I'm a professor of space environment physics and
a director of research at the University of Reading in the UK. My
particular topic of research is the sun, how it changes over time
and how those changes affect the space environment, the weather and
the climate on Earth.
In the last few years, my work has focused on how
temperatures in the northern hemisphere have responded to periods
in history when the sun has been very quiet. The "activity" of the
sun's magnetic field is related to the number of sunspots that
appear on its surface.
The sun's activity rises and falls on an
approximately 11-year cycle, but also varies on century-long
timescales. It's this research I talked to BBC weatherman Paul
Hudson about in an
interview for the BBC's Inside Out
Unfortunately, I now find myself in the position
cited as predicting that the current rapid decline in
solar activity will plunge the world into a "Little Ice Age".
This is very disappointing as it is not at all
supported by the science.
Weather and climate are inherently complicated -
and uncovering and attributing past changes is very difficult. So
it's worth being clear about the state of the science, as well as
some of the myths, misconceptions and misnomers that abound in this
The "Little Ice Age" wasn't really an ice
Let us start with the term "Little Ice Age". I
personally dislike it and avoid using it, as I don't think it was
an ice age of any shape or form.
There is some evidence for a prolonged period of
somewhat lower global mean temperatures beginning in around 1400
-1500 (estimates vary) and ending sometime between 1700 and
This has been termed the "
Little Ice Age" and is often wrongly linked with the Maunder
minimum in solar activity, a period between about 1650 and 1700
when almost no sunspots were seen.