Solar activity is slowing down and more freezing winters could be on the horizon for the U.S. and Europe, according to a report by the UK’s top climate office, leading one scientist to wonder if global warming could come to an end.
Using climate models to project the impacts of low solar activity, Met Office scientist Sarah Ineson and her colleagues found that the overall cooling effect of a “grand solar minimum” would be marginal — only offsetting 0.1 degree Celsius of warming.
Ineson, however, did find that cooling would be much more pronounced on a regional scale, especially in the polar regions. This means that Europe and North America could see significantly more cooling than the rest of the world, particularly during the winter. The Met Office predicts northern Europe could see 0.4 to 0.8 degrees of cooling if solar activity hits low levels not seen in centuries.
“This research shows that the regional impacts of a grand solar minimum are likely to be larger than the global effect, but it’s still nowhere near big enough to override the expected global warming trend due to man-made change,” Ineson said. “This means that even if we were to see a return to levels of solar activity not seen since the Maunder Minimum, our winters would likely still be getting milder overall.”
Not all scientists, however, agree with the Met Office’s findings. Kevin Trenberth with the National Center for Atmospheric Research says claims of solar minimum-induced cooling are purely speculative.
“This report is surely greatly overblown,” Trenberth told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “There is no known way to predict the solar activity reliably and right now the sun is in an active phase. The report has no basis other than wild speculation.”
The Met Office’s study has reopened the debate over the impacts solar activity has on the Earth’s climate. For years, some scientists have predicted that declining solar activity will cool the planet to levels not seen since the “Little Ice Age” — a cold period dating from the late Middle Ages to the mid-18th Century that coincided with low solar activity.
Some scientists have argued that declining solar activity played a role in the so-called “hiatus” in global warming seen in the satellite record for the last two decades as well as in the surface temperature record for the last 10 to 15 years.
The basic idea is that the 20th Century saw rapidly rising solar activity, which helped spur warming during that time. But during the 2000s, solar activity declined to the point where now meteorologists have claimed the “sun is blank.”
“Not since cycle 14 peaked in February 1906 has there been a solar cycle with fewer sunspots. We are currently more than six years into Solar Cycle 24 and the current nearly blank sun may signal the end of the solar maximum phase,” according to experts at Vencore Weather.
“Going back to 1755, there have been only a few solar cycles in the previous 23 that have had a lower number of sunspots during its maximum phase,” according to Vencore.
The Met Office is not the first group to tie declining solar cycles to cooling. Earlier this year, Shrinivas AundhkarL, director of India’s Mahatma Gandhi Mission at the Centre for Astronomy and Space Technology, told people at a lecture that declining solar activity could mean a “mini ice age-like situation” around the corner.
“The sun undergoes two cycles that are described as maximum and minimum,” Aundhkar said. “The activity alternates every 11 years, and the period is termed as one solar cycle. At present, the sun is undergoing the minimum phase, reducing global temperatures.”
Ineson and her research team, however, caution that declining solar activity will do little to avert man-made global warming, based on their climate model simulations.
“This study shows that the sun isn’t going to save us from global warming, but it could have impacts at a regional level that should be factored into decisions about adapting to climate change for the decades to come,” Inseon said.
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