|"Sports on a Frozen River" by Aert van der Neer shows a typical scene. Depicted during the mini ice age (or Maunder Minimum) between 1645-1715|
Solar activity is usually occurs following eleven year cycles of solar maximum where the solar activity is at its highest, to solar minimum where it is at its lowest. Dark spots on the Sun's surface known as sunspots are the result of intense magnetic activity and are therefore used as an indicator of solar activity. More sunspots = high levels magnetic activity, less/no sunspots = low levels of magnetic activity.
According to scientists we should have come out of our last solar minimum two years ago in 2009 when the eleven year cycle had come to completion. However, since then solar activity has continued to decrease (see picture below).
|Decreasing trend in solar activity|
The NSO wonder if this may be the next Maunder Minimum or Little Ice Age, which was a 70 year period of close to no solar activity between 1645-1715, where effectively no sun spots were recorded. During this period many European rivers, that were usually ice-free all year round, were reported to have periodically frozen over and even support ice skaters and army marches. Interestingly enough overall the Earth's average temperature had decreased by 0.4C, which just goes to show how intense small changes in the climate can be.
|Red = Maunder Minimum / Little Ice Age caused by prolonged solar minimum, Blue = Usual cycle of solar maximum & solar minimum|
So what does all this mean in terms of climate change and our day to day lives? Well best case scenario in my opinion is that the solar minimum ends soon and we don't go into another Little Ice Age, in which case very little or no change would occur. Worst case scenario is that we do go into a Little Ice Age and a number of negative things occur to us, and more importantly the environment.
by about 0.4C-0.5C since the beginning of the industrial revolution. In that time a great deal of land has been gained for agricultural use, where it was once in too cold a climate to grow the right crops, it has warmed to today where they can be grown. These crops feed a great deal of the world's population. So if temperatures drop to pre-industrial revolution levels, as they would within two or three decades if the solar minimum persists, we could lose this agricultural space and face some serious problems economically.
Secondly, solar minimums represent a reduction in magnetic field strength at the Sun's surface. Unfortunately for us, a drop in the Sun's magnetic field correlates with a drop in ultra violet light (UV) emission from the Sun. Our ozone is created when UV radiation hits oxygen molecules in the atmosphere. So less UV radiation = thinner ozone layer, which funnily enough allows a higher proportion of UV light through the atmosphere than when at normal levels from the sun. Higher exposure to UV radiation is bad bad bad for all living organisms including us (it destroys DNA, our very building blocks).
Thirdly, if we see a sudden decrease in the average temperatures of the Earth, then the average sea surface temperatures will also decrease. This normally wouldn't be a big deal, but the problem is that we currently have a great deal more CO2 in the atmosphere than is naturally occurring (today's 390ppm compared to 280ppm pre-industrial revolution). Colder water is able to absorb a greater amount of CO2 than warmer water can, so if temperatures suddenly drop we will see the oceans absorb even more CO2 out of the atmosphere and become even more acidic than it currently is. At the current rate the ocean is acidifying it is predicted that we are facing another mass extinction, so if you add an untimely Little Ice Age into the mix, this will occur even sooner. We simply can't afford to lose the amount of sea life that is currently facing extinction...
|No time for political agendas...!|
It's incredibly important that we understand what is going on and do what we can to address CO2 emissions and thus prevent further damage to the Earth and its ecosystems, if for no other reason than for our own sake. Politicians and the average Joe would love to believe that we can survive just fine here on Earth without healthy forests and habitats, oceans or atmosphere, but that is nonsense. The health of our biosphere, oceans and atmosphere are all intrinsically linked and if a single one is allowed to fall into degradation the others soon follow as we have seen, and the result has a direct effect on us and every other living thing on this planet.
Anyway, I've a shitload more to say on the matter and I could go further into my concluding hippy rant but that can wait for another post on another day.