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Little Ice Age: "Coming Soon" Says Expert

Too many scientists are either ignoring, or don’t understand, the well-established fact that Earth’s climate has changed rapidly in the past and could change rapidly in the future—in either direction.

Evidence for abrupt climate change is readily found in ice cores taken from Greenland and Antarctica. One of the best known examples of such an event is the Younger Dryas cooling of about 12,000 years ago, named after the arctic wildflower found in northern European sediments. This event began and ended rather abruptly, and for its entire 1000 year duration the North Atlantic region was about 5°C colder. Could something like this happen again? It could, and because the changes can happen all within one decade—we might not even see it coming.

The Younger Dryas occurred at a time when orbital forcing should have continued to drive climate to the present warm state. The unexplained phenomenon has been the topic of much intense scientific debate, as well as other millennial scale events.

An 11-year low in Sunspot activity has raised fears among a small number of scientists that rather than getting warmer, the Earth could possibly be about to return to another cooling period. The idea is especially intriguing considering that most of the world is in preparation for global warming. Could we be preparing for the wrong scenario?

A sunspot is a region on the Sun that is cooler than the rest and therefore appears darker. One theory is that a strong solar magnetic field, which causes plenty of sunspot activity, protects the earth from cosmic rays, but that when the field is weak - during low sunspot activity - the rays can penetrate into the lower atmosphere and cloud cover increases, which in turn leads to a cooler surface.

Geophysicist Phil Chapman, the first Australian to become an astronaut with NASA, notes that pictures from the US Solar and Heliospheric Observatory show that there are currently no spots on the sun. He believes this is the reason why the world cooled rapidly between January last year and January this year, by about 0.7C.

"This is the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record, and it puts us back to where we were in 1930," Dr Chapman wrote in The Australian. "If the temperature does not soon recover, we will have to conclude that global warming is over."

However, scientists from the US National Center for Atmospheric Research published a report in 2006 that claims the Sun likely has a negligible effect on climate change. Another study, recently published study in the Institute of Physics' Environmental Research Letters, by researchers from Lancaster and Durham Universities found that there was no strong correlation between cosmic rays and the production of low cloud cover. If that is correct, it would mean the lack of sunspots is not necessarily an indicator of higher cloud cover and subsequent future cooling.

While it’s true that some world regions have experienced record colds recently, other areas do seem to be warming up. In Australia, The Bureau of Meteorology says that temperatures there have been warmer than the 1960-90 average since the late 1970s. Even though there have been some cooler years mixed in, overall they are now 0.3C higher than the long-term average. Other countries are experiencing similar upward trends. On the other hand, since widespread temperature records have only been kept for a relatively short period of the Earth’s history, it’s hard to know exactly what these increases mean from a long-term perspective.

Cooling, or “Little Ice Age” proponents like Chapman, say that it could still swing either way. He proposes preventive measures to slow any potential cooling, such as bulldozing Siberian and Canadian snow to make it dirty and less reflective. "My guess is that the odds are now at least 50:50 that we will see significant cooling rather than warming in coming decades."

Canadian scientist Kenneth Tapping of the National Research Council has noted that solar activity has entered into an unusually inactive phase, but what that means—if anything—is still anyone’s guess. Another scientist, Oleg Sorokhtin, a fellow of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences agrees with Chapman. Sorokhtin believes that, in spite of the results of certain recent studies, lack of sunspots does indicate a coming cooling period. In fact, he calls manmade climate change "a drop in the bucket" compared to the cold brought on by inactive solar phases.

But while Sorokhtin is advising people to "stock up on fur coats", the vast majority of prominent scientists believe the bulk of evidence points towards an overall warming trend, and that anomalies and exceptions to the rule do not make a significant dent in this consensus.

The Daily Galaxy asked climate expert Thomas Reichler, what he has to say about it. According to him, anyone claiming that the Earth isn’t getting warmer, or that it’s perhaps even getting colder, simply isn’t looking at the actual data.

“There is absolutely no doubt that the world is in a warming phase,” Reichler told the Daily Galaxy, “and that conclusion is supported by 99% of all serious scientists, so I’m certainly not alone in that certainty.”

Reichler is probably right, but it wouldn’t be the first time if the fringe opinion turned out to be onto something. But from a broader perspective, does it really matter who’s “right” as far as preparations go? Whether the climate gets cooler or warmer, or does nothing at all, people will still need massive amounts of energy. Even if we were to take the reverse approach and intentionally increase greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in order to stave off cooling, it would likely have little effect other than to further pollute the environment with standard energy consumption’s many toxic byproducts

Solar Cycle 24 began in early 2008 , but has shown minimal activity through early 2009. The small changes in solar irradiance that occur during the solar cycle exert a small influence on Earth’s climate, with periods of intense magnetic activity producing slightly higher temperatures, and solar minimum periods such as that seen in 2008 and early 2009 likely to have the opposite effect.

Skeptics have been saying that global temperature rises might be due to changes in the sun, pretty much the ultimate "it wasn't us, a big boy did it," with a giant fusion reactor as the elusive culprit. Researchers have shown that this isn't the case and unlike the original claim, their work involves advanced computer models, a distinct lack of the word "might", and has been published in Science.

Carnegie Mellon University's Peter Adams along with Jeff Pierce from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, have developed a model to test the controversial hypothesis that says changes solar activity are causing global warming.

The hypothesis they tested was that increased solar activity reduces cloudiness by variations in cosmic rays. So, when clouds decrease, more sunlight is let in, causing the earth to warm. Some climate change skeptics have tried to use this hypothesis to suggest that greenhouse gases may not be the global warming culprits that most scientists agree they are. They found that changes in the concentration of particles that affect clouds are 100 times too small to affect the climate.

Professors Peter Adams and Jeff Pierce did a bunch of things that those throwing around the solar excuse didn't:

a) They did detailed work analyzing the actual effects of such activity
b) They actually understood what such effects would really even be
c) They rigorously applied scientific procedures to this research, constructed computer models, and would have reported the results either away
d) They spent many, many years earning PhDs in scientific research and the title of "Professor."

The simulations show that the effects of cosmic rays from the sun are barely 1% of what they'd have to be to explain what we've seen. The scientists are even one step ahead of the "maybe-sorta" game, admitting their simulations can't account for everything that exists, because nothing could ever do that (including their opponents' arguments), but pointing out that nothing omitted or missed could skew the results enough to appreciably alter the results.


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