Planning to visit Northern Europe in the winter of 2054?

If you do, remember to dress warmly!

Here’s a fascinating item from the BBC about the ‘Maunder Minimum’ that could be waiting for you… It’s 6 minutes long.

An unrelated P.S. to all of you to whose messages I have not yet replied: Apologies. I have been in a bit of an extended autumn blues pickle and the current weather situation here in the south of the UK doesn’t promise a lot of cheer at the moment…

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I have not watched the BBC thing yet, but from the point of view of the effect that such a minimum in solar activity will have on the Earth’s climate, it is unlikely to be very interesting. If you search for the term ‘solar activity minimum climate’ in Google scholar, you get a very relevant paper on the subject, published by Geophysical Research Letters.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2010GL042710/abstract

They estimate what effect such a minimum in the 21st century might have on the Earth’s climate. Due to a decrease in the amount of light coming from the Sun during a minimum, the climate should cool a certain amount relative to what it would be if the solar activity remains at 20th century levels. However, the magnitude of this cooling is much smaller than the increase in temperature that we expect in the 21st century, so although a big solar activity minimum will have a cooling effect on the Earth, the surface temperatures will still be higher than current values.

Predicting the behaviour of the solar magnetic field is a very difficult bussiness, and these predictions, as I am sure the solar physicists who made them will tell you, are very uncertain. Nobody really knows what the Sun will do in the 21st century.

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I still find the video clip interesting. Clearly, I am not a scientist. The scientists interviewed here in the recording all stress the uncertainty of predictions, even if based on 400 years of continuous data and extrapolation of findings from 10,000 years ago,

As always, I am impressed by the degree of knowledge LingQ members have! Puts me to shame.

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It is an interesting video. We are certainly in the middle of a small sunspot cycle (i.e. the 11-year variation in the number of dark spots on the surface of the Sun, which is really a variation in the amount of magnetic field on the surface of the Sun). Here is a good plot from NASA showing how the number of sunspots varies with time over the first half of this cycle and the entirety of the last cycle.


Clearly, this cycle is much weaker. That being said, the Sun is certainly very active at the moment, as you can see from these images taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

http://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/assets/img/latest/latest_1024_HMII.jpg ← here you see sunspots on the solar surface
http://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/assets/img/latest/latest_1024_0171.jpg ← here you see magnetic field lines in the solar corona

The current cycle also appears to be of similar strength to several solar cycles in the early 20th century, as you can see from this plot

http://solarscience.msfc.nasa.gov/images/bfly.gif ← look at sunspot area in the lower panel

Also, if you are interested, check out this review.

http://solarphysics.livingreviews.org/Articles/lrsp-2010-1/
http://solarphysics.livingreviews.org/Articles/lrsp-2010-1/download/lrsp-2010-1Color.pdf

Figures 2 and 33 are the most interesting here. Figure 2 shows sunspot numbers over two centuries, and you can see quite a few really weak cycles in the early 19th century (especially cycles 5 and 6) that appear to have been weaker than the current cycle. Figure 33 shows the same thing basically, but going back much further, and you can see how extreme the Maunder minimum really was.

So I am certainly sceptical about this so-called decline in solar activity. The strength of each sunspot cycle has been going down progressively over the last few cycles, but these are small number statistics and could easily just be random.

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