Possible climate impacts of a future Grand Solar Minimum

 

A. C. Maycock1,2, S.Ineson3, L.J.Gray2,4, A.A.Scaife3, J.A.Anstey4, M. Lockwood5, N. Butchart3, S. C. Hardiman3, D. M. Mitchell4, S. M. Osprey2

1 Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Cambridge, 2 NCAS, 3 Met Office Hadley Centre, 4 Department of Atmosphere, Ocean and Planetary Physics, University of Oxford, 5 Department of Meteorology, University of Reading

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headshotDr Amanda Maycock is a NERC Independent Research Fellow in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds. This research was conducted during her previous positions at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

What are the new findings?

Solar physicists have suggested the Sun may evolve into a period of very low activity this century; such a ‘Grand Solar Minimum’ was last observed in the 1600s and coincided with cold winters in Europe. Our work shows that a recurrence of these solar conditions would not offset the expected rise in global mean surface temperature this century due to human activities. However, we find a larger cooling effect from low solar activity on regional climates, particularly over Europe in winter. Here, the cooling effect of the solar minimum amounts to around one third of the difference between a medium and high-end emissions scenario for future greenhouse gases.

 

Why are these findings important?

The computer simulations used to inform policy makers and governments about future climate change do not account for our lack of knowledge about how the Sun’s activity might change this century. Our work shows that plausible future changes in the Sun could have considerable impacts on regional climate in the Northern hemisphere, and these effects should therefore be factored into scenarios for possible future climate change.

 

How did we discover this?

We used a comprehensive global atmosphere-ocean climate model which represents atmospheric processes up to an altitude of 85km. We compared a simulation in which the Sun’s activity decreases by 0.12% by the middle of this century to a simulation in which the Sun has a constant long-term level of activity out to the year 2100.

Maycock fig

Above: Simulated changes in northern European surface temperatures in winter (oC) over the century compared to 1971–2000. The red and blue lines show two scenarios for a future grand solar minimum (A and B). The black and orange lines show high and medium scenarios for future greenhouse gas emissions. The red line is relatively cooler by around one third of the difference between the high and medium climate change scenarios.

Find out more:

  • see Amanda Maycock's webpage
  • Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Take a look at the Journal article

Maycock, A. C., et al. (2015), J. Geophys. Res. Atmos., 120, 9043–9058, doi:10.1002/2014JD022022.

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This research was funded by NCAS, NERC, the AXA Research Fund, the ERC and DECC