A new Maunder Minimum?

There’s growing speculation that the decrease in sunspot activity may herald the arrival of a new Maunder Minimum – a period of relatively low temperatures, where summers are cooler and shorter than normal, and winters are longer, colder and much more severe.  LiveScience reports:

Valentina Zharkova, a professor of mathematics at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom, used a new model of the sun’s solar cycle, which is the periodic change in solar radiation, sunspots and other solar activity over a span of 11 years, to predict that “solar activity will fall by 60 percent during the 2030s to conditions last seen during the ‘mini ice age’ that began in 1645,” according to a statement.

At the National Astronomy meeting in Llanduno, north Wales last week, Zharkova said that a series of solar phenomena will lead to a “Maunder Minimum,” which refers to the seven decades, from 1645 to 1715, when the sun’s surface ceased its heat-releasing magnetic storms and coincided with the Little Ice Age, a period of chillier temperatures, from around 1550 to 1850 in Europe, North America and Asia, according to NASA.

“The upcoming Maunder Minimum is expected to be shorter than the last one in 17th century (five solar cycles of 11 years),” Zharkova told Live Science in an email. “It will be lasting about three solar cycles.”

However, many scientists are not convinced. Georg Feulner, the deputy chair of the Earth system analysis research domain at the Potsdam Institute on Climate Change Research, has studied the effect a solar minimum might have on Earth’s climate. His research has shown that temperature drops correlated to a less intense sun would be insignificant compared with anthropogenic global warming, according to the Washington Post.

. . .

The Little Ice Age saw rapid expansion of mountain glaciers, especially in the Alps, Norway, Ireland and Alaska. There were three cycles of particularly chilly periods, beginning around 1650, 1770 and 1850, each separated by slight warming intervals, according to NASA. Although the Maunder Minimum corresponds with the first of the three cooling periods, the connection between solar activity and terrestrial climate are topics of on-going research, according to NASA.

There’s more at the link.

Everything’s speculative at the moment, of course.  No-one’s quite sure what the data mean;  but with satellites observing the sun, we’ve got more data coming in than we’ve ever had before, and they seem to be pointing in the direction of less heat from the sun arriving on Earth.  Global warming alarmists claim that man-made heating of the atmosphere will alleviate that cooling effect to a very great extent . . . but again, nobody knows.

As to what it would be like to live under such conditions, Appalachian Magazine published an article in May titled ‘200 Years Ago: The Year Without a Summer‘.  It refers to the effects of the eruption of the Tambora supervolcano, but it’s likely that at least some of the same effects would be produced by an extended Maunder Minimum.

Remembered by many American survivors as “Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death,” the summer of 1816 presented an abnormality that has not since been experienced in modern world history – an entire summer filled with frost, snow and extreme cold.

. . .

… on June 6, 1816, residents of Albany, New York, were shocked to discover snow falling onto the ground.

Writing in his diary, New Lebanon, New York, resident Nicholas Bennet wrote “all was froze…  and the hills were barren like winter.”

. . .

In July and August, lake and river ice was observed as far south as Pennsylvania. Frost was reported as far south as Virginia on August 20th and 21st.

Rapid, dramatic temperature swings were common, with temperatures sometimes reverting from normal or above-normal summer temperatures as high as 95 °F to near-freezing within hours.

On September 13, a Virginia newspaper reported that corn crops would be up to two-thirds short, complaining that “the cold as well as the drought has nipt the buds of hope”.

Again, more at the link.

Food for thought.  This isn’t something to panic over, but it will bear watching.



