Is the Earth headed for another ice age?

<span property="schema:name">Is the Earth headed for another ice age?</span>

Is the Earth headed for another ice age?

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    Samantha Loney
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Wouldn't it be awfully ironic to learn that all of the greenhouse gasses humanity has been pumping into the atmosphere for the last few decades will actually save us, rather than bring on the apocalypse? 

That could just be the case if recent findings by Valentina Zharkova, a professor of mathematics at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom, proves true. Her research has indicated that “solar activity is to fall 60% in the next twenty years,” raising concerns about another ice age.

We all know human kind’s not the first species to claim planet earth. Countless different species have lived before us and there’ll most likely be species that live after us. Whether you call the end of the world Armageddon, Judgement Day or the Day of Reckoning, you can’t deny  that you’ve spent time thinking about how the world will end. Perhaps you’ve even considered that mankind will end because of another ice age.

For those non-solar physicists out there, here’s what you need to know: sun activity is measured in 11-year cycles. The sunspots can appear and disappear during these cycles. The more sunspots there are on the sun, the more that the Sun’s heat reaches the earth. If the sun has a decrease in sunspots, a Maunder Minimum can form, which means that less heat will reach earth.

Zharkova’s findings compare sunspot numbers over three cycles, from 1979-2008. By comparing past solar trends, Zharkova attempts to predict the future. Her findings suggest that two electromagnetic waves after 2022 from cycle 26 will be out of sync, reflecting a decrease in solar activity.

"In cycle 26, the two waves exactly mirror each other -- peaking at the same time but in opposite hemispheres of the Sun. Their interaction will be disruptive, or they will nearly cancel each other. We predict that this will lead to the properties of a 'Maunder Minimum,'" says Zharkova. "Effectively, when the waves are approximately in phase, they can show strong interaction, or resonance, and we have strong solar activity. When they are out of phase, we have solar minimums. When there is full phase separation, we have the conditions last seen during the Maunder Minimum, 370 years ago."

The last Maunder Minimum happened alongside a mini ice age in Europe, North America and Asia from 1550-1850. Although scientists can’t be certain, many believe the Maunder Minimum may have been part of the cause.

Zharkova says, "The upcoming Maunder Minimum is expected to be shorter than the last one in 17th century (five solar cycles of 11 years)” and will only last for around three solar cycles.

Do these recent solar findings mean we’re heading for another mini ice age?

Many skeptics are doubtful, claiming the Maunder Minimum and mini ice age in the 17th century simply occurred together by mere coincidence. 


In his article for Ars Technica, John Timmer writes, “Recent work indicates that the drop in solar activity was a relatively minor contributor to that cold period. Instead, volcanic activity seems to have been the major trigger. In terms of the amount of sunlight that reaches the Earth, there's simply not that big of a difference between low and high sunspot periods.

All that said, if a temporary reduction in solar activity eventually does occur, then our greenhouse gas emissions will ultimately work to keep the Earth a degree or two warmer than would otherwise be the case, potentially averting another future ice age. Oh the irony indeed.

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