Solar Minimum Approaching | A Mini Ice Age?

Could a Deep Solar Minimum Bring About a New Ice Age?

May 16, 2018
Sunspots

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Sunspots are disappearing more rapidly than usual as the Sun prepares to enter the solar minimum. The last time the absence of sunspots was so prolonged was the “Little Ice Age,” which happened back in the 1600s. Will Earth experience another cold snap?

First, understand that the Sun normally follows sunspot cycles of roughly 11 years; think of sunspots as storms on the Sun. See more about sunspots.

The cycle starts out hot with a “solar maximum” littered with solar storms and sunspots; then the temperature cools and we enter a  “solar minimum” with a decrease in sunspots. Then the cycle begins again. However:

  • The current cycle 24 (which began in 2008—two years late) has been very strange. Its “maximum” in 2014 was the lowest sunspot peak since the early 1800s. That was followed by years of decreased sunspots until now, this past year, when we’ve gone weeks at a time without a single spot on the Sun’s face. 
  • The prior cycle 23 also had an extended period of very few sunspots compared to any cycle this past century.

We Have a Stake in the Outcome

In an op-ed that accompanied the publication of my book “The Sun’s Heartbeat,” I wrote in 2011 that, “global temperatures are now so steadily high that even with the recent reduced rate of warming, 2010 still managed to join 1998 as one of the warmest years ever recorded.” 

“If the upcoming solar max of cycle 24 is normal or robust,” I continued, “and especially if an El Nino follows it two years later (as often happens), then the middle of this decade will be the hottest period since humans arrived on Earth. However, if the upcoming maximum is wimpy, as most solar researchers expect, or if the Sun is now entering an extended period of low activity with another deep minimum to follow, that is the best thing it could possibly do for us. Such a scenario would mitigate climate change. Essentially, the Sun has been buying us time.”

Want to know what happened? Well, cycle 24 has now run its course. Sunspots are vanishing even faster than we expected. Forecasters have been saying for years that this would happen as cycle 24 comes to an end. The surprise is how fast. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) agrees, saying: “Solar cycle 24 is declining more quickly than forecast.”

As the NOAA graph makes clear, we are bottoming out now, with almost no solar storm activity.

Solar Cycle Sunspot Number

sunspot-chart_full_width.png

How Does the Sun Affect Earth’s Climate?

This affects us because Earth’s climate gets cooler when there are fewer solar storms. The extreme example happened between 1645 and 1715 when the normal 11-year sunspot cycle vanished. This period, called the Maunder Minimum, was accompanied by bitterly cold winters in the American colonies. Fishing settlements in Iceland and Greenland were abandoned. Icebergs were seen near the English channel. The canals of Venice froze. It was a time of great hardship.

No one understands why the 11-year sunspot cycle could simply stop for a full human lifetime. (Back then, it strangely coincided with the rule of the French “Sun King,” Louis XIV). There’s no way to know if we’re really currently on the cusp of a repeat performance.

But if this strange recent solar activity means that another Maunder Minimum is nearly upon us, as a few solar researchers believe, the global cooling would be mitigating Earth’s warming at the best possible time. 

However, if we do have a “Maunder Minimum,” it would not be a return to the “Little Ice Age.” Solar radiation expert Judith Lean, PhD, of the Naval Research Laboratory points to global surface temperature about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer now than at the time of the Maunder Minimum and says a return to a Maunder Minimum phenomenon would lead to a cooling by only one-tenth of a degree C or .18 degree F.

We’ll have to wait and see.

For the moment, if you have a leftover solar filter from last August’s eclipse, take a glance at the Sun these days. You’ll see a strange blank disk.

See our full update on solar activity, the Little Ice Age, and cycle 24.

About This Blog

Welcome to “This Week’s Amazing Sky,” the Almanac’s blog on stargazing and astronomy. Bob Berman, longtime and famous astronomer for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, will help bring alive the wonders of our universe. From the beautiful stars and planets to magical auroras and eclipses, he covers everything under the Sun (and Moon)! Bob, the world’s mostly widely read astronomer, also has a new weekly podcast, Astounding Universe

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Not that simple

Solar Minimums bring with them more than cooling. It will bring extensive flooding to various places, or droughts, and a completely wacky and unpredictable jet stream....

It brings late frosts to food growing regions, and damaging hail. It will bring ridiculous storminess that will cause untold damage.

Solar Minimums bring food shortages and, in the past that meant starvation. For us, really high food prices and many items simply unobtainable. People will be displaced, as they will no longer be able to farm.

Solar Minimum brings about extensive crop damage.

A solar minimum is never a good thing for humanity.

Solar activity

This idle period really started when the Sun emitted an enormous flare in 2006, before the Sun spot count began to drop. It was massive, enough to alarm solar physicists. When the Sun went into a period of near-zero activity beginning in the fall of 2006, it also alarmed solar scientists and the media got into it with another Litttle Ice Age, Maunder Minimum, etc., etc., etc. When activity returned, in the spring of 2008, which was 18 months later, they all breathed a sign of relief, which was short-lived because the activity levels, including magnetic storms and sunspot counts, were below normal and the Sun did NOT switch its magnetic poles as it usually does.

So here we are, 12 years later and the few sunspots that have appeared have, in some cases, been smaller than the Earth, or nearly invisible on the surface. Magnetic activity is also very low.

