In 2020, the earth is about to enter a period that scientists have dubbed the ‘mini ice age’, wherein the sun will experience the lowest rate of activity observed in more than 200 years. This so-called ‘mini’ ice age will herald the arrival of bitterly cold winters and potentially severe food shortages. Scientists believe that the average temperature of the planet might drop by as much as one degree Celsius in a single year. Data received from NASA suggests that this mini ice age could be the result of a ‘solar minimum’ that planet earth will be experiencing over the next three decades.
What is a Solar Minimum?
A solar minimum is essentially a period of near-dormancy for the sun, when it exhibits a lower-than-average amount of activity during this time. This diminished rate of solar activity occurs naturally from time to time and is usually seen every eleven years or so. However, there is something slightly different about the solar minimum that the planet is about to experience in 2020 and onwards. This particular phenomenon is known as a ‘grand solar minimum’ and is a rather extreme version of the event described above.
In a grand solar minimum, solar activity dips even further below the already-diminished level typically seen in a normal solar minimum. Such a grand solar minimum will only occur once in more than four centuries. The last grand solar minimum occurred between 1645 and 1715 and was known as the Maunder Minimum. During this period, the canals of Amsterdam and Thames froze over at regular intervals, an occurrence that is quite rare nowadays.
Potential Effects of the Grand Solar Minimum
A scientist known for her work on solar minimums and their effects, Professor Zharkova opined that the reduction in solar activity will almost inevitably result in severe winters on earth as well as wet and relatively cold summers.
She has published multiple papers on the phenomena of solar minimums and believes that the unusually low temperatures experienced by the people of Iceland and Canada are proof that the grand solar minimum has begun, and is all set to ravage the earth for the next thirty-odd years.
According to Zharkova, if this mini ice age we are about to enter is anything like the Maunder Minimum, then the agricultural industry will be badly hit and mass food shortages will become commonplace. Humanity, Professor Zharkova believes, needs to begin preparing for the inevitable.
The Role of Global Warming
Many of us, who have grown up hearing about the dangers that global warming poses to the planet, might now be feeling somewhat confused. Is the earth threatened by too much heat or too much cold? Is rising temperatures the problem, or falling ones? How can glaciers be melting while canals are freezing over?
However, Professor Owens of Reading University has an answer. He believes that the effects of human activity, such as the significant increase in the amount of CO2 in the air, can and will eventually offset the reduction in energy caused by the grand solar minimum. This means that the negative effects of global warming will continue to haunt humanity despite the temporary lowering of temperatures around the world. In the long run, global climate might not be affected in a way that is easily detectable.
The effects of Maunder Minimum during the seventeenth century were exacerbated by multiple large-scale volcanic eruptions that further lowered the average temperatures around the world. Hence, the last grand solar minimum might not have been the only factor causing the severe winters and food shortages of that era.
Solar minimums are a natural part of the life cycle of every star, including our sun. Grand solar minimums, while relatively rarer, are no different. Hence, scientists believe that this ‘mini ice age’ that is about to start in 2020, while it might be inconvenient, will not cause any lasting harm to the numerous ecosystems of planet earth. Nonetheless, humans would do well to prepare for chilly winter storms and extreme weather conditions over the next few years.