Graph of the Day: What if the Sun Goes into another Maunder Minimum?

June 16, 2011

 By now, you’ve probably heard the news. The sun is going cold, and all that talk about global warming was just a fad, just like Glenn Beck always said. And by the way, scientists say we’re going into a new ice age. It’s a climate crock I’ve treated before.

Now, Fox News and others are spinning reports about recent model predictions of low solar activity.

What do the actual scientists who did the work say? 
Something considerably less dramatic, according to Reuters:

“…..contrary to some media reports, this does not mean a new Ice Age is coming, Frank Hill of the National Solar Observatory said in a telephone interview.
“We have not predicted a Little Ice Age,” Hill said, speaking from an astronomical meeting in New Mexico. “We have predicted something going on with the Sun.”

International Business Times:

Scientists are in no doubt that the sun has been acting oddly in recent years. Sunspot numbers ebb and flow in cycles lasting around 11 years but over the past three years, observable sunspots have been mostly missing.

These spots have been used by scientists to indicate the sun’s magnetic activity is diminishing, and that the sun may even be shrinking. Since 2007, visible sunspot activity has stalled, leading researchers to suggest that the next solar maximum (due in 2013) could be a long while coming. Instead, the sun could go into a prolonged lulllasting several decades.

New Scientist observes:

Ordinarily, its activity varies over about 11 years, but since 2007 it seems to have stalled.

This week a string of researchers presented new data showing that the sun still isn’t perking up. That means, rather than having a solar maximum in 2013, we might not see one for a long time. Instead, the sun could go into a prolonged lull lasting several decades.

This has happened before, the most famous example being the Maunder Minimum of 1645-1715 when the sun became less luminous than normal and hardly any sunspots were seen on its surface. There is plenty of evidence that such “grand minima” cool the Earth: it’s one of the more dramatic effects the sun’s changing activity can have on our climate. The Maunder Minimum itself is widely linked to the Little Ice Age.

Here’s where the story lurches away from reality. According to the Global Warming Policy Foundation (of whom more here), the sun’s shutdown means that
The Earth – far from facing a global warming problem – is actually headed into a mini ice age.

There’s a simple problem with this claim. Let’s assume that grand minima really do cool Earth’s climate: not every climate scientist is convinced of that, but for the sake of argument let’s go with it. Now the question becomes: how much do they cool it, and for how long?

The straightforward answer is: not enough. Last year researchers modelled what would happen to global temperatures if a grand minimum started now and continued until 2100. They found that it would lower temperatures by 0.3 °C at most.

Scientists have been studying and remarking on  the sun’s peculiar behavior for years, and as long ago as 2009, NASA scientists wrote:

Solar irradiance: The solar output remains low (Fig. 4), at the lowest level in the period since satellite measurements began in the late 1970s, and the time since the prior solar minimum is already 12 years, two years longer than the prior two cycles. This has led some people to speculate that we may be entering a “Maunder Minimum” situation, a period of reduced irradiance that could last for decades. Most solar physicists expect the irradiance to begin to pick up in the next several months — there are indications, from the polarity of the few recent sunspots, that the new cycle is beginning.


However, let’s assume that the solar irradiance does not recover. In that case, the negative forcing, relative to the mean solar irradiance is equivalent to seven years of CO2 increase at current growth rates. So do not look for a new “Little Ice Age” in any case.

NASA’s take was born out, as, even in the midst of the lowest solar minimum in a century, 2009, and 2010, were, respectively, the number 2, and number one warmest years in NASA’s instrumental record globally.

Wired has this take:

The possibility of imminent solar dormancy was raised by reports from the ongoing American Astronomical Society meeting of fading sunspots and dips in the sun’s magnetic patterns. Those are considered portents of solar inactivity, suggesting that the next solar minimum — a natural downturn in activity — would be especially pronounced, perhaps lasting for decades.

When that last happened, between the mid-17th and early 18th centuries, northern Europe experienced a period of unusually cold weather. Known as theMaunder Minimum, or more conversationally as the Little Ice Age, it’s a period historicized by accounts of ice skating on the Thames and seasonal inns built on Baltic Sea ice.

Press accounts of the new solar reports played up the Maunder Minimum angle, hinting that it might happen again. Some even implied that global warming might be counteracted.

In fact, the meaning of the latest sunspot reports is still being debated, as Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth has chronicled. But even if they really do portend a decades-long solar lull, studies already point to a minimal effect on climate.

Most Little Ice Age cooling appears to have been the result of coincidentally high volcanic activity that cloaked Earth in sunlight-blocking soot. As for the sun, a study published in 2001 in Science found that reduced solar activity produced a cooling effect of about 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit. In other estimates, the cooling is even more insignificant.

The Wired piece quotes Mike Mann of Penn State, comparing the sun’s fluctuations to greenhouse warming.
“The example I like to use is that greenhouse warming right now is the equivalent of 2 watts of power illuminating every square meter of the Earth’s surface. It’s like a Christmas tree light over every square meter. By mid-century, it will be closer to 4 watts,….the maximum impact factor of the sun is 0.2 watts per meter squared.”

A recent paper by Georg Fulner and Stefan Rahmstorf asked what might happen to earth’s climate in the event of a new solar minimum. That paper’s key graph is adapted above. The paper’s conclusion:

In summary, global mean temperatures in the year 2100 would most likely be diminished by about 0.1°C. Even taking into account all uncertainties in the temperature re- construction, the forcings, and the model physics, the overall uncertainty is estimated to be at most a factor of 3, so the offset should not be larger than 0.3°C. Comparing this to the 3.7°C and 4.5°C temperature rise relative to 1961–1990 until the end of the century under the IPCC A1B and A2 emission scenarios, respectively, a new Maunder‐type solar activity minimum cannot offset the global warming caused by human greenhouse gas emissions.

36 Responses to “Graph of the Day: What if the Sun Goes into another Maunder Minimum?”

  1. @”just some guy” After buying the Science Magazine article (good one – thanks), I don’t understand why you think it supports your comment that I challenged – “I do not believe the evidence for CO2 causing warming is nearly as strong as you do.”

    Lacis and his coauthors support the established well-mixed GHG forcing values, which are almost as well understood as the gravitational constant. – “Of the 2.9 W/m2 of GHG radiative forcing from 1750 to 2000, CO2 contributed 1.5 W/m2, methane 0.55 W/m2, and CFCs 0.3 W/m2, with the rest coming from N2O and ozone (15). All of these increases in noncondensing GHG forcing are attributable to human activity.”

    The authors’ paper is about measuring the probable value of the highly positive H2O feedback – which they increase.

    I’ll read the articles about reconstructing ancient sea levels tomorrow. Why are they on-topic?

  2. justsomeguy31167 Says:

    The ancient sea level articles are from Mann and his colleagues and show his lack of scientific rigor. He publishes and article that goes against every other satellite measurement for sea change and does so in a way that keeps it from getting peer reviewed. Others have even forwarded that some of the data used is simply wrong.

    And dont get my argument wrong either, I am not and have not argued that climate change is not happening, nor have I argued that it won’t. What I have argued is that the basic science does not support the IPCC or Mann in their extreme view of the phemonena and their surety that we are all going to die. It simply does not, and the extreme statements take away the credibility of science generally, and that is what upsets me. Science is supposed to be done in ways where peer review and scientific discourse is valued, not where it is ignored.

    It really does not give you pause when the single person who is most important in the determination of the temperature record paid for by your tax dollar is such a true believer in climate change and AGW that he gets arrested protesting outside the White House? Is that really the dispassionate scientist who can remove his personal bias from the results and provide the best data? I do not, and thus the data in the ground record is simply not trustworthy, and the ocean record and the atmospheric record do not support the extreme rise in temp seen in GISS.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      excuse me, you posted 2 deliberately misleading graphs here the other day, so misleading that you either are much more ignorant than I thought, and just cut and pasted from WUWT, or are deliberately trying to introduce bad information into the debate.
      You have yet to explain or apologize for what you did, even after I specifically called you out —- I’d say it fits the profile for the distortion that this website seeks to remedy.
      Tell me why I shouldn’t call you a damn liar.
      I’d say if the leading scientist on climate is so moved as to risk arrest, that should send a bone chilling message to everyone who has a child, or has ever thought of having one.

