 days during 2019 or 72% of the time which is the highest percentage since 2009. We have entered into a solar minimum phase of the solar cycle and sunspot counts suggest this could turn out to be the deepest of the past century. Low solar activity has been well correlated with an atmospheric phenomenon known as “high-latitude blocking” and this could play an important role in the upcoming winter season; especially, across the eastern US. In addition, one of the natural impacts of decreasing solar activity is the weakening of the ambient solar wind and its magnetic field which, in turn, allows more cosmic rays to penetrate the solar system. The intensification of cosmic rays can have important consequences on such things as Earth’s cloud cover and climate, the safety of air travelers, and as a possible trigger mechanism for lightning.

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Daily observations of the number of sunspots since 1 January 1900 according to Solar Influences Data Analysis Center (SIDC). The thin blue line indicates the daily sunspot number, while the dark blue line indicates the running annual average. The recent low sunspot activity is clearly reflected in the recent low values for the total solar irradiance. Data source: WDC-SILSO, Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels. Last day shown: 30 September 2019. Plot courtesy “climate4you.com”.

Background

Solar cycle 24 was the weakest sunspot cycle with the fewest sunspots since cycle 14 peaked in February 1906. Solar cycle 24 continued a recent trend of weakening solar cycles which began with solar cycle 21 that peaked around 1980. The sun is blank again today for the 200th day this year and the last time the sun was this spotless in a given year on a percentage basis was 2009 during the last solar minimum when 71% of the days were without visible sunspots.  That last solar minimum actually reached a nadir in 2008 when an astounding 73% of the year featured a spotless sun – the most spotless days in a given year since 1913 – and this year has a chance to match or exceed that quietest of years in more than a century.

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Low solar activity years are well correlated with abnormally high geopotential height anomalies at 500 millibars over high-latitude regions such as Greenland and Iceland (shown in red, orange, yellow); data courtesy NOAA/NCAR

Low solar activity and “high-latitude blocking”

As any snow lover and weather enthusiast knows living in the I-95 corridor, it takes many ingredients to fall into place for a snowstorm to actually take place; especially, in the urban areas of DC, Philly, New York City and Boston. One requirement for accumulating snow is, of course, cold air near or below freezing, but it can be a little more complicated than that. It is one thing to have cold air around at the beginning of a potential storm, but the best chance for significant snow comes when there is sustained cold air; otherwise, you could end up with a snow-changing-to-rain type of event; especially, in the big cities and areas closer to the coast. One of the ways to sustain a cold air mass in the Mid-Atlantic/NE US is to have “high-latitude blocking” and that type of weather phenomenon is well correlated with low solar activity.

“High-latitude blocking” during the winter season is characterized by persistent high pressure in northern latitude areas such as Greenland, northeastern Canada, and Iceland. If you look back at years with low solar activity, the upper-level geopotential height anomaly pattern is dominated by high pressure over these high-latitude regions during the winter season (December-to-February). Without this type of blocking pattern in the upper atmosphere, it is more difficult to get sustained cold air masses in the eastern US during the winter season.

In addition to the increased chance of sustained cold air during low solar activity years, “high-latitude blocking” in the upper atmosphere tends to slow down the movement and departure of storms along the Mid-Atlantic/NE US coastlines and this too increases the chances for significant snowfall as long as there is entrenched cold air. In fact, some of the greatest snowstorms in the Mid-Atlantic/NE US regions took place in low solar activity winters including, for example, those in February 2010, December 2009, and January 1996. There are, of course, other important factors in addition to solar activity to consider in the prediction of accumulating snow along the I-95 corridor including sea surface temperatures in the western Atlantic and the positioning of polar and sub-tropical jet streaks. The 2019-2020 “Winter Outlook” by Perspecta Weather will be released shortly and low solar activity will certainly be one key factor among several.

