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Is an Imminent "Little Ice Age" Possible? -Scientists Says "Yes"

Little_ice_age_2Evidence has mounted that global warming began in the last century and that humans are, at least in part, responsible. The concern is that the warming of our climate will greatly affect its habitability for many species, including humans. Both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences concur that this is the case. But some argue that this thinking is too limited. They say that too many scientists are either ignoring, or don’t understand, the well-established fact that Earth’s climate has changed rapidly in the past and could change rapidly in the future—in either direction.

Evidence for abrupt climate change is readily found in ice cores taken from Greenland and Antarctica. One of the best known examples of such an event is the Younger Dryas cooling of about 12,000 years ago, named after the arctic wildflower found in northern European sediments. This event began and ended rather abruptly, and for its entire 1000 year duration the North Atlantic region was about 5°C colder. Could something like this happen again? It sure could, and because the changes can happen all within one decade—we might not even see it coming.

The Younger Dryas occurred at a time when orbital forcing should have continued to drive climate to the present warm state. The unexplained phenomenon has been the topic of much intense scientific debate, as well as other millennial scale events.

Now an 11-year low in Sunspot activity has raised fears among a small number of scientists that rather than getting warmer, the Earth could possibly be about to return to another cooling period. The idea is especially intriguing considering that most of the world is in preparation for global warming. Could we be preparing for the wrong scenario?

A sunspot is a region on the Sun that is cooler than the rest and therefore appears darker. One theory is that a strong solar magnetic field, which causes plenty of sunspot activity, protects the earth from cosmic rays, but that when the field is weak - during low sunspot activity - the rays can penetrate into the lower atmosphere and cloud cover increases, which in turn leads to a cooler surface.

Geophysicist Phil Chapman, the first Australian to become an astronaut with NASA, notes that pictures from the US Solar and Heliospheric Observatory show that there are currently no spots on the sun. He believes this is the reason why the world cooled rapidly between January last year and January this year, by about 0.7C.

"This is the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record, and it puts us back to where we were in 1930," Dr Chapman wrote in The Australian. "If the temperature does not soon recover, we will have to conclude that global warming is over."

However, scientists from the US National Center for Atmospheric Research published a report in 2006 that claims the Sun likely has a negligible effect on climate change. Another study, recently published study in the Institute of Physics' Environmental Research Letters, by researchers from Lancaster and Durham Universities found that there was no strong correlation between cosmic rays and the production of low cloud cover. If that is correct, it would mean the lack of sunspots is not necessarily an indicator of higher cloud cover and subsequent future cooling.

While it’s true that some world regions have experienced record colds recently, other areas do seem to be warming up. In Australia, The Bureau of Meteorology says that temperatures there have been warmer than the 1960-90 average since the late 1970s. Even though there have been some cooler years mixed in, overall they are now 0.3C higher than the long-term average. Other countries are experiencing similar upward trends. On the other hand, since widespread temperature records have only been kept for a relatively short period of the Earth’s history, it’s hard to know exactly what these increases mean from a long-term perspective.

Cooling, or “Little Ice Age” proponents like Chapman, say that it could still swing either way. He proposes preventive measures to slow any potential cooling, such as bulldozing Siberian and Canadian snow to make it dirty and less reflective. "My guess is that the odds are now at least 50:50 that we will see significant cooling rather than warming in coming decades."

Canadian scientist Kenneth Tapping of the National Research Council has noted that solar activity has entered into an unusually inactive phase, but what they means—if anything—is still anyone’s guess. Another scientist, Oleg Sorokhtin, a fellow of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences agrees with Chapman. Sorokhtin believes that, in spite of the results of certain recent studies, lack of sunspots does indicate a coming cooling period. In fact, he calls manmade climate change "a drop in the bucket" compared to the cold brought on by inactive solar phases.

But while Sorokhtin is advising people to "stock up on fur coats", the vast majority of prominent scientists believe the bulk of evidence points towards an overall warming trend, and that anomalies and exceptions to the rule do not make a significant dent in this consensus.

The Daily Galaxy asked climate expert Thomas Reichler, what he has to say about it. According to him, anyone claiming that the Earth isn’t getting warmer, or that it’s perhaps even getting colder, simply isn’t looking at the actual data.

“There is absolutely no doubt that the world is in a warming phase,” Reichler told the Daily Galaxy, “and that conclusion is supported by 99% of all serious scientists, so I’m certainly not alone in that certainty.”

Reichler is probably right, but it wouldn’t be the first time if the fringe opinion turned out to be onto something. But from a broader perspective, does it really matter who’s “right” as far as preparations go? Whether the climate gets cooler or warmer, or does nothing at all, people will still need massive amounts of energy. Even if we were to take the reverse approach and intentionally increase greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in order to stave off cooling, it would likely have little effect other than to further pollute the environment with standard energy consumption’s many toxic byproducts.

Are humans the major factor in the current warming trend? Maybe, maybe not. But what can’t be disputed is that humans are polluting the planet. Current and future weather conditions do not change the fact that using oil and coal for energy isn’t a good long-term idea. The need for cleaner energy, cleaner air and cleaner water has never been greater. The widespread call for better handling of resources, and habitat protection doesn’t change with the thermometer.

Our commitment to stop polluting our water systems with pesticides and other dangerous chemicals should be as great as ever, with or without climate change considerations. Dismal air quality now poses significant health risks, especially in urban areas. Those who equate their global warming skepticism with an “anything goes” attitude regarding the environment are seriously jeopardizing the health of our planet and their own health along with it. If we prepare for global warming in ways that help protect the environment—we’ll still be a lot better off—even on the off chance that we end up with a mini Ice Age instead.

