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Low solar activity can lead to Little Ice Age in future?

June 16, 2011 - London

Astronomers believe that the Earth could enter a new 'Little Ice Age' in the coming years due to low solar activity.

Sunspot activity, which follows an 11-year cycle, is due to peak in 2013 after which it will start to wane slightly.

That could affect the weather on Earth because low solar activity has been linked to low global temperatures in the past.

Between 1645 and 1715 almost no sunspots were observed, a solar period which came to be called the Maunder Minimum.

During those decades, Europe suffered frequent unusually harsh winters, and the time was later termed the Little Ice Age.

Although there is no conclusive evidence that one caused the other, many scientists believe it did.

Sunspots are darker patches on the sun's surface, caused by small areas of strong magnetic activity, which disrupt the normal flow of intensely heated gases.

Three studies all point towards declining sunspot activity into the next decade.

"The fact that there are three separate lines of evidence all pointing in the same direction is very compelling," The Telegraph quoted Frank Hill, of the National Solar Observatory in New Mexico, who worked on one of the studies, as saying.

But Joanna Haigh professor of atmospheric physics at Imperial College London, said Global warming could override any cooling effect on the Earth's climate.

The study was presented at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society's solar physics division.


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