Colder winters on the way

9th July, 2015

It may be hard to believe that, having just experienced the hottest July day on record, the sun could be somewhat weakening. However, that is exactly what the experts at the Met Office are predicting. Their research shows that we could be seeing a return to low solar activity - known as a ‘grand solar minimum’ - potentially at levels not seen for hundreds of years.

A grand solar minimum occurs as part of a cycle that lasts every 100-200 years. During the cycle it is understood that the sun's output increases and decreases, as measured by the number of sunspots on the star's surface. Scientists believe that we are now entering the lower end of this cycle, with solar activity at levels not seen since the ‘Maunder Minimum’ some 300 years ago.

The Maunder Minimum, also commonly known as the ‘prolonged sunspot minimum’, is the name given to the period between 1645 and 1715. During this period of time solar observers noted that sunspots had become exceedingly rare. This reduction in solar activity coincided with a period of lower-than-average temperatures across the UK and Europe. It was during this period that the famous frost fairs were held on the River Thames.

Global Temperatures in the Context of Climate Change

This latest research simulated conditions between the year 2050 and 2099. It assumes ‘high end’ future carbon concentrations, with solar output decreasing to the levels of the Maunder Minimum. They found that the impact resulting from reduced solar output was relatively small, with a cooling effect of around -0.1°C globally. However, on a regional level, this figure could be between -0.4°C and -0.8°C in:

  • The UK
  • Northern Europe
  • Eastern side of North America

However, the research also highlights that this cooling figure is much smaller than the warming resulting from greenhouse gases. Sarah Ineson, a Met Office Scientist, explains:

“This research shows that the regional impacts of a grand solar minimum are likely to be larger than the global effect, but it's still nowhere near big enough to override the expected global warming trend due to man-made change

This means that even if we were to see a return to levels of solar activity not seen since the Maunder Minimum, our winters would likely still be getting milder overall.”

This research shows that we should expect warmer winters overall, but that there will be an increased risk of a harsh winter. It therefore pays to ensure that your business is prepared for potentially colder winters. Get in touch to discuss preparing a winter maintenance plan for your site.

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