U.K. tabloids, conservative media, and others are (mis)reporting that the Earth will enter a “mini ice age” in the 2030s. In fact, not only is the story wrong, the reverse is actually true.
The Earth is headed toward an imminent speed-up in global warming, as many recent studies have made clear, like this June study by NOAA. Indeed, a March study, entitled “Near-term acceleration in the rate of temperature change,” makes clear that a stunning acceleration in the rate of global warming is around the corner — with Arctic warming rising 1°F per decade by the 2020s!
Also, right now, we appear to be in the midst of a long-awaited jump in global temperatures. Not only was 2014 the hottest year on record, but 2015 is in the process of blowing that record away. On top of that, models say a massive El Niño is growing, as USA Today reported last week. Since El Niños tend to set the record for the hottest years (since the regional warming adds to the underlying global warming trend), if 2015/2016 does see a super El Niño then next year may well crush the record this year sets.
Whatever near-term jump we see in the global temperatures is thus likely to be followed by an accelerating global warming trend — one that would utterly overwhelm any natural variations such as a temporary reduction in solar intensity. A recent study concluded that “any reduction in global mean near-surface temperature due to a future decline in solar activity is likely to be a small fraction of projected anthropogenic warming.”
That’s true even for one as big as the Maunder Minimum, which was linked to the so-called Little Ice Age.
The “Little Ice Age” is a term used to cover what appears to have been two or three periods of modest cooling in the northern hemisphere between 1550 and 1850.
I know you are shocked, shocked to learn that unreliable climate stories appear in U.K. tabloids, the conservative media, and those who cite them without actually talking to leading climate scientists. Often there is a half truth underlying such stories, but in this case it is more like a nano-truth.
Last week, in Llandudno, north Wales, the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) held Cyfarfod Seryddiaeth Cenedlaethol 2015 — the “National Astronomy Meeting 2015″ (in case you don’t speak Welsh). An RAS news release had this startling headline, “Irregular Heartbeat Of The Sun Driven By Double Dynamo.”
Okay, that wasn’t the startling part. This was: “Predictions from the model suggest that solar activity will fall by 60 per cent during the 2030s to conditions last seen during the ‘mini ice age’ that began in 1645.”
Ah, but the word choice was confusing. We’re not going to have temperature “conditions” last seen during the Little Ice Age. If this one study does turn out to be right, we’d see solar conditions equivalent to the Maunder Minimum in the 2030s.
This won’t cause the world to enter a mini ice age — for three reasons:
- The Little Ice Age turns out to have been quite little.
- What cooling there was probably was driven more by volcanoes than the Maunder Minimum.
- The warming effect from global greenhouse gases will overwhelm any reduction in solar forcing, even more so by the 2030s.
So how little was the Little Ice Age?
The most comprehensive reconstruction of the temperature of the past 2000 years done so far, the “PAGES 2k project,” concluded that “there were no globally synchronous multi-decadal hot or cold intervals that define a worldwide Medieval Warm Period or Little Ice Age.”
The Little Ice Age was little in duration and in geographic extent. It was an “Age” the way Pluto is a planet.
Writing on Climate Progress, climatologist Stefan Rahmstorf noted the researchers “identify some shorter intervals where extremely cold conditions coincide with major volcanic eruptions and/or solar minima (as already known from previous studies).”
That brings us to the second point: The latest research finds that what short-term cooling there was during the Little Ice Age was mostly due to volcanoes, not the solar minimum. As “Scientific American” explained in its 2012 piece on the LIA, “New simulations show that several large, closely spaced eruptions (and not decreased solar radiation) could have cooled the Northern Hemisphere enough to spark sea-ice growth and a subsequent feedback loop.” The period associated with the LIA “coincide with two of the most volcanically active half centuries in the past millennium, according to the researchers.”
The cooling effect from the drop in solar activity during even a Maunder Minimum is quite modest. Environmental scientist Dana Nuccitelli discussed the literature underscoring that point in a U.K. Guardian post from the summer of 2013, the last time the “Maunder Minimum” issue popped up.
That brings us to the third point: Whatever cooling the Little Ice Age saw as result of the Maunder Minimum, it pales in comparison to the warming we are already experiencing — let alone the accelerated warming projected by multiple studies. That’s clear even in Pages 2k reconstruction above.
Just last month “Nature Communications” published a study called, “Regional climate impacts of a possible future grand solar minimum.” This found that, “any reduction in global mean near-surface temperature due to a future decline in solar activity is likely to be a small fraction of projected anthropogenic warming.” As with the Little Ice Age, any significant effects are likely to be regional in nature — and, of course, temporary, since a grand solar minimum typically lasts only decades.
So, no, the Daily Mail is quite wrong when it trumpets, “Scientists warn the sun will ‘go to sleep’ in 2030 and could cause temperatures to plummet.”
In actuality, what is going to happen in the business-as-usual emissions scenario (RCP8.5) is closer to the figure below, which plots “rate of change” of warming:
In the RCP8.5 scenario, the rate of warming post-2050 becomes so fast that it is likely to be beyond adaptation for most species — and for humans in many parts of the world, as I discussed here. The warming rate in the central case hits a stunning 1°F per decade. Arctic warming would presumably be at least 2°F per decade. And this goes on for decades.
No Maunder Minimum can save homo sapiens from that catastrophic outcome. Only humanity can — by ignoring those who deny or mislead on climate science and instead taking aggressive action to slash carbon pollution ASAP.