There is about a one-in-five chance of the Sun entering the same kind of cooling phase that allowed “frost fairs” to be held on the frozen River Thames 300 years ago – but scientists warned that the next solar transition will not be enough to save the world from global warming.
A rapid decline in the Sun’s activity is making it increasingly likely that within the next half century the world will experience a “grand solar minimum”, which is thought to have contributed to the so-called Little Ice Age in Europe and parts of North America in the 17th and 18th Centuries.
However, a study has found that the expected fall in global average temperature resulting from the natural, long-term fluctuations in solar activity will be dwarfed by the projected rise in temperatures due to man-made emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.
The last grand solar minimum – known as the Maunder minimum after 19th Century solar astronomers Annie and Walter Maunder – occurred between about 1645 and 1715 and was marked by the virtual disappearance of the 11-year cycle of sunspots, accompanied by a small but significant decline in the total solar radiation reaching the Earth.
Over the past several decades, the Sun has been in a “grand solar maximum” but it is quickly becoming less and less active, with an increasing probability of it entering a grand solar minimum by the end of the century, according to calculations based on radioactive isotopes affected by solar radiation over the past 9,300 years.
“The trajectory at the moment is on a path towards a Maunder minimum in the next 50 years but with an overall probability of about 20 per cent. However, over the next 100 years the probability rises to about 50 per cent,” said Professor Mike Lockwood, a solar physicist at Reading University.
“There is a significant probability that within the next half century we’d be entering another grand solar minimum and although that doesn’t make much difference to global average temperatures it might cause us in Europe to suffer more extreme cold winters,” Professor Lockwood said.
A study carried out on computer models at the Met Office Hadley Centre in Exeter calculated that a forthcoming grand solar minimum would cause global average temperatures to fall by about 0.1C. This compares to an expected increase of several degrees due to global warming if industrial emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise at the present rate.
However, the regional impacts of a grand solar minimum on northern Europe and North America could be significantly greater, with temperatures falling on average by between about minus 0.4C and minus 0.8C, said Sarah Ineson, a Met Office researcher and lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Communications.
In pictures: Changing climate around the world
In pictures: Changing climate around the world
Calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers are seen floating on the water in Qaqortoq, Greenland
Oroumieh, one of the biggest saltwater lakes on Earth, has shrunk more than 80 percent to 1,000 square kilometers in the past decade. It shrinks mainly because of climate change, expanded irrigation for surrounding farms and the damming of rivers that feed the body of water
A boat navigates among calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers in Qaqortoq, Greenland. Boats are a crucial mode of transportation in the country that has few roads. As cities like Miami, New York and other vulnerable spots around the world strategize about how to respond to climate change, many Greenlanders simply do what theyve always done: adapt. 'Were used to change, said Greenlander Pilu Neilsen. 'We learn to adapt to whatever comes. If all the glaciers melt, well just get more land
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is seen after being inaugurated in Longyearbyen, Norway. The 'doomsday' seed vault built to protect millions of food crops from climate change, wars and natural disasters opened deep within an Arctic mountain in the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard
A technician preparing to drain a vast underground lake at the Tete Rousse glacier on the Mont Blanc Alpine mountain, to avert a potentially disatrous flood. Some 65,000 cubic metres (2.3 million cubic feet) of water have gathered in a cavity, dangerously raising the pressure beneath the mountain, a favourite spot for holiday makers in Saint-Gervais-les-Bains
Cracked mud is picture at sunrise in the dried shores of Lake Gruyere affected by continuous drought near the western Switzerland village of Avry-devant-Pont. A leading climate scientist warned that Europe should take action over increasing drought and floods, stressing that some climate change trends were clear despite variations in predictions
Cattle graze on grassland that remains dry and brown at the height of the rainy season in south of Bakersfield, California. Its third straight year of unprecedented drought, California is experiencing its driest year on record, dating back 119 years, and dating back as far as 500 years, according to some scientists who study tree rings
An aerial view shows tents of flood-displaced people surrounded by water in southern Sehwan town. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Christiana Figueres met with people displaced by last year's devastating floods. Catastrophic monsoon rains that swept through the country in 2010 and affected some 20 million people, destroyed 1.7 million homes and damaged 5.4 million acres of arable land
An aerial view of flooding in North Wagga Wagga. Climate change is amplifying risks from drought, floods, storm and rising seas, threatening all countries but small island states, poor nations and arid regions in particular, UN experts warned
Damages caused by a landslide on the Pan-American highway near La Moramulca, 55 Km south of Tegucigalpa. International highways have been washed out, villages isolated and thousands of families have lost homes and crops in a region that the United Nations has classified as one of the most affected by climate change
A resident sprays water on a peatland fire in Pekanbaru district in Riau province on Indonesia's Sumatra island. Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands, is one of the world's biggest carbon emitters because of rampant deforestation. US Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday issued a clarion call for nations to do to more to combat climate change, calling it 'the world's largest weapon of mass destruction'
An excavator clearing a peatland forest area for a palm oil plantations in Trumon subdistrict, Aceh province, on Indonesia's Sumatra island. As Southeast Asia's largest economy grows rapidly, swathes of biodiverse forests across the archipelago of 17,000 islands have been cleared to make way for paper and palm oil plantations, as well as for mining and agriculture. The destruction has ravaged biodiversity, placing animals such as orangutans and Sumatran tigers in danger of extinction, while also leading to the release of vast amounts of climate change-causing carbon dioxide
Stagnant rain water with tannery waste make the Hazaribagh area in Old Dhaka as well as Buriganga River the most polluted. Each year during the seven-month long dry season between October and April the Buriganga River becomes totally stagnant with its upstream region drying up and becoming polluted from toxic waste from city industries
Waste water from Dhaka city drained to the River Buriganga contributes to its pollutions. On the World Water Day observed in 2007 under the theme Coping with Water Scarcity, under the leadership of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, DrikNEWS explores some of the images of the river. UN-Water has identified coping with water scarcity as part of the strategic issues and priorities requiring joint UN action. The theme highlights the significance of cooperation and importance of an integrated approach to water resource management of water at international, national and local levels
Heavy smog has been lingering in northern and eastern parts of China, disturbing the traffic, worsening air pollution and forcing the closure of schools. China's Environment Ministry said it will send inspection teams to provinces and cities most seriously affected by smog to ensure rules on fighting air pollution are being enforced
“This study shows that the Sun isn’t going to save use from global warming, but it could have impacts at a regional level that should be factored in to decisions about adapting to climate change for the decades to come,” Dr Ineson said.
“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,” she 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,” she added.
If winter temperatures fall by as much as they did in the 17th Century, changes to the flow of the River Thames and the extra heat caused by urban activity will mean that frost fairs on the frozen rivers are still unlikely to be possible even without global warming.Reuse content