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Data source: The Sodankyla Geophysical Observatory in Oulu, Finland. Plot courtesy Spaceweather.com

Low solar activity and cosmic rays
Galactic cosmic rays are high-energy particles originating from outside the solar system that can impact the Earth’s atmosphere. Our first line of defense from cosmic rays comes from the sun as its magnetic field and the solar wind combine to create a ‘shield’ that fends off cosmic rays attempting to enter the solar system. The shielding action of the sun is strongest during Solar Maximum and weakest during Solar Minimum with the weakening magnetic field and solar wind.  The intensity of cosmic rays varies naturally during the typical 11-year solar cycle with about a 15% variation because of the changes in the strength of the solar wind.

Evidence of an increase in stratospheric radiation
One way to monitor cosmic ray penetration into the Earth’s upper atmosphere is to measure stratospheric radiation over an extended period of time.  “Spaceweather.com” has led an effort for nearly four years to monitor radiation levels in the stratosphere over California with frequent high-altitude helium balloon flights.  These balloons contain sensors which detect X-rays and gamma-rays in the energy range 10 keV to 20 MeV and are produced by the crash of primary cosmic rays into Earth’s atmosphere. These energies span the range of medical X-ray machines and airport security scanners.  The findings confirm the notion that indeed cosmic rays have been steadily increasing over California as we climb into the solar minimum.

During the last solar minimum in 2009, radiation peppering Earth from deep space reached a 50-year high at levels never before seen during the satellite era – and we’re getting very close to those same levels and a new record is certainly on the table in the near future. Ground-based neutron monitors and high-altitude cosmic ray balloons are registering the increase in cosmic rays. Neutron monitors at the Sodankyla Geophysical Observatory in Oulu, Finland show that cosmic rays are just percentages away from a new record in the satellite era which was set in 2009. Data has been measured at this observatory in Finland since 1964. When cosmic rays hit Earth’s atmosphere, they produce a spray of secondary particles that rain down on Earth’s surface. Among these particles are neutrons and the detectors at the observatory in Oulu count them as a proxy for cosmic rays.

Consequences of increasing cosmic rays

1) Cloud cover/climate
The correlation between cosmic rays and cloud cover over a solar cycle was first reported by Svensmark and Friis-Christensen in 1997. A more recent study by Svensmark published in the August 2016 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics continues to support the idea of an important connection between cosmic rays and clouds.

In this publication, the authors found that “the observed variation of 3–4% of the global cloud cover during the recent solar cycle is strongly correlated with the cosmic ray flux. This, in turn, is inversely correlated with the solar activity. The effect is larger at higher latitudes in agreement with the shielding effect of the Earth’s magnetic field on high-energy charged particles. The above relation between cosmic ray flux and cloud cover should also be of importance in an explanation of the correlation between solar cycle length and global temperature that has been found”.

2) Threat to air travelers
Not only can an increase of cosmic rays have an impact on Earth’s cloud cover and climate, it is of special interest to air travelers.  Cosmic radiation at aviation altitudes is typically 50 times that of natural sources at sea level. Cosmic rays cause “air showers” of secondary particles when they hit Earth’s atmosphere. Indeed, this is what neutron monitors and cosmic ray balloons are measuring–the secondary spray of cosmic rays that rains down on Earth. Secondary cosmic rays penetrate the hulls of commercial aircraft, dosing passengers with the whole body equivalent of a dental X-ray even on ordinary mid-latitude flights across the USA. International travelers receive even greater doses (source). The International Commission on Radiological Protection has classified pilots as occupational radiation workers because of accumulated cosmic ray doses they receive while flying. Moreover, a recent study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health shows that flight attendants face an elevated risk of cancer compared to members of the general population. They listed cosmic rays as one of several risk factors.

3) Possible lightning trigger
Finally, there has been some research suggesting there is a connection between cosmic rays and lightning (paper 1paper 2).  When cosmic rays smash into molecules in our atmosphere, the collisions create showers of subatomic particles, including electrons, positrons, and other electrically charged particles. This shower of electrons would collide into still more air molecules, generating more electrons. All in all, cosmic rays could each set off an avalanche of electrons and trigger lightning.

