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Sunday Times: Europe May be Facing Return Of ‘Little Ice Age’

Britain should brace itself for another freezing winter with the return of La Niña, a climate phenomenon known to disrupt global weather, ministers have warned.

La Niña, in which cold water piles up in the equatorial eastern Pacific, is linked to extreme winter weather in America. Some suggest that last year’s strong La Niña was linked to Britain’s icy winter, one of the coldest on record.

The connection between La Niña and weather in Europe is scientifically uncertain but ministers have told transport organisations and emergency services to take no chances.

The warning coincides with research from the Met Office suggesting Europe could be facing a return of the “little ice age” that gripped Britain 300 years ago, causing decades of bitter winters.

The prediction, to be published in Nature, is based on observations showing a slight fall in the sun’s emissions of ultraviolet radiation, which over a long period may trigger mini ice ages in Europe.

The Sunday Times, 9 October 2011

see also: Met Office Models Winters

Met Office remains convinced that severe cold snap is a one-off phenomenon


Clarification by Jonathan Leake (11 October 2011)

Thanks to those who have commented on this article. However, there appears to be a common misunderstanding. This article is not about anthropogenic climate change. The phenomena mentioned in this article are natural and separate from climate change. They operate in parallel to climate change, in parallel to each other but, of course, each on very different time scales.

La Nina, for example, is really about weather. It’s part of a relatively short term natural cycle operating over periods of a few years.

It’s just one of many factors which together mean that weather is constantly showing a high level of variability. In other words, getting a cold winter or two does not tell us anything about climate change. It just tells us that weather changes a lot – which we already know.

Similarly, the research in Nature Geoscience about the changes in solar radiation, is also nothing to do with climate change. It’s an entirely separate effect happening in parallel. Scientists think its part of a 3-400 year cycle of changes in UV radiation. There’s a good article here and the original is here.

It’s interesting to wonder if it will mitigate or amplify the effects of greenhouse gas emissions but I suspect no-one really knows yet. The key point is that short term changes in the weather and long term changes in the climate are both driven by a complex mix of variables.

Working out the most likely future trends is hard and takes long-term dedicated science. Reducing it all to an argument to undermine climate change misses the real point which is that we should be trying to use the best science to assess just how much of a problem all these effects really present to an increasingly crowded and interconnected world.

The science suggesting that the Earth faces significant warming remains very strong. If you disagree then you need good science to back your case. These other phenomena (La Nina, UV radiation etc) are simply not relevant.

Jonathan Leake