More on risk of new Maunder solar minimum and its implications

Monday 4 November 2013, 15:15

Paul Hudson Paul Hudson

There’s been, as I expected, lots of interest in my blog from last week about the risk of a new Maunder solar minimum reach you can read by clicking HERE

 

As part of my research into the story I visited Professor Mike Lockwood at Reading University where he told me that solar activity was falling at its fastest rate in 10,000 years, according to his analysis, and we discussed the possible implications.

 

To that end, I would like to make the following points.

 

The term ’Little Ice Age’ is one that is well documented by climatologists and is used to describe a period, particularly during the 1600’s,  across the UK and parts of Europe, when exceptionally low solar activity (The Maunder solar minimum), coincided with more frequent harsh winters in North-western Europe.

 

I stated very clearly that not every winter was harsh.

 

Professor Hubert Lamb, one of Britain’s most respected climatologists, commented in his work that ‘in many years snowfall (in this period) was much heavier than recorded before or since, and the snow lay on the ground for many months longer than it does today’.

 

It is also believed that an increase in volcanic eruptions worldwide was a contributory factor to this change in regional climate.

 

At the end of my article I move away from what I discussed with Professor Lockwood about the regional effects a new maunder solar minimum may have in the UK, and considered possible global impacts.

 

I refer and directly link to research carried out by Michael Mann et al (2001), which estimated that at the time of the Maunder solar minimum, global temperatures during that period cooled by 0.3C to 0.4C.

 

Here is the abstract from the Mann et al 2001 research (which you can read in full by clicking HERE)

 

‘We examine the climate response to solar irradiance changes between the late

17th-century Maunder Minimum and the late 18th century. Global average

temperature changes are small (about 0.3C to 0.4C) in both a climate model

and empirical reconstructions. However, regional temperature changes are

quite large. In the model, these occur primarily through a forced shift toward

the low index state of the Arctic Oscillation/North Atlantic Oscillation as solar

irradiance decreases. This leads to colder temperatures over the Northern

Hemisphere continents, especially in winter (1¡ to 2¡C), in agreement with

historical records and proxy data for surface temperatures.’

 

In my article I also state very clearly that most scientists believe that should any such global cooling occur, it would be temporary, and ‘swamped’ by global warming caused by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

 

But I would like to make it clear, should there be any confusion that my discussions with Professor Lockwood focused on possible regional climate effects of a new Maunder solar minimum for the UK and not any possible global implications.

END

Comments

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 1.

    Ooooh that should do it, back on the consensus Xmas card list.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 2.

    Well done paul for sticking to your original story and ignoring the hysteria.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 3.

    So we could continue with the existing problem of colder winters in the UK with rising energy costs all in the name of preventing warming in other parts of the world. We truly are world leaders in stupid.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    I have to say that the implications for the climate models with this Maunder solar minimum period are likely to be complicated, to say the least.

    We already have many saying that the forecasts and models used by the UN's IPCC in it's fifth assessment report are faulty, so how are we to believe that any predicted temperature drop, colder weather and increased snowfall are likely in the future?

    I agree with comment 3 above, made by NTropywins. Our politicians are going to have to do some rapid re-thinking over their green 'renewables' policies, they seem to be very likely wrong footed over natural events.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    This time it only took 6 days to try and get the disclaimers in!

    Though I am not sure why, seems to be the same message as the original. Just appears to have rattled a few cages. Nobody knows if there IS going to be a Grand Solar Minimum, nobody knows what, if any effect, it will have, locally, regional or globally. Just have to wait and see.

    All I see from this is Prof Lockwood reckons the chances of a Global Solar Minimum have increased - end! Is he right? Nobody knows but he does have every right, and some may say an obligation, to announce his findings and Paul Hudson has every right to report them and to state that the Maunder "coincided with more frequent harsh winters in North-western Europe."

    Quite frankly can't see what all the fuss has been about.

    As an illustration of how clear "solar science" is:-

    "According to Professor Lockwood the late 20th century was a period when the sun was unusually active and a so called ‘grand maximum’ occurred around 1985."

    When posed with the above Leif Svaalgaard replied:-

    “There has been no Grand Maximum”.

    So I asked:-

    "Leif, has there ever been a Grand Minimum?"

    Answer:-

    "Good question. I would tend to say NO. What stand out in the record are the Grand Minima. It is as if the Sun has an upper limit to how much solar activity it can produce. I think there is both an upper limit and a lower limit, but that is just my speculation."