I'm just keeping track of how far into the summer season I have to run my furnace to keep my little house reasonably warm and how many rain days there are as opposed to sun days. Frankly, this is the third spring in a row that budding in trees and flowering shrubs has been late, and this year, it was later than ever. That may be partly due to lower solar input and partly due to chillier temperatures at night. The trees did not break buds open until nearly the end of April - not normal for around here (northeastern Illinois) but we seem to be in the path of a scoop of cold air coming down from the Far North near Hudson's Bay, which is still mostly ice-covered - about 95%, per the satellite images. South of me, mid-state, it's near-normal, although my sister has told me she's still running her furnace, too.

So if we go into a cold cycle, so what? It's part of the natural order of things. It's a cycle and like all cycles it has a beginning, a middle and an ending. We've have a rather long cycle period of warm weather, starting back in the 20th century, and that cycle may be ending. Big deal.

Just stock your pantry and your freezer, and be prepared for it. We might have an early, cold Autumn, too. What's the big deal? Two years ago, at the end of October, I was at a wetland area with a camera, a place loaded with geese at sunrise waiting for the sun to show over the hill behind me. I got some absolutely great shots of them taking off and heading to the flyway. I was half-frozen by the time I got home, because in the shadows of the trees, it was about 28F. Pretty normal weather for that time of year.

If I do that again this year, I will enjoy it thoroughly.

Warning! Dogmatic minds at work

Gullible warming so far accounts for about half of a claimed 0.67C average surface temperature increase last century according to climastrologists; the implied precision when talking about a change in average global surface temperature speaks volumes about the quality of the 'settled science'.
That claimed increase is acheived by torturing historical records ('correcting' data), cooking up dubious statistical methods (extrapolating measurements across continents to substitute for missing measurements), ignoring satellite measurements (that give genuine broad coverage but show no warming) and by trusting models (made up shit) which are all based on the assumption that CO2 re-radiating heat is the main driver of climate. And all models demonstrably over-estimate climate sensitivity to atmospheric [CO2].
Yet based on crap-in/crap-out climastrology you repeat a claim that '...the middle of this decade will be the hottest period since humans arrived on Earth...' Who's telling you that bovine excrement? It was about a degree or two warmer during the Roman optimum and a degree or so warmer during the Medieval warming than today, although the climate of the medieval warming was more variable than today's stable climate. Both warm periods were notable for growth in human prosperity and development and not for climate misery as we're told to believe is in store if we don't take action and pay our green taxes NOW! Both warm periods were also without claimed human climate influence, unless the narrative has been changed this month to claim that croplands and piles of rotting horseshit are supposed to have been the culprit responsible for the good weather?
We know that from recent history which benefits from written records, without having to dig deep into palaeoclimate reconstruction territory.
So your article is already triggering the bovine excrement alarm.
What beggars belief though is celebrating a new Mauder minimum style event and imagining it's going to save us from gullible warming.
The mauder minimum was a degree (give or take) cooler than now and despite repeat claims by climastrologists that it was only a European nuisance, it was a global event evidence turning up in ice cores and reconstruction (proxy) data in the Americas, Asia, the Antipodes and Antarctica. It was when famine raved Europe and the great plague reduced the population of the continent by between 30 and 60%. The global human population was reduced by a bit under one fifth and didn't recover until 200 years afterwards.
There's nothing worth celebrating about such misery; especially if the moonbats have scuttled our energy generation, because windmills and mirrors don't deal with the sort of terrible weather that goes with a cool climate.
Even in today's agreeable climate, shitty energy policy decisions have caused about 50000 people to die needlessly in Blighty this winter because they couldn't afford to keep warm; how you unimaginable will a new mini-ice age be?
So, a new Maunder minimum might be coming now to save the survivors from gullible warming if it miraculously eventuates by the end of the century, yay!

Winter

Hmm, always wondered what the verse meant. "And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter" Mark 13:18

OMG!Do you actually mean

OMG!Do you actually mean there is some other factor othet than my gas burner that affects climate? This is quite an epiphany! Better not let this get out!

solar minimum

The environmentalists keep talking about global warming. This article proves my motto, "global warming, my ass!"

Solar minimum

Karen's comment proves my motto that science deniers only see that which supports their preconceived ideas. A.18 degree F.reduction of 1.8 degree F. warming leaves your ass 1.6 degrees warmer.

science denying

I am not a science denier, but a student of actual and historical weather events, such as the ice age, volcanoes, and other situations that have affected our climate. We are definitely in a climatic change, but little of that can be "cured" by reducing man made conditions. Can it make a temporary impact? Of course it can. But in the long run Mother Nature does what Mother Nature does, and that is bend our temperatures to Her liking or Her inherent intelligence. Should we all try and make a difference? OF COURSE! But in the long run, She knows and does best and we should just try and help out as we can instead of reacting like crazies.

Solar Minimum

One more comment to Susan......put that in your pipe & smoke it.....I think you've already been doing that. Way to, Tom!!!

I'm not a science denier, but

I'm not a science denier, but I also don't allow science to spoonfeed me politically funded research. I found your preconceived ideas comment interesting since that's what modern science is. They take an idea and whoever gives them the most money for research and they bend science around it to support their paid preconceived idea.

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