  1. If there is one thing observing the predictions of solar activity over the last fifteen or so years has taught me, it is that no one really understands what is going on inside the sun. The recent solar maximum was predicted to be a massive event, but was actually somewhat quiescent and started late. Interestingly, most of those predictions have disappeared from the internet. One group of scientists has been measuring the trend in the contrast between spots and the normal surface (that is, how dark the spots are) and have said that if the present trend continues, the spots will disappear by the end of this decade. They have not suggested a mechanism to explain this, it is just an observational trend. http://www.leif.org/research/apjl2012-Liv-Penn-Svalg.pdf

  2. Stephanie Osborn, astronomer and all round science geek, has a FaceBook page called the Cosmic Weather Report where she tracks current developments on solar activity and other celestial phenomena, and tries to put the findings into a perspective digestible by the lay person.
    It's a closed group, but she's pretty responsive about requests to join.

    As for the year without a summer, the April 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa in the Dutch East Indies ejected massive amounts of Sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. Coupled with a decrease in solar activity and other climate factors most of the northern hemisphere transitioned from spring to fall with only a brief cool summer season. Resulting crop failures led to the worst famine of the 19th century through much of Europe and parts of North America.

  3. This is what bugs me about the "global warming" stuff. Is it warming? Sure, if it's not cooling. Do humans contribute? At least some, how much more than that? Will it be bad for us? You can't say! In the case like this post, GW might actually be a very good thing that saves us from a huge food shortage.

  4. Something that I think is important to keep in mind is that no one alive today has ever seen the sun at the current activity levels. It's the lowest activity in at least a hundred years – some people say more like 150 years.

    That means not only has no observatory observed the sun this low, but no instrument invented in the last 100 years has measured it this low in activity either. Obviously 100 years ago is way before the "space age" started, and our satellites observing from orbit. And that means that our computer models have been built upon observations that don't include the current state – everything they're getting is extrapolated off the end of the curve and that means it can't possibly be as reliable or trustworthy as interpolations in the middle of the curve. Predictions would be much more reliable if the sun was at mid twentieth century activity.

    Long term solar activity predictions have always been unreliable, and predictions based on things that have never been seen are even less reliable. So take any predictions of another Maunder Minimum, Dalton Minimum or another Carrington Event with a giant grain of salt.

  5. The main effect of another Maunder Minimum will be a reduction of agricultural output – like 40%. Places that import a lot of their food where they lack productive economies to boot, such as the Muslim middle-east, will be drastically affected by the reduction, and subsequent increase in food prices.

  6. Earth has been around 4,500,000,000 years. We have been keeping records 100…150 years. We don't know squat!

  7. 40% reduction of crop in current farmable land, but we should also see less productive land in hotter area becoming more productive. with increase in expected population, there is definitely a concern for 4 horseman to be more active though.

  8. Cent, it depends on what happens to precipitation patterns. In Europe, the post-Roman, Dalton, and Maunder cold periods were marked by cold wet weather that rotted crops in the field, caused glaciers to advance, and increased the strength of North Atlantic storms. In the American Southwest, the onset of the Little Ice Age (1300s) was a period of long-term drought even if the air temps were cooler (probably because of suppression of the "monsoon" in summer. The east coast seems to have been warmer but also drier. The southern plains had more year-round rain that fell in smaller amounts, but also colder winters (ditto the Rio Grande Valley). It's so variable that once you get past very broad sweeps, exactly what happens where becomes a challenge, even with the best proxy data.

    LittleRed1 (who studies climate history as part of her day job)

  9. One of the issues that seems to be related to sunspots is the magnetic field of the sun. Livingston and Penn have shown a strong relationship between the lack on sunspots and the reduction in the magnetic field of the sun. As the sun's magnetic field reduces, more cosmic rays reach the earth. Cosmic rays encourage cloud formation and cloud reflect sun light.

    So the while the amount of sunlight leaving the sun may not be changing, the amount of sunlight reaching the earth is decreasing. The lack of sunspots may not cause global cooling but may be side effect of weakening solar magnetic field, which will cause global cooling.

  10. Sounds like it's the perfect time for another federal government program to increase the amount of food production going to making ethanol for cars. There must be some under utilized acreage out there someplace we could use to reduce the efficiency of gasoline.

    You can convert ethanol back into corn flakes, right? Right?

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