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Circled areas on plot indicate locations that experienced the northern lights during the Carrington Event of 1859.

Final Thoughts
While the frequency of solar storm activity generally lessens during periods of low solar activity (e.g., during solar minimum phases), there is actually some evidence that suggests the severity does not diminish.  In fact, the most famous solar storm of all now known as The Carrington Event took place in 1859 during an overall weak solar cycle (#10).  In addition, other solar activity, such as coronal holes that unleash streams of solar material out into space, can amplify the auroras at Earth’s poles.  The bottom line, a lack of sunspots does not mean the sun’s activity stops altogether and it needs to be constantly monitored – even during periods of a blank sun.

Meteorologist Paul Dorian
Perspecta, Inc.
perspectaweather.com

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Cosmic Rays Increasing for the 4th Year in a Row

Feb. 21, 2019: Cosmic rays in the stratosphere are intensifying for the 4th year in a row. This finding comes from a campaign of almost weekly high-altitude balloon launches conducted by the students of Earth to Sky Calculus. Since March 2015, there has been a ~13% increase in X-rays and gamma-rays over central California, where the students have launched hundreds of balloons.

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The grey points in the graph are Earth to Sky balloon data. Overlaid on that time series is a record of neutron monitor data from the Sodankyla Geophysical Observatory in Oulu, Finland. The correlation between the two data sets is impressive, especially considering their wide geographic separation and differing methodologies. Neutron monitors have long been considered a “gold standard” for monitoring cosmic rays on Earth. This shows that our student-built balloons are gathering data of similar quality.

Why are cosmic rays increasing? The short answer is “Solar Minimum.” Right now, the 11-year solar cycle is plunging into one of the deepest minima of the Space Age. The sun’s weakening magnetic field and flagging solar wind are not protecting us as usual from deep-space radiation. Earth to Sky balloon launches in multiple countries and US states show that this is a widespread phenomenon.

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Cosmic rays are of interest to anyone who flies on airplanes. The International Commission on Radiological Protection has classified pilots as occupational radiation workers because of cosmic ray doses they receive while flying. A recent study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health shows that flight attendants face an elevated risk of cancer compared to members of the general population. They listed cosmic rays as one of several risk factors. There are also controversial studies that suggest cosmic rays promote the formation of clouds in the atmosphere; if so, increasing cosmic rays could affect weather and climate.

Thanks to Dr. Phillips for sharing this post from Spaceweather.com  [Emphasis added]

The more cosmic rays the more clouds, which results in more cooling of the planet.

Weak Solar Activity And La Nina Forebode Cooling Temperatures For The Months Ahead

By P Gosselin on 13. December 2017

The Sun in November 2017

By Frank Bosse and Prof. Fritz Vahrenholt
(Translated and edited by P Gosselin)

In November the sun was unusually quiet with respect to activity. The observed sunspot number (SSN) was merely 5.7, which is only 14% of what is typically normal for month number 108 into the cycle. The current cycle number 24 began in December 2008. The sun was completely spotless 19 of 30 days in November.

At the end of the month some activity appeared, but only at a very low level. The following chart depicts the current cycle’s activity:

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Figure 1: The monthly SSN values for the current solar cycle 24 (red) 108 months into the cycle, the curve for the mean of the previous 23 cycles (blue), and the similar solar cycle number 5 (black). Enlarged

The next chart shows a comparison of all observed solar cycles thus far:

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Figure 2: The monthly accumulated anomalies of the cycles up to 108 months into the cycle. Cycle number 24 has taken third place for the most inactive. Enlarged

Icecap Note: The ability with today’s advanced technology to see the smallest spots or pores probably inflates the number of spots and diminishes the number of spotless days.

