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Solar Lull Could Cause Colder Winters In Europe 320

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-blame-the-schools dept.
Taco Cowboy writes "Since September of last year scientists have been wondering what's happening to the Sun. It's supposed to have reached the peak of its 11-year cycle, but sunspot and flare activity remains much quieter than expected. Experts now think the recent cold snap that hit North America and the wet weather that hit part of Europe might be linked to the eerie quietness of the Sun. According to the BBC, solar activity hasn't been this low in 100 years, and if activity keeps dropping, it may reach levels seen during the 'Maunder Minimum,' an 'era of solar inactivity in the 17th Century [which] coincided with a period of bitterly cold winters in Europe.' It wouldn't have a big effect on global temperatures, just regional ones. Why? The sun's UV output drops during these lulls, and the decreased amount of UV light hitting the stratosphere would cause the jet stream to change course. Prof. Mike Lockwood says, 'These are large meanders in the jet stream, and they're called blocking events because they block off the normal moist, mild winds we get from the Atlantic, and instead we get cold air being dragged down from the Arctic and from Russia. These are what we call a cold snap... a series of three or four cold snaps in a row adds up to a cold winter. And that's quite likely what we'll see as solar activity declines.'"
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Solar Lull Could Cause Colder Winters In Europe

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  • Re:Not the sun (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 18, 2014 @06:25PM (#46000987)

    Its not the "denialists" saying that CO2 is the only cause of climate change, idiot

  • Maunder Minimum (Score:5, Informative)

    by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @06:31PM (#46001021) Journal

    Just a link to add for the " Mauder Minimum " that was mentioned in TFA -

    http://solarscience.msfc.nasa.gov/SunspotCycle.shtml [nasa.gov]

    Hope this helps !

  • by Orp (6583) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @06:35PM (#46001053) Homepage
    The NCAR link is probably the best for relating this to climate change:

    So could a lengthy drop in solar output be enough to counteract human-caused climate change? Recent studies at NCAR and elsewhere have estimated that the total global cooling effect to be expected from reduced TSI during a grand minimum such as Maunder might be in the range of 0.1 to 0.3 Celsius (0.18 to 0.54 Fahrenheit). A 2013 study confirms the findings. This compares to an expected warming effect of 3.0C (5.4F) or more by 2100 due to greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, even a grand solar minimum might only be enough to offset one decade of global warming. Moreover, since greenhouse gases linger in the atmosphere, the impacts of those added gases would continue after the end of any grand minimum.

    So perhaps a serious lull in solar activity could put some feeble brakes on global warming, slowing it down... temporarily, only to charge back when the sun gets over its issues.

    I'm a meteorologist, not a climate guy, but I find the hypothesis that the current solar lull is responsible for the recent cold snaps in the northern hemisphere to be extremely dubious. Much more tenuous than the hypothesis that the meandering jet stream is happening due to the reduction in the north/south temperature gradient due from a reduction of Arctic ice cover, which itself is physically feasible but still not shown very conclusively.

    The best way to get a grip on these issues would be to run many, many ensembles of weather models and coaxing out statistical links. And this is where weather/climate modeling is going, for good reasons... but as all the armchair slashdot climatologists will (perhaps rightly) point out, models have issues... but they are getting much better and ensembles help a lot to provide a handle on the probability that forcing A is causing response B.

  • Re:global cooling (Score:2, Informative)

    by Spy Handler (822350) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @07:02PM (#46001173) Homepage Journal

    If we enter another little ice age, that's bad for most everybody. Europe's agriculture would be decimated, many towns in the Alps will be overrun by glaciers, etc. We have good records of what happened during the last one ~200 to 600 years ago. It wasn't pretty.

    The oil exporting desert kingdoms might benefit since energy demands will skyrocket and they might get some respite from their usually brutal summer heat.

    About the only good thing from a new little ice age would be putting Al Gore, Michael Mann, etc. in their place, which is to say utterly discredited and labeled as perpetrators of the biggest fraud in history.

  • Re:global cooling (Score:4, Informative)

    by Immerman (2627577) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @07:26PM (#46001423)

    Greenhouse gas heat capture is reasonably well understood, even if many of the secondary effects are still being discovered. While completely unrealistic, eliminating carbon emissions tomorrow would do quite a bit to stabilize the climate, if we were very, very lucky the global climate wouldn't change much by the end of the century and after that the crisis situation would largely be over and global climates would likely remain reasonably stable thereafter. We're probably past the point of getting the climate back to the state it was in a century ago without massive geoengineering, but we can still work towards mitigating the changes.

