Dull Sun could spark off next “Little Ice Age” in future

May 5th, 2009 - 1:51 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 5 (ANI): Some scientists say the prolonged lull in solar activity hints towards the next “Little Ice Age”, which could occur in the near future.

The sun is the least active it’s been in decades and the dimmest in a hundred years.

The lull is causing some scientists to recall the Little Ice Age, an unusual cold spell in Europe and North America, which lasted from about 1300 to 1850.

The coldest period of the Little Ice Age, between 1645 and 1715, has been linked to a deep dip in solar storms known as the Maunder Minimum.

During that time, access to Greenland was largely cut off by ice, and canals in Holland routinely froze solid.

Glaciers in the Alps engulfed whole villages, and sea ice increased so much that no open water flowed around Iceland in the year 1695.

For hundreds of years, scientists have used the number of observable sunspots to trace the sun’s roughly 11-year cycles of activity.

Sunspots, which can be visible without a telescope, are dark regions that indicate intense magnetic activity on the sun’s surface.

Such solar storms send bursts of charged particles hurtling toward Earth that can spark auroras, disrupt satellites, and even knock out electrical grids.

In the current cycle, 2008 was supposed to have been the low point, and this year the sunspot numbers should have begun to climb.

But of the first 90 days of 2009, 78 have been sunspot free. Researchers also say the sun is the dimmest it’s been in a hundred years.

The Maunder Minimum corresponded to a profound lull in sunspots. Astronomers at the time recorded just 50 in a 30-year period.

If the sun again sinks into a similar depression, at least one preliminary model has suggested that cool spots could crop up in regions of Europe, the United States, and Siberia.

According to Jeffrey Hall, an astronomer and associate director at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, during the previous event, though, many parts of the world were not affected at all.

“Even a grand minimum like that was not having a global effect,” he said.

Scientists say that even if the current solar lull is the beginning of a prolonged quiet, the star’s effects on climate will pale in contrast with the influence of human-made greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2). (ANI)

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