The situation thus remains unchanged: such a weak solar cycle has not been witnessed in 200 years. It is anticipated with quite high certainty that also the upcoming solar cycle number 25 will be about as weak, because the sun’s polar fields are about as strong as they were during the minimum between cycle number 23 and cycle number 24.

The very weak solar north pole so far has recovered significantly over the past few months since June. What this means now and for the future can be seen graphically at the chart posted here. You can find the latest information at http://www.solen.info/solar.

LaNina is here

An update to our last post here is surely of interest. We were sure of a La Nina by the end of December, and in the meantime, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology officially announced a La Nina in its most recent bulletin. The current model forecast shows continued falling sea surface temperatures along the equatorial eastern Pacific until about February, 2018:

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Figure 3: The model for El Nino/La Nina in the Pacific, Source: NOAA. All forecasts point to a moderately strong La Nina event until spring. A powerful La Nina such as the one observed in 2011/12 is currently not projected by the models (which incidentally did not even forecast a La Nina just a few months ago). Enlarged

The impacts on global temperatures lag behind by about 3 to 4 months, and so we should expect a La Nina dip by spring.

Grand Minimum Super Earthquakes

UpheavalUpheaval!: Why Catastrophic Earthquakes Will Soon Strike the United States

by Mr. John L. Casey, Dr. Dong Choi, Dr.Fumio Tsunoda and Dr. Ole HumlumPublished January 2017.

It is hard to write a book about the future, as it can be hard to address all the influencing factors. In this case, John Casey and his fellow authors are basing the future on the past. They examine the history of earth quakes during solar minimums. Previous solar minimums have been a challenge for humans, with a colder climate, shorter growing seasons, super storms, and an increase in the number of the main earth quakes which produce more solar minimum unanticipated misery according to the authors.

The authors provide a compelling amount of data relating the past, describing the present, and forecasting the future. The charts are clear and readable, even on the Kindle once selected for review. There is enough color to increase understanding of the information, without confusing the reader.

I found the book interesting and had a hard time putting it down in the evening and turning in for the night. I have been following the progress of grand minimums for years on this blog and puzzled over the increase of volcanic activity during grand minimums but never considered an increase in powerful earth quakes. The authors make a strong case for grand minimums being a causal factor in triggering these strong earth quakes. Recommend readers review the evidence and draw their conclusions.

What the actual process that causes the grand minimum earth quakes is not clear, does a cooler planet shrink, causing plates to shift and slip? Does the decrease in magnetosphere create some torque on the rotation of the molten core, in turn creating stress on the crustal shell? Are historical cycles good indicators of future events. What would the Reverend Bayes say after a statistical analysis?

According to the authors, we should be preparing for some strong earth quakes in California, Oregon, Washington and Mississippi River Valley as we pass over the cusp to the next grand minimum. This book may be enough evidence to convince you the preppers have some credibility. Those citizens that prepare will have a greater chance of survival, those that do not will perish in the chaos. Where do you stand?

H/T to Anthony  Mengotto for alerting me to this book.

Solar Minimum in 2019-2020

According to the NASA Video below the next solar minimum is on the way and should arrive by 2019

As the next solar minimum is exposed by time, I will be focusing more on this event and its potential impact on the climate and our daily lives.

One of the events associated with a quiet sun in the increased number of high-energy cosmic rays that can reach the earth and it’s atmosphere. These cosmic rays are mention in the video. Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus project have been tracking the increase in cosmic rays since 2015 When the number of sunspots started to decline.

Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus fly space weather balloons to the stratosphere over California. These balloons are equipped with radiation sensors that detect cosmic rays, a surprisingly “down to Earth” form of space weather. Cosmic rays can seed clouds, trigger lightning, and penetrate commercial airplanes.

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See Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere at Spaceweather.com for more details.

 

Solar Update June 2017–the sun is slumping and headed even lower

Guest essay by David Archibald at Watts Up With That

Solar cycle 24 has seen very low solar activity thus far, likely the lowest in 100 years.

