Swiss scientists now say that the Little Ice Age most certainly could have been triggered by variations in solar activity.

There’s been criticism for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) over its latest AR5 report from many quarters for many reasons. But today there’s new research focusing on one particular aspect of that criticism.

The particular part of the IPCC’s science in question is its accounting for the effects of changes in the Sun on the climate of planet Earth. Many climatologists have long sought to suggest that the effects of solar variability are minor, certainly when compared to those of human-driven CO2 emissions. Others, however, while admitting that the Sun changes only a very little over human timescales, think that it might be an important factor.

This matters because solar physicists think that the Sun is about to enter a “grand minimum”, a prolonged period of low activity.

The current 11-year peak in solar action is the weakest seen for a long time, and it may presage a lengthy quiet period. Previously, historical records suggest that such periods have been accompanied by chilly conditions on Earth – perhaps to the point where a coming minimum might counteract or even render irrelevant humanity’s carbon emissions. The “Little Ice Age” seen from the 15th to the 19th centuries is often mentioned in this context.

There are certainly plenty of scientists to say, along with the IPCC, that this isn’t so. For instance climate physicist Joanna Haigh has this to say, in tinned quotes offered alongside the AR5 release by the UK’s Science Media Centre:

“Even if the Sun were to enter a new ‘grand minimum’ state within the next century, [solar variation] would be very unlikely to provide more than a small, temporary, partial compensation for likely anthropogenic warming.”

And yet the Little Ice Age appears to have affected the climate powerfully. IPCC-leaning scientists, however, say that the Little Ice Age couldn’t have been caused by solar variability – not even solar variability combined with sky-darkening volcanic eruptions – as the effects would have been too weak.

That school of science would often suggest that the Little Ice Age was actually caused by a sequence of unusually powerful North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) atmospheric phenomena – or, in other words, that it was just a blip: rather like the current 15-year hiatus in global warming, so often pointed up by climate sceptics. Indeed, a hefty paper published in 2009 stated as much, that the Little Ice Age was caused by powerful NAO effects (and the Medieval Warm Period before it, another awkwardness for the IPCC camp as it is thought by many to have seen a warmer world than we have now, without any carbon emissions).

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Author: Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.

5 thoughts on “Swiss scientists now say that the Little Ice Age most certainly could have been triggered by variations in solar activity.”

  1. Well, well, well, steady as she goes. Now all we have to worry about is Fukushima and the next meltdown somewhere around the globe. There will be more meltdowns. Humans are screw-ups, they can’t help but fail……….

  2. Over the last 4 years of study and data analysis, I could not overcome the insignificance of CO2 in affecting the Earth’s cooling or warming. CO2 is uniformly distributed up into the higher atmosphere where it radiates infrared into outer space, and thus actually helps cool the Earth, but not enough to matter. For heating, CO2 can NOT absorb visible light, the main radiation of the Sun due to its surface temperatures. It absorbs a very tiny band of infrared that is radiated by water vapor, but it is too little, and the small amount of CO2 (a few parts per mililion) in the atmosphere, make CO2 insignificant in any warming of the planet. Water is what absorbs solar energy and keeps the planet warm – else it would be tremendously cold at night and burning hot in the day (no life could exist).
    We are a water planet, which is why, with our distance to the Sun, that we have life. The Sporer cloud of trillions of ice comets surrounding the solar system feed billions of ice balls into Earth’s atmosphere, which become water vapor, rain and snow. This has formed the oceans over the last 2 billiion years. Those ice comets also contain organic material such as methane and hydrocarbons, which are what the beginning life forms used (self-replicating nodules of molecules of such material). Finally, a more complete picture has emerged for me.

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