Little Ice Age may not be what you think about when you think of climate change. Global warming has been discussed for two decades and now a new threat may be coming. Scientists say that the earth could be headed towards another “Little Ice Age” based on their findings of how quiet the sun has been recently.
The sun goes through 11-year cycles marked by sunspots. At maximum sunspot activity, the sun has lots of sunspots and is throwing off solar flares and coronal ejections. The present cycle, Number 24 on the scientist’s charts, started in 2008. The number of sunspots seen has been less than 50 percent of what the scientists and physicists expected to observe.
The head of space physics at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in England told BBC that he had never seen anything like this. He went on to say that the last comparable period of sunspot inactivity was roughly 100 years ago, when the world last experienced a little ice age.
A quiet sun could cause problems. Scientists are saying that this period of weak solar activity looks similar to what happened before the Maunder Minimum which lasted from 1645 to 1715. The relative non-appearance of sunspots coincided with a little ice age in Europe. During that period, the Thames River and Baltic Sea froze. Mike Lockwood, a physics professor at the University of Reading in England estimates that we have a 20 percent chance of being in another Maunder Minimum within four decades.
Scientists have not conclusively proven that low sunspot activity was directly responsible for the “Little Ice Age” and point to other factors that threw Europe into a deep freeze. They do believe though, that few sunspots mean less solar energy reaching Earth. This in turn could lead to global cooling.
Other scientists wonder if another Ice Age were to occur, if it would help turn down the thermostat on Earth. While it might cool things down and slow down “global warming”, the solar rest would not do much nor for very long. Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, using a computer model, predicted the effect of a “grand solar minimum” on Earth’s climate from 2020 to 2070. The model suggests that the warming process might be slowed by 20-30 percent and return to previous levels after a few decades.
The last “Little Ice Age” left its mark in some ways that are still among us today.
Antonio Stradivari, the violin maker, made his instruments during the Little Ice Age. The colder climate made the wood used to be denser than normal. The dense wood contributed to the unique tone of his instruments.
Long-johns, the ankle-to-neck-to-wrist underwear, were first inspired to provide better cover and insulation for the body. Fireplace hoods were invented to make more efficient use of fires indoors for heating and the enclosed stove was invented as well.
Brian Fagan, anthropology professor at the University of California, wrote about the problems that European peasants encountered during the Little Ice Age. Famines, bread riots and the rise of despotic leaders are all directly tied to the weather during that period. Witch-hunting intensified during the Little Ice Age as crop failures were blamed on witchcraft.
Global warming and another little ice age are at two ends of the climatologists model. As in the daily weather forecast, we may not know the truth until it gets here.
By Jerry Nelson