Sunday, January 26, 2014

Frack or Freeze!

Dominic Lawson in the Sunday Times today.
"... we are now being told by experts on solar physics that we are heading into a period of exceptional inactivity on the surface of our local star — and therefore one of exceptionally cold temperatures.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” Richard Harrison, the head of space physics at the Rutherford Appleton laboratory in Oxfordshire told the BBC. And Yuri Navogitsyn of the Pulkovo Observatory is quoted along similar lines by Voice of Russia: “We could be in for a cooling period that lasts 200-250 years.” In other words, we need extra greenhouse effect if we are not to suffer countless more fatalities from hypothermia and permafrosted farms. It’s frack or freeze."
We're on the case for our little animal friends ...

Our house ...

Here's an excerpt from the BBC piece (emphasis added).
"During the latter half of the 17th Century, the Sun went through an extremely quiet phase - a period called the Maunder Minimum. Historical records reveal that sunspots virtually disappeared during this time. Dr Green says: "There is a very strong hint that the Sun is acting in the same way now as it did in the run-up to the Maunder Minimum."

Mike Lockwood, professor of space environment physics, from the University of Reading, thinks there is a significant chance that the Sun could become increasingly quiet. An analysis of ice-cores, which hold a long-term record of solar activity, suggests the decline in activity is the fastest that has been seen in 10,000 years.

"It's an unusually rapid decline," explains Prof Lockwood. "We estimate that within about 40 years or so there is a 10% to 20% - nearer 20% - probability that we'll be back in Maunder Minimum conditions."

The era of solar inactivity in the 17th Century coincided with a period of bitterly cold winters in Europe. Londoners enjoyed frost fairs on the Thames after it froze over, snow cover across the continent increased, the Baltic Sea iced over - the conditions were so harsh, some describe it as a mini-Ice Age. And Prof Lockwood believes that this regional effect could have been in part driven by the dearth of activity on the Sun, and may happen again if our star continues to wane.

"It's a very active research topic at the present time, but we do think there is a mechanism in Europe where we should expect more cold winters when solar activity is low," he says.

He believes this local effect happens because the amount of ultraviolet light radiating from the Sun dips when solar activity is low. This means that less UV radiation hits the stratosphere - the layer of air that sits high above the Earth. And this in turn feeds into the jet stream - the fast-flowing air current in the upper atmosphere that can drive the weather. The results of this are dominantly felt above Europe, says Prof Lockwood.

"These are large meanders in the jet stream, and they're called blocking events because they block off the normal moist, mild winds we get from the Atlantic, and instead we get cold air being dragged down from the Arctic and from Russia," he says.

"These are what we call a cold snap... a series of three or four cold snaps in a row adds up to a cold winter. And that's quite likely what we'll see as solar activity declines."