Sun ‘falling silent’

Not global cooling, OK? It's just a regional cold snap

Not global cooling, OK? It’s just a regional cold snap

This may prove to be tricky for The Cause. If solar activity continues to drop, CO2 levels continue to rise, and global temperatures don’t follow, then the question is, why?

The IPCC has painted itself into a corner on solar effects on climate, claiming that changes in irradiance are too small to make any significant difference to global temperatures. We may have the opportunity to separate these variables over the next decades, as CO2 goes up and solar activity goes down. Where will global temperature go?

The BBC reports:

“I’ve been a solar physicist for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” says Richard Harrison, head of space physics at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire.

He shows me recent footage captured by spacecraft that have their sights trained on our star. The Sun is revealed in exquisite detail, but its face is strangely featureless.

“If you want to go back to see when the Sun was this inactive… you’ve got to go back about 100 years,” he says.

This solar lull is baffling scientists, because right now the Sun should be awash with activity.

It has reached its solar maximum, the point in its 11-year cycle where activity is at a peak.

This giant ball of plasma should be peppered with sunspots, exploding with flares and spewing out huge clouds of charged particles into space in the form of coronal mass ejections.

But apart from the odd event, like some recent solar flares, it has been very quiet. And this damp squib of a maximum follows a solar minimum – the period when the Sun’s activity troughs – that was longer and lower than scientists expected.

“It’s completely taken me and many other solar scientists by surprise,” says Dr Lucie Green, from University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

The drop off in activity is happening surprisingly quickly, and scientists are now watching closely to see if it will continue to plummet.

“It could mean a very, very inactive star, it would feel like the Sun is asleep… a very dormant ball of gas at the centre of our Solar System,” explains Dr Green.

The Maunder Minimum coincided with the Little Ice Age, yet the Cause claims that the LIA was a ‘regional’ event, and the two are not connected. Mike Lockwood makes sure we don’t draw any sceptical conclusions:

He explains: “If we take all the science that we know relating to how the Sun emits heat and light and how that heat and light powers our climate system, and we look at the climate system globally, the difference that it makes even going back into Maunder Minimum conditions is very small.

“I’ve done a number of studies that show at the very most it might buy you about five years before you reach a certain global average temperature level. But that’s not to say, on a more regional basis there aren’t changes to the patterns of our weather that we’ll have to get used to.”

I guess we’ll see, won’t we? The Sun maybe about to give us a set of experimental conditions where two variables which have, until now, been rising together, will in future be moving in opposite directions. Interesting times.

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