    As for the benefits - a big one would be a biosphere not confronted by a second major extinction event to exacerbate the one were already in the midst of (human hunting, fishing, farming, and (more recently), toxic pollution has devastated the biosphere over the last few millenia). We're going to be hard-pressed to sustain the ~10 billion people the global population is expected to stabilize at by mid-century without any climate troubles. If our farmland is being rendered non-viable by climate shifts that problem will be much, much worse. For example it's looking likely that without serious changes in climate policy in the near term, within a century or two corn mostly won't be a viable US crop except in the northernmost states. Canada will have become much more suitable, but that will mean devastating ecologically important wilderness areas, and while farms are fairly easy to move, you can't just up and move all the processing plants and other infrastructure, and refitting a century worth of infrastructure to process whatever crops, if any, are suited to the new climate is liable to be very expensive if even possible. Now imagine that happening to every crop, everywhere on the planet, simultaneously. Extremely expensive. Not to mention that during the transition period you're going to have vast regions of agricultural land that has become non-viable for one crop but not yet viable for another. And we'll also have all those more extreme weather patterns to contend with as the forcing factors from polar temperature differences weaken and stop forcing the weather to follow predictable patterns from year to year. We're already seeing the polar wind belts becoming weaker and more meandering, which allows weather patterns that would once have swept across the country to get trapped in the eddy currents to cause severe protracted storms in some places and droughts in others.

    Global famine is looking like a very real possibility, and that would likely destabilize world peace more thoroughly than anything we've seen in centuries. Peace is one of those luxuries you strive for once not starving to death has been taken care of.

    So basically yes to all of your possibilities. But we're not talking about an increase from today, we're talking about avoiding, as much as possible, a massive decrease in all of them. It's looking like some decrease is inevitable - estimates are that we're already harvesting the global ecosystem (farming, fishing, logging, etc) at a rate ~40% higher than is sustainable (we're "spending the capital" and doing long-term damage to environmental productivity). Getting efficient we could possibly support 10 billion people in comfort sustainably, but that's a tall order, and probably not even remotely possible if climate change are powerfully undermine our productivity. And what exactly do you suppose will happen in the intervening time if the global population is forced to be reduced by 1/2 or 3/4 within a few generations?

  • Re:Not the sun (Score:5, Informative)

    by hey! (33014) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @07:50PM (#46001603) Homepage Journal

    Just to make it clear to folks who haven't followed this, the "ozone hole" is not a fixed feature of the Antarctic; it's like weather, it grows and shrinks in different years based on local atmospheric conditions, causing many to have declared premature victory. However the ozone levels in the Antarctic have stabilized and are expected to recover to pre-industrial levels over the coming decades.

    This is not a case of the problem "fixing itself", it's a case of people deciding to take effective action [wikipedia.org] by banning ozone depleting chemicals (thank you President Reagan [ucsb.edu]).

  • Re:Not the sun (Score:4, Informative)

    by TapeCutter (624760) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @10:11PM (#46002397) Journal

    Or there could be something else causing global warming

    Thanks captain obvious, here's the IPCC attribution graph [wikipedia.org]. Aside from the predicted warming, numerous other phenomena have been predicted by climate models and then observed in nature, eg: "stratospheric cooling" and "polar amplification".

    The last nail in the "something else" coffin was during the 50's when spectrometers became sensitive enough to see that the CO2 absorption spectra was interleaved with the H2O spectra rather that blocked by it. Back then AGW was detectable [youtube.com] but the only reason they were looking at all was due to their inability to explain the magnitude of the ice age climate changes from orbital wobbles alone. The original warming prediction was made ~1900, both the 1900 and 1950's predictions did not take into account the growth rate of the FF burning industry, the original predicted a doubling of pre-industrial CO2 concentrations in about 3kyrs not 300yrs.

  • Re:global cooling (Score:4, Informative)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @01:16AM (#46003243)

    Another denialist myth, misquoted.

    Al Gore bought some waterfront property. In CA. On a hill. It's very unlikely the sea level will rise some 80' during his lifetime considering the expected rate is less than 1" per year.

Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of science.

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