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Figure 1: F10.7 Flux 2014 – 2017

The F10.7 flux shows that over the last three and a half years the Sun has gone from solar maximum through a bounded decline to the current stage of the trail to the minimum. Solar minimum is likely to be still three years away.

The Full Post is HERE.  Stay tuned.  It was a record snow year in California and cosmic ray counts continue to increase. It is going to be an interesting climate year.

 

COSMIC RAYS ON THE RISE AS SOLAR MINIMUM APPROACHES

Meteorologist Paul Dorian, Vencore, Inc. vencoreweather.com

Reports:

A recent study published in the Aug. 19th issue of Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics supports the idea of an important connection between cosmic rays and clouds. According to spaceweather.com, a team of scientists from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has linked sudden decreases in cosmic rays to changes in Earth’s cloud cover. These rapid decreases in the observed galactic cosmic ray intensity are known as “Forbush Decreases” and tend to take place following coronal mass ejections (CMEs) in periods of high solar activity. When the sun is active (i.e., solar storms, CMEs), the magnetic field of the plasma solar wind sweeps some of the galactic cosmic rays away from Earth. In periods of low solar activity, more cosmic rays bombard the earth. The term “Forbush Decrease” was named after the American physicist Scott E. Forbush, who studied cosmic rays in the 1930s and 1940s.

The research team led by Jacob Svensmark of DTU identified the strongest 26 “Forbush Decreases” between 1987 and 2007, and looked at ground-based and satellite records of cloud cover to see what happened. In a recent press release, their conclusions were summarized as follows: “[Strong “Forbush Decreases”] cause a reduction in cloud fraction of about 2 percent corresponding to roughly a billion tonnes of liquid water disappearing from the atmosphere.”

Full Report is Here.

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I have been following the Spaceweather reports of Cosmic Ray Increases over California since the project started several years ago. They program has been expanded to three sites around the globe. It will be interesting to follow the results.

 

Cosmic Rays Increasing According to Spaceweather.com

Meteorologist Paul Dorian writes about a Spaceweather.com Study, which was reported on here in January 2016.

Current cosmic ray activity

We happen to be in a weak solar cycle (24) which is actually on pace to be the weakest cycle in more than one hundred years. Therefore, it would not be surprising to have relatively high cosmic ray penetration into the Earth’s atmosphere; especially, since we are now heading towards the next solar minimum phase when solar activity is generally even quieter. During solar maximum, CMEs are abundant and cosmic rays are held at bay.

In fact, for the past year, neutron monitors around the Arctic Circle have sensed an increasing intensity of cosmic rays. Polar latitudes are a good place to make such measurements, because Earth’s magnetic field funnels and concentrates cosmic radiation there. As it turns out, Earth’s poles aren’t the only place cosmic rays are intensifying. “Spaceweather.com” has led an effort in the launching of helium balloons to the stratosphere to measure radiation, and they find the same trend increasing intensity of cosmic rays over California. Their latest data show an increase of almost 13% since 2015. [For more on this study click here]:

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Cosmic rays have been steadily increasing in recent months during historically weak solar cycle 24; plot courtesy spaceweather.com and California data courtesy study sponsored by spaceweather.com

In the plot, neutron monitor measurements from the University of Oulu Cosmic Ray Station are traced in red; gamma-ray/X-ray measurements over California are denoted in gray. The agreement between the two curves is remarkable. It means that the intensification of cosmic rays is making itself felt not only over the poles, but also over lower latitudes where Earth’s magnetic field provides a greater degree of protection against deep space radiation. There’s a new section on spaceweather.com where you can monitor cosmic rays in the atmosphere.

As reported elsewhere on this blog, here,  more cosmic ray has been shown to produce more clouds, and more clouds reduce the plant’s temperature.  We can expect some cooler climate as Solar Cycle 24 sunspots and CMEs decline.

