Sun activity link to cold winter
A period of low solar activity could lead to more cold winters in the UK
The 'Big Freeze' explained
The UK and continental Europe could be gripped by more frequent cold winters in the future as a result of low solar activity, say researchers.
They identified a link between fewer sunspots and atmospheric conditions that "block" warm, westerly winds reaching Europe during winter months.
But they added that the phenomenon only affected a limited region and would not alter the overall global warming trend.
The findings appear in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
"By recent standards, we have just had what could be called a very cold winter and I wanted to see if this was just another coincidence or statistically robust," said lead author Mike Lockwood, professor of space environment physics at the University of Reading, UK.
To examine whether there was a link, Professor Lockwood and his co-authors compared past levels of solar activity with the Central England Temperature (CET) record, which is the world's longest continuous instrumental record of such data.
The researchers used the 351-year CET record because it provided data that went back to the beginning of the Maunder Minimum, a prolonged period of very low activity on the Sun that lasted about half a century.
...The Maunder Minimum occurred in the latter half of the 17th Century - a period when Europe experienced a series of harsh winters, which has been dubbed by some as the Little Ice Age. Following this, there was a gradual increase in solar activity that lasted 300 years.
Professor Lockwood explained that studies of activity on the Sun, which provides data stretching back over 9,000 years, showed that it tended to "ramp up quite slowly over about a 300-year period, then drop quite quickly over about a 100-year period".
He said the present decline started in 1985 and was currently about "half way back to a Maunder Minimum condition".
This allowed the team to compare recent years with what happened in the late 1600s.
"We found that you could accommodate both the Maunder Minimum and the last few years into the same framework," he told BBC News.
THEY'RE STILL DENYING THAT THE MINIMUM WAS AND WILL BE AGAIN WORLDWIDE.
BUT IT'S A START.