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Lockwood demonstrates link between low sun and low temps

Watts Up With That?
April 15, 2010

Solar Science Bipolar Disorder

Guest post by Steven Goddard

About once every 11 years, the sun”s magnetic poles reverse.  However some high profile solar scientists reverse their own polarity more frequently.

Satellite image showing the British Isles covered in snow (Image:  NASA) England Scotland and Wales Covered With Snow in 2010

The BBC reported Wednesday that Mike Lockwood at the University of Reading has established a statistical link between cold weather and low solar activity.

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.

“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.

Picture of a Thames "forest fayre" in 1716 (Getty  Images)

“Frost fayres” were held on the Thames during the Maunder Minimum

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”. More at the BBC


His  study was basically a rehash of what many others have done previously over the past few centuries, but he has the BBC”s ear – because in 2007 he prominently claimed just the opposite.

No Sun link” to climate change

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

“This should settle the debate,” said Mike Lockwood

Similarly, in 2006 David Hathaway at NASA reported that the Sun”s conveyor belt had “slowed to a record low.”

May 10, 2006: The Sun”s Great Conveyor Belt has slowed to a record-low crawl, according to research by NASA solar physicist David Hathaway. “It”s off the bottom of the charts,” he says. “This has important repercussions for future solar activity.”

Then on March 12, 2010 he reported the exact opposite:

March 12, 2010: In today”s issue of Science, NASA solar physicist David Hathaway reports that the top of the sun”s Great Conveyor Belt has been running at record-high speeds for the past five years.

In 1810, the great English astronomer William Herschel established a link between sunspot activity and the price of grain in Europe – a proxy for climate.  As far as we know, he never reversed polarity on that belief. Modern solar science is just coming around to what Herschel hypothesized 200 years ago.


UPDATE: Full Lockwood et al paper at Environmental Research Letters here

Abstract. Solar activity during the current sunspot minimum has fallen to levels unknown since the start of the 20th century. The Maunder minimum (about 1650–1700) was a prolonged episode of low solar activity which coincided with more severe winters in the United Kingdom and continental Europe. Motivated by recent relatively cold winters in the UK, we investigate the possible connection with solar activity. We identify regionally anomalous cold winters by detrending the Central England temperature (CET) record using reconstructions of the northern hemisphere mean temperature. We show that cold winter excursions from the hemispheric trend occur more commonly in the UK during low solar activity, consistent with the solar influence on the occurrence of persistent blocking events in the eastern Atlantic. We stress that this is a regional and seasonal effect relating to European winters and not a global effect. Average solar activity has declined rapidly since 1985 and cosmogenic isotopes suggest an 8% chance of a return to Maunder minimum conditions within the next 50 years (Lockwood 2010 Proc. R. Soc. A 466 303–29): the results presented here indicate that, despite hemispheric warming, the UK and Europe could experience more cold winters than during recent decades.

Figure 2 from the paper:

Lockwood demonstrates link between low sun and low temps Figure 2. Variations since the mid-17th century of the following. (a) The mean northern hemisphere temperature anomaly, ΔTN: black shows the HadCRUT3v compilation of observations [17, mauve shows the median of an ensemble of 11 reconstructions (individually intercalibrated with the HadCRUT3v NH data over the interval 1850–1950) based on tree ring and other proxy data [18–23]. The decile range is given by the area shaded grey (between upper and lower decile values of ΔTU and ΔTL). (b) Average winter Central England Temperatures (CET) [5, 6] for December, January and February, TDJF. (c) The open solar flux, FS, corrected for longitudinal solar wind structure: dots are annual means of interplanetary satellite data; the black line after 1905 is derived from ground-based geomagnetic data [1]; and the mauve line is a model based on observed sunspot numbers [14]. Both curves show 1 year means. (d) Detrended winter CET, δTDJF, obtained by subtracting the best-fit variation of ΔTN, derived using the regressions shown in figure 3(b): the width of the line shows the difference resulting from the use of ΔTN = ΔTU and ΔTN = ΔTL prior to 1850. In all panels, dots are for years with δTDJF < 1 °C (the dashed horizontal line in (d)), colour-coded by year using the scale in figure 3(a). Data for the winter 2009/10 are provisional.”]
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