 

Summer of 1816 in New Hampshire: A Tale of Two Freezes

Ric Werme writing at Watt Up With That has an interesting weather story that takes place during the Dalton Minimum. The article is quite long and he provides this Executive Summary:

  • The proximate cause of the cold weather in 1816 is the explosion of Mt Tambora in April 1815. This may have been the largest volcanic explosion in recorded human history and lofted a lot of sulfuric acid aerosols into the stratosphere. However, 1816 is just one of several cold years blamed on volcanoes, solar activity, and other causes.
  • There were warm days, even a few hot days. There were even some warm months mixed in with the cold ones, so the result was that the annual average temperature wasn’t very far from average. In this and other cases, small deviations can add up to a major impact on the length of the growing season, number of growing degree days, etc.
  • I think the weather pattern was most affected by high latitude cooling and the polar jet stream (the storm track) shifting southward. South of the storm track there was less cooling, but they were still affected by weather systems from the north. There are signs that the jet stream had a “meridional” flow which allows polar air to surge south and tropical air to surge north.The effect of volcanic aerosols is poorly documented, likely because its poorly understood. Pretty much all of the sources talk about the amount of aerosol and the effect on global temperatures. However, I think the effects vary with latitude and that had a major effect on temperatures at different latitudes and the intensity of various weather events.
  • What set 1816 apart from other years were two freeze events. If frosts in June and August hadn’t happened, the harvest would have been very different, and few people would write about the weather of 1816. There was plenty of other cold weather in 1816, so this essay is way too long and needs this executive summary
  • A claim that snow or frosts occurred in every month of the year does not hold for parts of New Hampshire in July. There may have been such events in western Connecticut or Massachusetts, or even Virginia, but some descriptions may be exaggerated. It doesn’t affect the outcome of the year, as most everything that made it through July was killed in August.
  • 1816 set into motion changes in New Hampshire that probably would have happened later, but traces of them still exist today.

The full article is HERE.

I found the comments on the article equally interesting.  My grandmother Thomas was an avid gardener and had a kitchen garden all of her adult life. She kept a record of the last spring frost and the first fall frost in Nevada County CA and adjusted her planting and harvesting based on the record of the past.   An 1812 summer with late and early frosts would have thrown her for a loop.

 

Anasazi America – Done in by Climate Change – Are We Next?

Chaco Culture

Photo by Ellen Steele

In the mid-1970s I was stationed at an Air Force radar site in Holbrook, Arizona. With a family of three young girls, Ellen and I explored the National Parks, Monuments and Reservations in the region. One of the issues that always pricked my intellectual curiosity was why did the Pueblo People leave their cliff houses and where did they go?  We often heard of the Chaco Canyon People, but did not have time to visit the canyon before we left the area.

When we lived in Omaha, Nebraska in the late 1970s we visited the Mesa Verdi ruins, often camping in the National Park gave us lots of time to explore the cliff houses and visitor center, seeking answers to our questions.  After I retired from the Air Force, on our way home to California, we stopped once more to camp at Mesa Verdi, this time with a fourth daughter, almost three years old. Climbing pole ladders to the higher reaches of the cliff houses with a three year old under one arm was a challenge.

Our oldest daughter, a sophomore in high school, was so impressed with the Pueblo Culture she decided to study Anthropology when she graduated from high school. Years later she graduated from UC Davis with a degree in Anthropology, after spending a year in England studying Archaeology.

We often discussed the plight of the Pueblo People of the Southwest and concluded that the climate may have played a role in the migration of the Anasazi from Chaco Canyon, and eventually from the cliff house communities through out southwest.

After I retired, Ellen and I put a visit to Chaco Culture National Historical Park on our bucket list.  In the spring of 2013 we made the long trek to the Canyon, only to be disappointed by the lack of artifacts and information at the visitors center. We were told the artifacts were in the Maxwell Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We did, however, take the opportunity to explore the great houses and the ruins at the Park.  Again, we came away with more questions then answers.

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