NASA says that something unexpected is happening on the Sun. This year, 2013, is supposed to be the peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle—the year of Solar Max. Yet solar activity is well below the expected level. Out somnolent star refuses to behave according to the predictions of Sun watching scientists, leading some observers to wonder if forecasters missed the mark. The botched solar forecast not only has implication for our understanding of the physical processes inside the Sun, it has possible links to future climate change here on Earth. Scientists admit that no one knows for sure what the Sun will do next.
That large changes in solar radiation can affect Earth's climate is widely accepted. However, the hypothesis of solar-induced centennial to decadal climate changes, which suggests feedback mechanisms in the climate system amplifying even small solar variations, has not found acceptance among orthodox climate scientists. The climate change clique would rather place their money on greenhouse gasses—human generated CO2 in particular. It is true that satellite-based measurements of total solar irradiance show that mean variations during solar cycles do not exceed 0.2 W m−2 (~ 0.1% of the Sun's energy output). It has also been noted that relatively large variations of 5–8% in the ultraviolet (UV) frequencies can occur, though how this could change global climate remained a puzzlement—but perhaps no longer. From studying a significant climate shift 2,800 years ago, a group of scientists have concluded that large changes in solar UV radiation can, indeed, affect climate by inducing atmospheric changes.
Much fanfare was associated with the reappearance of sunspots earlier this year, marking the beginning of a new period of high solar activity. Now come a number of reports saying the Sun is most likely headed for a prolonged period of low activity, possibly rivaling the Maunder minimum. Three independent studies of the Sun's dynamics all predict that the next solar cycle will be significantly delayed and might even be skipped. The Maunder minimum is associated with a prolonged period of climate cooling known as the Little Ice Age. Whether Earth's climate is headed for a significant cooling trend has become a matter of heated debate, while at the same time NASA is warning that a quite Sun can also be a deadly Sun. In the 1850s, following a period of low sunspot activity, the largest coronal ejection event ever witnessed caused havoc with telegraphs and ship's compasses around the world. Such an ejection today could cause widespread power outages and failure of electronic equipment. Will our star turn both quiet and deadly?
Asking the somewhat obvious question, “are cold winters in Europe associated with low solar activity?” a group of scientists have announced that the answer is yes. While this may seem unsurprising, the finding is another indication that Earth's climate is not simply driven by greenhouse gas emissions. Even so, some scientists are only grudgingly accepting the finding, cautioning that this only applies in the central UK and refusing to admit that the Sun could affect global mean temperatures as well. Still, the researchers found that average solar activity has declined rapidly since 1985 and cosmogenic isotopes suggest a possible return to Maunder minimum conditions within the next 50 years. This could be a sign that climate science is starting to recover from its CO2 fixation.
The lingering cool temperatures being experience by much of North America has weather forecasters wondering if we are entering a new Little Ice Age—a reference to the prolonged period of cold weather that afflicted the world for centuries and didn't end until just prior to the American Civil War. From historical records, scientists have found a strong correlation between low sunspot activity and a cooling climate. At the end of May, an international panel of experts led by NOAA and sponsored by NASA released a new prediction for the next solar cycle: Solar Cycle 24 will be one of the weakest in recent memory. Are we about to start a new Little Ice Age?
Currently the sun is in one of its least active periods since the Maunder Minimum, during the depths of the Little Ice Age. A quiet Sun comes along every 11 years or so—it's a natural part of the sunspot cycle, discovered by German astronomer Heinrich Schwabe in the mid-1800s. What does this have to do with global warming and climate change? It just may be why things keep getting colder as climate activists tell us Earth is melting down.