A new report from seasoned meteorologists says the sun is “almost completely blank” as the center of the solar system enters its weakest cycle in more than a century.
“The main driver of all weather and climate, the entity which occupies 99.86% of all of the mass in our solar system, the great ball of fire in the sky has gone quiet again during what is likely to be the weakest sunspot cycle in more than a century,” according to Virginia-based weather forecaster Vencore Weather.
“The sun’s X-ray output has flatlined in recent days and NOAA forecasters estimate a scant 1% chance of strong flares in the next 24 hours,” Vencore notes. “Not since cycle 14 peaked in February 1906 has there been a solar cycle with fewer sunspots. We are currently more than six years into Solar Cycle 24 and the current nearly blank sun may signal the end of the solar maximum phase.”
“Going back to 1755, there have been only a few solar cycles in the previous 23 that have had a lower number of sunspots during its maximum phase,” according to Vencore.
What does this mean for the climate? For years scientists have been warning that solar activity (a.k.a. sunspots) has been falling, and that could mean cooler global temperatures are on the way.
Some scientists have even warned that weakening solar activity could spark another “Little Ice Age,” arguing conditions mirror the centuries of global cooling the Earth went through from the late Middle Ages to the mid-19th Century.
“The stagnation of temperature since 1998 was caused by decreasing solar activity since 1998,” wrote Jürgen Lange Heine, a physicist with the German-based European Institute for Climate and Energy.
“From 1900 to 1998, solar radiation increased by 1.3 W / m², but since 1998 it has diminished, and could reach values similar to those of the early 20th century. A drop in global temperature over the next few years is predicted,” Heine wrote.
The “stagnation” in global temperatures since the late 1990s Heine refers to is commonly called the “pause” by climate scientists. Most scientists attribute this “pause” in warming to natural climate cycles that have a cooling effect on the planet, especially ocean oscillation cycles. But it seems that increasingly researchers are looking to the sun for an explanation for the “pause.”
The sun has a very large impact on temperatures on the Earth’s thermosphere. Temperatures there increase “with altitude due to absorption of highly energetic solar radiation and are highly dependent on solar activity,” according to Vencore.
“If history is a guide, it is safe to say that weak solar activity for a prolonged period of time can have a cooling impact on global temperatures in the troposphere which is the bottom-most layer of Earth’s atmosphere – and where we all live,” Vencore notes.
There are two periods with long episodes of low solar activity, according to Vencore. One is called the “Maunder Minimum” and lasted from about 1645 to 1715. The other is called the “Dalton Minimum” and stretched from about 1790 to 1830.
“Both of these historical periods coincided with colder-than-normal global temperatures in an era now referred to by many scientists as the ‘Little Ice Age,’” according to Vencore. “In addition, research studies in just the past couple of decades have found a complicated relationship between solar activity, cosmic rays, and clouds on Earth.”
“This research suggests that in times of low solar activity where solar winds are typically weak; more cosmic rays reach the Earth’s atmosphere which, in turn, has been found to lead to an increase in certain types of clouds that can act to cool the Earth,” notes Vencore.