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Earth may enter a Little Ice Age within a decadeSolar cycle 25 may not happen at all
Today's shocking announcement came from scientists at the US National Solar Observatory (NSO) and the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).
At a press conference held at the annual meeting of the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society in Las Cruces, New Mexico, three solar scientists gave their forecast for the next solar cycle, number 25.
"Cycle 24 may be the last normal one for some time," said solar physicist Dr Frank Hill, "and the next one, Cycle 25, may not happen. The solar cycle may be going into hiatus, like a TV show."
Hill, who is associate director of the NSO’s Solar Synoptic Network, is the lead author on one of three papers presented at the meeting.
"This is highly unusual and unexpected," says Dr Hill. "But the fact that three completely different views of the Sun point in the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation."
If we are right, this could be the last solar maximum we’ll see for a few decades, said Hill. That would affect everything from space exploration to Earth’s climate.
Are we headed for another Maunder Minimum and a Little Ice Age?
The Maunder Minimum, a 70-year period from 1645 to 1715 when virtually no sunspots appeared, coincided with the Little Ice Age.
During the Maunder Minimum, many European rivers – including the Thames – routinely froze over, allowing ice skating and even for armies to march across them in some cases, the Register points out.
In the second paper, Matt Penn and William Livingston predict that by Cycle 25 magnetic fields erupting on the Sun will be so weak that few if any sunspots will form. Typically, magnetic field strength in a sunspot measures 2,500 to 3,500 gauss. (Earth’s magnetic field is less than 1 gauss at the surface.) Based on present trends, the field strength will drop below the 1,500 gauss threshold and spots will largely disappear.
In the third study, Richard Altrock, manager of the Air Force’s coronal research program at NSO’s Sunspot, NM, facilities, described a slowing of what is called the “rush to the poles,” where new solar magnetic activity moves toward the poles.
Cycle 24 started out late and slow and may not be strong enough to create this rush to the poles, indicating we’ll see a very weak solar maximum in 2013... if at all, said Altrock.
Meanwhile, Richard Kerr over at Science magazine doesn't seem too enamored of the findings. "A hibernating sun would have only a slight cooling effect on climate," opines Kerr.
Kerr made sure to include some opposing viewpoints, saying that the sun's behavior "is so uncertain that projections far into the future are more or less speculation." (I don't think Kerr would recognize a cooling trend even if he were buried beneath an advancing glacier.)
Articles on Yahoo.com and MSNBC pooh-poohed the idea that this could affect
climate even more than did Kerr, a foolish stance in my opinion.
Thanks to Tom Weatherby, George Fitzsimmons, Jim Ellison, Steve Foster, Chad Loeffler, Mike McEvoy, Robert Stom, Mike Riemann, Susann Macklem, Keith Connelly, Benjamin Napier, Dale and many, many others for these links
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