    So there appears to be a little "distance" between these two "Solar Scientists", yet many who have not studied the subject are convinced about the potential effects of a new "Global Solar Minimum"

    What is wrong with a simple truthful "we don't know"?

    Just how much credence our politicos and officers give to Prof Lockwood's increasing chance and the view of some that it could mean harsher UK winters is their responsibility, that's their call. I am sure they have got it covered new minimum or nay:-)

  • rate this
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    Comment number 6.

    Simply put Paul. Misrepresentation of science and scientists happens, but it didn't happen here! Couldn't agree more with greensand #5 who says:

    "All I see from this is Prof Lockwood reckons the chances of a Global Solar Minimum have increased - end! Is he right? Nobody knows but he does have every right, and some may say an obligation, to announce his findings and Paul Hudson has every right to report them and to state that the Maunder "coincided with more frequent harsh winters in North-western Europe."

    Quite frankly can't see what all the fuss has been about."

    Just to stir the pot a little, I would point out that summer temperatures dipped during the LIA, as did Autumn and Spring average temperatures. The cooling effect was just more pronounced in winter.

    http://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/central-england-temperatureseasonal-trends/

  • rate this
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    Comment number 7.

    Lockwood doesn't even like the colloquial "Little Ice Age". Because it wasn't actually anything like an ice age. But we know it wasn't. Perhaps Lockwood might campaign against the phrase "pelican crossing", as they are neither made of pelicans nor intended for their use. sigh

  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    Slightly off-topic as it's still very much autumn and the leaves are still green on some trees, but it's been the ninth warmest UK October according to Met Office statistics (and the twelfth wettest):
    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/pub/data/weather/uk/climate/datasets/Tmean/ranked/UK.txt

  • rate this
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    Comment number 9.

    Here we have an 11,000 Year Sunspot Number Reconstruction.(Solanki, S.K., et al. 2005)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sunspots_11000_years.svg

  • rate this
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    Comment number 10.

    greensand said:
    "Nobody knows if there IS going to be a Grand Solar Minimum, nobody knows what, if any effect, it will have, locally, regional or globally."

    We can see the effects already, very negative AO/NAO conditions and big incursions of Arctic air far into the temperate zones.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 11.

    What is more important is when the cold shots hit the growing seasons, summer 2012 left UK farming in a right financial mess. There's much worse than that coming, particularly from 2016 on wards.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 12.

    @Ulric Lyons

    "We can see the effects already..."

    You may well eventually be proved correct however it is widely accepted that the Maunder Minimum lasted for approx 70 years - 1645 continuing to about 1715.

    So far we have witnessed an extended low minimum between 23 and 24 followed by maybe 50% of cycle 24 so circa 8 years of reduced sunspot activity. Whilst it may well be the onset of a Maunder type event, surely we need longer before we can confirm a multi decadal event?

    Also when should we expect to observe the effects of such an event? At the onset? In the middle? Could the effects be accumulative? I don't know the answer, does anybody?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 13.

    Hi Paul (please excuse the informality)

    I am an Ecologist (The University of York, 1982) and was intrigued by your recent comments about Global Cooling - in my Finals there was a question about cooling, not warming and the theory of sunspot activity was raised some years ago but ignored (conscientious of opinion?).

    We were taught at York not to 'snapshot - data needs to be gathered over time!

    Simon Meyrick

  • rate this
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    Comment number 14.

    5. greensand

    I agree that there was never any problem with what Paul wrote in his first article. Prof Lockwood said there was a ~ 1/4 chance of a Maunder Minimum style episode in solar output with the next couple of decades. That was correctly reported. He also said this 'minimum' would affect regional areas temporarily and mostly in winter; it would have little or no impact on wider global temperatures, which would continue to be dominated by the increase in greenhouse gases. This was also correctly reported.

    I disagree with your (apparent) view that, just because we don't know everything about the influence of fluctuations in solar irradiance on global and regional temperatures, it follows that we know practically nothing. Therefore we should just shrug our shoulders and trust to the fates. I don't believe that's true for the following reasons. (I'm using the word 'know' in the following to mean 'believed with high confidence'.)

    We know a lot about the impacts of fluctuations in solar radiation and how these affect surface temperatures. We know the Sun's output in terms of Watts, and how much of this reaches the top of our atmosphere. We know how much of this energy is absorbed on the ground and has to be emitted to maintain equilibrium, per the Stefan-Boltzmann law.

