Winter is coming, with 2030s set for ‘mini ice age’ – report

13 Jul 2015

Montage of images of solar activity between August 1991 and September 2001. Credit: Yohkoh/ISAS/Lockheed-Martin/NAOJ/U. Tokyo/NASA.

A new report on the sun’s solar energy levels predicts a 60pc fall in solar activity in the 2030s, bringing about a mini ice age of the like last seen 300 years ago.

The ‘Maunder minimum’, the term given to a period between 1654 and 1715, was a time when sunspots became incredibly rare, resulting in a stark fall off in temperature on Earth.

And if Prof Valentina Zharkova’s research proves correct, we’re due another bout of the same in about 15 years’ time.

Zharkova’s team looked at different models of the sun’s solar cycle, which sees it produce different amounts of activity every 11 years.

Every cycle is slightly different and, until now, it was hard to predict what each one would be like, and why.

However, Zharkova thinks that the sun’s activity processes through not one but two layers, which may mean we’re set for some cold weather.

mini ice age

“We found magnetic wave components appearing in pairs, originating in two different layers in the sun’s interior,” said Zharkova, who noted that both layers work on an 11-year cycle, but their frequency is slightly off kilter, resulting in shifts over time.

For Earth, cycle 25 of the sun – it has been 175 years since scientists first realised the timings – will see the pair of waves created by the two layers getting further apart.

So, for cycle 26, which covers the entire 2030-40 decade, the two waves will be at their most out of sync, causing a reduction in solar activity.

“In cycle 26, the two waves exactly mirror each other – peaking at the same time but in opposite hemispheres of the sun,” said Zharkova.

“Their interaction will be disruptive, or they will nearly cancel each other. We predict that this will lead to the properties of a ‘Maunder minimum’.”

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic