Mini-ice Age to Hit Earth in 15 Years, Scientists Warn

This isn't some wrinkle in climate change, this is the sun's cycle reaching a 'Maunder minimum.'

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
 Coming soon to a river near you?
Coming soon to a river near you?Credit: Mollet Yafa
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

The record temperatures we keep reading about could be a fond memory in just 15 years' time, which is when a new mini-Ice Age will hit the planet, a group of scientists is warning.

The last "Little Ice Age," which chilled the northern hemisphere from the year 1300 to 1870, lasted almost 600 years. The U.K. Royal Astronomical Society isn't postulating how long the new one they predict will persist.

Their prediction has nothing whatsoever to do with the phenomenon of human-driven climate change, about which there is almost-blanket scientific consensus. It has to do with the behavior of the sun, which the team headed by Prof. Valentina Zharkova says it can now model with much greater accuracy than ever before.

The model suggests 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," they write in ScienceDaily.

The sun has a natural activity cycle lasting between ten and 12 years, but the cycles are, by nature, not identical. Yet nobody had been able to nail down the causes of fluctuations, until Zharkova and her team postulated that the sun's activity was driven not by one dynamo, but two – one being moving plasm deep within the Sun, the other closer to the star's surface.

They found magnetic wave components appearing in pairs, originating in two different layers in the Sun's interior, Zharkova told Science Daily: Both have a frequency of about 11 years but are offset in time.

"Combining both waves together and comparing to real data for the current solar cycle, we found that our predictions showed an accuracy of 97%," she told the journal.

And they predict, based on the cycles' behavior, that a new mini-Ice Age will start in 15 years, when the cycles produce a "Maunder minimum" – a period of low solar activity.

This is not good news. The last "Little Ice Age" – which was no such thing, merely a very long period of colder weather – wreaked havoc on Europe and early settlers of North America, though science isn't clear how it affected the southern hemisphere. In Europe, rivers and canals froze over and so did the usually balmy Bosphorus, for good measure. Frost-afflicted countries suffered widespread crop failure and famine. Some have even linked the travails of the era to the predilection for witch-hunting, which did not, ultimately, solve any problems at all.

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