Scientists predict that our Sun is heading into a period of minimal activity, and in a study released Tuesday, researchers believe that this minimum may increase the probability of unusually cold winter temperatures throughout the United Kingdom.
The research, published in the Institute of Physics’ journal Environmental Research Letters, comes from the same group of researchers based at the University of Reading, Berkshire, who last year determined that colder winters in Europe are linked to low solar activity. The researchers also predicted that the Sun is currently moving into a period of low activity.
The belief is that with the decrease in solar activity, Europe could see temperatures similar to those experienced during the Maunder minimum, the period of time approximately placed between 1645 to 1715 during which sunspots became exceedingly rare.
The researchers show that over the next 50 years, the probability of the Sun returning to a Maunder minimum-like state is approximately 10 percent. This raises the chances that the average temperature will fall below 2.5 oC.
In context, the average UK winter temperature over the last 20 years has been 5.04 oC. However, during the last three winters, temperatures have dropped to 3.50 °C, 2.53 °C and 3.13 °C respectively, with 2009/10 being the 14th coldest in the last 160 years.
“Our results show that over the next fifty years there is a 10 per cent chance that temperatures will return to Maunder minimum levels. Describing the Maunder minimum as a ‘little ice age’ is somewhat misleading however,” said lead author Professor Mike Lockwood.
“Cold winters were indeed more common during the Maunder minimum but there were also some very warm ones between them, summers were not colder, and the drop in average temperatures was not nearly as great, nor as global, as during a real ice age.”
The researchers studied the average temperatures between December and February for the past 352 years, provided by the Central England Temperature data series, which is the world’s longest known instrumental temperature record, maintained by the UK’s Met Office and extending back to 1659.
The results, however, have no implications for global climate change, stress the authors of the report. Climate change relates to average temperatures for all parts of the world at all times of the year: this report focuses solely on winter and the United Kingdom. For example, when colder winters take place in Europe, Greenland will most likely suffer a warmer temperature.