News from scientists in America claiming that the sun is about to enter a prolonged quiet period in its history has caught the headlines this week.
Whether this particular prediction comes true remains to be seen, as some scientists, including those at NASA, have consistently been proved wrong with their solar cycle forecasts in the last few years
But we should be under no illusions that if the sun does continue to be weaker than normal over a prolonged period of time, and it enters a so called 'Maunder minimum', then we could have to re-think what 'normal' weather means for the British Isles in the coming decades.
The idea that the sun has not been behaving as it should will come as no surprise to readers of this blog; nor will the concept that variations in the behaviour of the sun could affect our weather.
Although some mainstream scientists and meteorologists seem to have been reluctant to accept that this is the case, there is now a growing realisation that the sun could play a crucial role in our weather, in large part through the way it impacts the position of the jet stream, although the mechanism of how this happens is not properly understood.
David Archibald, an Australian scientist, predicted over two years ago that we were about to enter a 'Dalton minimum'; a period of low solar activity in the early 1800's which led to much colder winters across the UK.
The Maunder Minimum of 1650-1715, a much longer period of low solar activity, coincided with severe winters, leading some climatologists to call it 'The Little Ice Age'.
Professor Lockwood, a respected mainstream scientist from Reading University carried out similar research a year later and reached broadly the same conclusions as David Archibald as to what this could mean for the UK's climate.
The implications for our weather in this research are clear. The jet stream on average could be further south than would normally be the case. This ribbon of strong winds high up in the atmosphere marks the boundary between cold air to the north and warm air to the south, and is where most rain bearing weather systems across the UK form.
In winter, the UK would be much more vulnerable to cold air from the north & east. Summers could be cooler and unsettled. In fact the winters and summers we have experienced in the last few years could become the norm.
Professor Lockwood pointed out in more recent research that it could also mean that on average there would be less wind, especially in winter with more areas of high pressure - with direct implications for energy security because of the huge expansion of wind farms the UK will witness in the next few years.
The impact on the global climate is much less clear.
Prof Lockwood pointed out that winters in the UK may continue to be much colder on average, but the action of a weak sun has been to disrupt the earth's climate and re-distribute the planet's heat - in fact the last two winters have seen areas of the globe like Northern Canada and Alaska seeing exceptional winter warmth.
A study last year in Geophysical Research Letters did however find that should we enter a prolonged period of low solar activity in the coming decades, global temperatures could be lower by 0.3C by the end of the century, compared to normal solar activity - but that this would be dwarfed by warming due to man-made greenhouse gases. This thinking is backed by most mainstream scientists.
But some scientists disagree, and argue that such an event could significantly cool the planet. In a fascinating paper I wrote about over a year ago, and which you can read again here, Russian Scientist Dr Abdussamatov predicted in 2009 that the sun has a bi-centennial cycle, and will fall to a very low level of activity in the coming years. He concluded, contrary to the research published in Geophysical Research Letters, that warming due to man made greenhouse gases will be dwarfed by this 'solar cooling'.
This is a fascinating time for climate science and meteorology and there's the potential for far reaching consequences.
For example, climate projections for the UK, which currently show higher rainfall in winter by 2050 based on higher greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would almost certainly be wrong should we enter a 'Maunder Minimum'.
More money needs to be made available for extensive research into the link between the sun and our weather and climate.
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