Feeds

Low sunspot activity linked to rivers freezing: Mini Ice Age on way?

'CO2 is certainly a climate factor, but so is the Sun'

Security for virtualized datacentres

A team of boffins in Germany say they have found a statistical link between periods of low solar activity and very cold winters in Europe. Some physicists believe that a long period of low solar activity - like the "Maunder Minimum" of the 17th and 18th centuries - could be on the cards in coming decades, so the new research might indicate an upcoming "mini Ice Age".

The new study was published over the weekend in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Lead author Professor-Doktor Frank Sirocko of the Johannes Gutenberg Universität (University) of Mainz in Germany - and his colleagues - compared old records showing which years the Rhine river iced over to the record of sunspot activity.

According to the JGU statement:

Sirocko and his colleagues found that between 1780 and 1963, the Rhine froze in multiple places fourteen different times.

Mapping the freezing episodes against the solar activity's 11-year cycle, a cycle of the Sun's varying magnetic strength and thus total radiation output, Sirocko and his colleagues determined that 10 of the 14 freezes occurred during years when the Sun had minimal sunspots. Using statistical methods, the scientists calculated that there is a 99% chance that extremely cold Central European winters and low solar activity are inherently linked.

"The sheer size of the Rhine river means it takes extremely cold temperatures to freeze over making freezing episodes a good proxy for very cold winters in the region," comments Sirocko. "We provide, for the first time, statistically robust evidence that the succession of cold winters during the last 230 years in Central Europe has a common cause."

Normally the Sun varies its activity on a regular 11-year cycle, indicated by the prevalence of sunspots on its surface. However there was a well-documented period from around 1645 to 1715 AD - the "Maunder Minimum" - when there were no sunspots. As NASA notes:

Although the observations were not as extensive as in later years, the Sun was in fact well observed during this time and this lack of sunspots is well documented. This period of solar inactivity also corresponds to a climatic period called the "Little Ice Age" when rivers that are normally ice-free froze and snow fields remained year-round at lower altitudes. There is evidence that the Sun has had similar periods of inactivity in the more distant past. The connection between solar activity and terrestrial climate is an area of on-going research.

Solar-driven climate shifts are topical right now, because major solar physicists are forecasting that another Maunder Minimum may be imminent, based on trends seen in solar activity over the past few cycles. If they and Sirocko are right, bitterly cold winters like those of 2010 and 2011 (which saw various records for low temperature broken across Europe) could become much more common.

Climate scientists of the orthodox, alarmist tendency say that variability in the Sun has minimal effects if any on the Earth's climate, but Sirocko - like some others - believes it is an important factor.

"Climate is not ruled by one variable," argues the Professor-Doktor. "In fact, it has at least five or six variables. Carbon dioxide is certainly one, but solar activity is also one."

Nonetheless the idea that the Sun has climate effects comparable to carbon emissions is vastly controversial and mentioning such things will always draw a storm of abuse, as we know well at the Register. Before daring to announce Sirocko's study, press officers sought comment from an independent expert boffin: Thomas Crowley, Director of the Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment, and Society, who was not involved with the study.

"Sirocko and his colleagues have added to the research linking solar variability with climate," Crowley told the Germans. "This study tilts the argument more towards thinking there really is something to this link. If you have more statistical evidence to support this explanation, one is more likely to say it's true."

The study itself can be read by subscribers here. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
'Utter killjoy Reg hacks have NEVER BEEN LAID', writes a fan
'Shuddit, smarty pants!' Some readers reacted badly to our last Doctor Who review ...
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.