Posted by Rebecca Sato.

Related Galaxy posts:

Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises
Cosmic Rays -The Cause of Global Warming?
The Milky Way Enigma -How Galactic Forces May Control Life on Earth
Are Global Warming Models Accurately Predicting Our Future? New Study Reveals the Answer—A Galaxy Interview
As Temperatures Hit Record Lows, Global Warming Takes a Punch to the Gut


I hope they are wrong about a mini ice Age, I can't stand the cold.

Bang on Rebecca - global warming or not, it's stupid to pollute our habitat. There is a million reasons why we should be more careful, yet all of those reasons are trumped by 2 truly pathetic (yet insanely powerful) opposing incentives:

1) Desire for Profit
2) Desire for cheap goods

We should all think about that next time we drive our SUV 3 blocks to the grocery superstore to buy South American tomatoes for 30 cents / pound less than the locally-grown variety.

Vote with your wallet! Buy locally produced goods when you can, and for the love of Pete take a walk every now and then instead of driving. Maybe we can kill 2 or 3 birds with 1 stone - pollute less (simultaneously redirecting less $$$ to Saudi Arabia) and lose some weight (have you noticed how fat we North Americans are getting lately?)

There is a million reasons why we should be more careful, yet all of those reasons are trumped by 2 truly pathetic (yet insanely powerful) opposing incentives:

1) Desire for Profit
2) Desire for cheap goods

Nice try, comrade. The former Soviet Union had neither a "desire for profit" or "cheap goods" yet managed to pollute the environment to a degree that makes the corporations of free market economies look like members of Earth First.

Great job. I was looking for a follow-up article to one I just read about a big study done (on mud samples) concluding that an ice-age could shockingly come much, much faster than expected, within months, very much like the movie "The Day After Tomorrow" due to the same thing as in the movie (Gulf Stream disruption). Fascinating things to think about.

Totally thought you hit it head on when you said "does it really matter - people will still need massive amounts of energy." Touche, was thinking the exact same thing.

Ditto circumventing those who dismiss pollution since they dismiss global warming/human causation by observing we still need clear air, water etc. Couldn't agree more.
Again, great job and thanks!

Re pollution: Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.

Thanks Rebecca..another well though out and researched article.

Global cooling is far far worse than Global warming. The new Ice Age is upon the Earth NOW... the Ice Clouds are the heralds...all caused by the petroleum oil membrane on the seas leading to reduced sea water evaporation.

The small amount of past Global Warming was simply caused by a drying planet and the resulting loss of cloud cover from a drying atmosphere.

Let the winter in the Northern Hemisphere tell the truth.

Stock up on more than fur coats!!!

Hello, still no one mentions CO2 is less than one percent of the total atmosphere, just how so little can have so much effect?
plus over 600 American scientists signed a petition stating they do not believe humans are responsible for 'global warming'???
Also the Japanese have stated the same.
The British met. office has issued a graph showing temperature has dropped since 2001.
All this information is available if you care to 'Google' for it.
Humans put 55 gigatons of 'crap' into the atmosphere every year, the 'natural' world, volcanoes, rotting vegitation, animals, etc, put 550 gigatons of 'crap' into the atmosphere, volcanic activity has gone up %300 in the last 2000 years, the list just goe's on and on!

Lack of energy is the true issue in case of an Ice age.

God only could save us.

I would guess however that in reality nobody knows where we are going : Higher oceans and global warming or Ice age ??

All answers are accepted.

Art makes only a partial point. By saying we are jeopardizing our planet’s health for cheap products, etc is not an endorsement of The Soviet Union. It is possible that a non-capitalist society can be worse for their environment than a capitalist one. But I would equate that abuse of the environment with the fact that it was done by a communist/dictatorship (Stalin in particular) than any relationship with socialist or capitalistic tendencies. The analogy only illustrates that non-capitalistic governments also have the potential to pollute, which should be obvious to anyone.

pikestaff: 600 scientists versus 6,000,000 really? I mean, are we really ready to bet the fate on the planet on a 1% opinion? This is why nothing gets done in America. Everybody’s opinion is as valuable as everyone else… even if it is only 1%. Equal time should not mean that the overwhelming minority should be considered as much as the overwhelming majority. We will never get to a 0% opinion on any side of any issue… so lets wait until then?

But I can understand why we would hesitate to make efforts to curb greenhouse gasses no matter which argument prevails. I mean, who would want to lessen our dependency on foreign oil? And it would be such a hassle to develop the next generation of vehicles. Why bother updating a technology that has more or less remained the same for 50 years?

IF I am allowed to intervene in the debate :
@bumpy : CO2 cannot be classified as a pollutant, correct .
However for each molecule of CO2 you lose 2 athoms of oxygen for your breath. The savage cuts of Amazon forest will help you.

@pikestaff : Correct that some groups of US scientists have signed a letter stating that the human influence on Climate changes is negligible.
However for reasons NOT well known-understood the ice caps at north and south poles are dramatically retreating and the FACT that climate is changing is not part of the letter that represents a respectuful 'opinion' of some US scientists.

More notes : the THEORY that volcanic activity has " gone up 300 % in the last 2000 years " is a nice THEORY .
Who measured those data of the 300% increase : the ancient romans or ancient greeks with their AURA satellites ???


However, Gore remains to play the fool taking advantage of greenie weenies relieving them of their donations to make obscene profits. Mother Nature does as she wills and there is nothing that anyone can do about it except being careful and to be self-responsible in everyday living. Ignorance is Gore's bliss.

I hope that Im not around for this ice age. I hate the snow!

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