Earth could face frosty weather and biting snow storms over the next 30 years as an ominous “solar minimum” grips the planet, a scientist has warned. Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom – other experts believe that a Grand Solar Minimum will have little effect on our climate.
The cold snaps – caused by the Sun entering a natural “hibernation” – threaten to trigger food shortages as temperatures slump across the planet, experts say.
Earth is bracing for a solar minimum: a quiet period in which the Sun fires less energy – or, heat – at our planet than usual.
According to Nasa, the Sun will reach its lowest activity in over 200 years in 2020.
This could cause average temperatures to drop as much as 1C in a cold spell lasting 12 months, according to Northumbria University expert Valentina Zharkova.
That might not sound like much, but a whole degree is very significant for global average temperatures.
“The Sun is approaching a hibernation period,” Professor Zharkova, who has published multiple scientific papers on solar minimums, told The Sun.
“Less sunspots will be formed on the solar surface and thus less energy and radiation will be emitted towards the planets and the Earth.”
Solar minimums are part of the Sun’s natural life cycle and occur once every 11 years. However, 2020’s minimum promises to be an especially chilly one.
That’s because it marks the start of a rare event known as a Grand Solar Minimum, in which energy emitted from the Sun drops even more than usual.
These only occur once every 400 years or so. Most of the effects will be harmless.
However, Professor Zharkova warned icy spells and wet summers could persist until solar activity picks up again in 2053.
She listed recent unusual chills in Canada and Iceland as evidence of the Grand Solar Minimum (GSM) already taking hold.
“The reduction in temperature will results in cold weathers on Earth, wet and cold summers, cold and wet winters,” she told The Sun.
“We will possibly get big frosts as is happening now in Canada where they see [temperatures] of -50C.
“But this is only the start of GSM, there is more to come in the next 33 years.”
The last GSM to strike Earth was the Maunder Minimum, which lasted from 1645 to 1715.
During this period, the brightness of the Sun dropped and temperatures plummeted across the globe, according to Nasa.
The brutal cold decades saw famous waterways like the Thames and Amsterdam’s canals freeze regularly – events that are rare today.
Nasa readings of solar activity suggest our planet could find itself in the grips of a similar freeze by 2025.
Professor Zharkova added: “We can only hope that the mini ice age will not be as severe as it was during the Maunder Minimum.
“This would dramatically affect food harvests in middle latitudes, because the vegetables and fruits will not have enough time for harvesting.
“So it could lead to a food deficit for people and animals, as we seen in the past couple of years when the snow in Spain and Greece in April and May demolished they veggie fields, and the UK had a deficit of broccoli, and other fruits and veggies.”
Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom – other experts believe that Grand Solar Minimums have little effect on our climate.
Instead, the cold snap experienced during the Maunder Minimum was likely triggered by several factors, including plumes of ash coughed out by a series of giant volcanic eruptions.
We’re also expecting global warming to increase average temperatures in the coming decades.
It’s unlikely, therefore, that the upcoming GSM will have any impact on global temperatures, solar scientist Mathew Owens told The Sun.
“The small reduction in the Sun’s energy associated with a solar minimum is vastly offset by effects caused by human activity, such as CO2 in the atmosphere,” Professor Owens, of Reading University, said.
“Thus there will probably be no detectable effect on global climate.”