    We know that, all other things being equal, even a 1% decrease in solar output would lead to just ~0.6C decrease in surface temps (feedbacks excluded). We know that solar variation is usually a tiny fraction of 1%, even during Maunder Minima. We know that fractional variation in albedo plays a more significant role in earth's surface temperature, 'pound for pound', than does solar variation. (A 1% increase in albedo would cool the earth more than a 1% decrease in solar output.) And we know that greenhouse gases are an even more sensitive thermostatic control agent than albedo.

    We are not absolutely in the dark. A 'wait and see' approach is not our only option here. In fact, given what we know, a 'wait and see' approach might seem rather inadequate, not to say irresponsible. Of course, everything we think we know might be wrong.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 15.

    14. newdwr54

    "A 'wait and see' approach is not our only option here. In fact, given what we know, a 'wait and see' approach might seem rather inadequate, not to say irresponsible. Of course, everything we think we know might be wrong"

    "Of course, everything we think we know might be wrong"

    Quite right DW! that is why I made the following statement:-

    "Just how much credence our politicos and officers give to Prof Lockwood's increasing chance and the view of some that it could mean harsher UK winters is their responsibility, that's their call. I am sure they have got it covered new minimum or nay:-)"

    Whether they have or not only time will tell in other words we have to wait and see.

    "We know that, all other things being equal, even a 1% decrease in solar output would lead to just ~0.6C decrease in surface temps (feedbacks excluded)."

    No we don't know, that is why you added - "all other things being equal," and "(feedbacks excluded)." If "we" knew there would be no need for such qualifications.

    I have been told on numerous occasions that data recorded over the last hundred years ago is wrong and in need of adjustment. Now I am told that we are so certain about what happened during a Global Solar Minimum some 400 years ago that we can predict the effect of any future such event to within 0.1C? Might be good enough for you but it doesn't fit well with this particularly hard bitten engineer.

    I repeat I don't know if there will be any such event. Nor do I know what effect, if any, it might have and I doubt that anybody else does!

    If such an event has started (as some claim) then it will be another 30 years (Dalton) or 60 years (Maunder) before we can start assessing the effects. Then we might just "know" a little more.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 17.

    Greensand - well said.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 18.

    15. greensand

    What I'm trying to say is that, for all the uncertainties, there are some things that we do know with high confidence.

    One of these is that variations in the Sun's output are usually less than 1% of the long term average. According to the WfTs site for example, between 1978 and 2011 variation in monthly TSI values is less than +/- 0.1% of the average over the whole period. But let's say that solar output does fall by -1.0% in the next two decades. All other things being equal (of which more in a second), that would amount to a surface cooling of about -0.63C.

    I take your point about this figure not including feedback mechanisms; so in order to compete on a level playing field, let's take the laboratory forcing of CO2, rather than the 1.5 to 4.5C IPCC estimate. This figure is about 1.0C (i.e. just CO2 forcing, not counting feedbacks such as water vapour increase, albedo loss, etc.)

    With CS set at the minimum of 1.0C, a doubling of CO2 above pre-industrial (560 ppm) would see an equilibrium surface temperature increase of +1.0C. (Using the median figure of the latest IPCC range, this would be +3.0C.). Unlike the solar cooling, which is cyclical in the short-mid term, the effects of any increase in CO2 will continue over a period of several centuries.

    Even at minimum climate sensitivity, CO2 emissions are virtually certain to have a greater effect on long term global temperatures, including UK temperatures, than the impact of a (possible) Maunder Minimum in the next couple of decades. So if a future Maunder Minimum is worth the attention of UK policy makers, then it follows that future global emissions of CO2 must certainly be too.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 19.

    #18. newdwr54

    I am surprised that you have fallen into the trap of quoting IPCC statistics as these are now widely regarded as being based upon faulty climate modelling and in consequence somewhat dodgy forecasting, having been based upon supposition that has since found to be inaccurate, if not totally misleading.

    Are you saying that the Maunder solar minimum prediction is any less likely to occur than the continuance of global warming due to increased amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere?

    Where are your proven facts, as opposed to the known effect of past solar minimums that led to climate cooling?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 20.

    18. newdwr54

    See 15 above

    However it is noted that your prediction of a surface cooling is now to 2 dp! -0.63C up from -0.6C! Quite remarkable will wait and see

 

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I worked as a forecaster with the Met Office for nearly 15 years locally and at the international unit, after graduating with first class honours in Geophysics and Planetary physics at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1992. I then joined the BBC in October 2007, where I divide my time between forecasting and reporting on stories about climate change and its implications for people's everyday lives.

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