      • justsomeguy31167 Says:

        When and where? You throw out bombs but provide no details. What graphs, when? In this string?

        • greenman3610 Says:

          review your post of june 26 and 7:38 pm.
          and my response mr phd post doc.

          I’ll await your apology.

    • Are you relying on caricatures of the IPCC report, or have you actually read it? The real document is a rather bland detailed risk assessment. It did include minor errors such as an incorrect date about the Himalayan glacier melt rate. It also excluded risks that scientists didn’t understand well enough, using the peer review process, to publish.

      Your motivation seems to be that you distrust (and don’t want to pay for) scientists who are confident in their work – even as they continue to refine, check and compare their data and conclusions between many organizations. Are you disgusted by any other scientific discipline?

      • justsomeguy31167 Says:

        I have read it, and have a Ph.D., post-doc, and was a college prof – that is why it struck me a non-scientific national geographic report, as it has many others. It was not fact checked well, has real issues around who the drafters are, and was not subject to significant peer review.

  3. justsomeguy31167 Says:

    What is the “potholer” treatment? I guess it is to believe only that which you agree with, which makes you akin to a religious zealot or terrorist in your thought processes.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      Well, it means you have to make sense and use real data, and not lie.
      So, if that’s terrorist a terrorist to you, I guess that’s me.
      If you have a specific critique of the video, make it, otherwise you are just bloviating.

  4. justsomeguy31167 Says:

    LOL. If answering specific questions with facts is bloviating then you need to take some basic debate.

    If you have facts to refute mine, then show them. Videos from non-scientists repeating talking points is not debate.

  5. justsomeguy31167 Says:

    Huh? I have posted nothing misleading and linked directly to the sources from NASA, NOAA and the like. What could be misleading? I am asking you and the rest of the true believers to go directly to the sources of the information.

    I think your version of reality must be warping.

    More real science for you: – there is some change is sea ice area globally, but far from catastrophic or unheard of in the record. – Arctice sea ice has dropped, but is it global warming of the oscillation changes mentioned above (you can’t use the arctic oscillation argument only when it supports your world view) – Antarctic sea ice seems to be increasing,

    • greenman3610 Says:

      I explained what you did, so either you are grossly ignorant and merely cut an pasting from WUWT, or deliberately misleading. since you are throwing up yet more sand rather than respond to my challenge, I take it you are yet another disinforming troll, and you will be ignored accordingly.

      • justsomeguy31167 Says:

        You are so full of it your eyes are floating. As a Democrat and someone who maxed out for Obama in both Senate primaries, Pres primaries, and real elections I know true believers like you. Got a fact or just spittle? Refute one?

        I posted no misleading links, and several you will not find on Wattsupwiththat of or anywhere else.

        You lose, not an unexpected outcome.

  6. justsomeguy31167 Says: – southern hemisphere ice does not support the crazed calls that the ice melting and the ending

    Sea level rising at a sedate 3.1 millimeters per year, and to get that high they just added a “correction” –

    Here is land level temp rise, the one you guys say shows the world ending as we know it:

    Here are all the atmospheric temps:

    Here are all the snowcover plots:

    Read these, look at them, and then decide for yourself if this falls within natural variation or the world is ending.

  7. justsomeguy31167 Says:

    And the most interesting graphs are those currently of the sun, as it is undergoing something we have not seen in modern history. This is a first, noone is sure what it means, but sunspots are getting very weak magnetically, will they disappear?

    Also, what does a change in the basic output relationships we thought were very stable mean?

    Click to access 2010JA016301.pdf

    Science is alot of fun, try it sometime.

  8. justsomeguy31167 Says:

    And if you want to see the worst scince around climate change ever spewed, watch Inhofe here:

  9. justsomeguy31167 Says:

    Final post, why don’t you go read some real science and quit making videos you purport to be scientific:

  10. […] Mann en Stefan Rampstorf de bron te leveren van Van Soest zijn klimaatadviezen. Zie ook deze link uit Van Soest’s account naar Climatecrocks, waar een Rampstorfgrafiek figureert.Als je de NWO-Enenergiecommissie bezet, en Wim Turkenburg zijn […]

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