Limits to Solar Cycle Predictability: Cross-equatorial Flux Plumes
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Context. Within the Babcock-Leighton framework for the solar dynamo, the strength of a cycle is expected to depend on the strength of the dipole moment or net hemispheric flux during the preceding minimum, which depends on how much flux was present in each hemisphere at the start of the previous cycle and how much net magnetic flux was transported across the equator during the cycle. Some of this transport is associated with the random walk of magnetic flux tubes subject to granular and supergranular buffeting, some of it is due to the advection caused by systematic cross-equatorial flows such as those associated with the inflows into active regions, and some crosses the equator during the emergence process. Aims. We aim to determine how much of the cross-equatorial transport is due to small-scale disorganized motions (treated as diffusion) compared with other processes such as emergence flux across the equator. Methods. We measure the cross-equatorial flux transport using Kitt Peak synoptic magnetograms, estimating both the total and diffusive fluxes. Results. Occasionally a large sunspot group, with a large tilt angle emerges crossing the equator, with flux from the two polarities in opposite hemispheres. The largest of these events carry a substantial amount of flux across the equator (compared to the magnetic flux near the poles). We call such events cross-equatorial flux plumes. There are very few such large events during a cycle, which introduces an uncertainty into the determination of the amount of magnetic flux transported across the equator in any particular cycle. As the amount of flux which crosses the equator determines the amount of net flux in each hemisphere, it follows that the cross-equatorial plumes introduce an uncertainty in the prediction of the net flux in each hemisphere. This leads to an uncertainty in predictions of the strength of the following cycle.