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For the record

Is the UK snowy winter due to declining solar activity? Image

Is the UK snowy winter due to declining solar activity?

On 21st January 2013 Mayor of London Boris Johnson wrote a comment piece for The Daily Telegraph: ‘It’s snowing, and it really feels like the start of a mini ice age’. He said that recurring snowy winters in the UK signify the coming of a mini ice age and that global temperature depends not on concentrations of CO2 but on solar activity.

Physicists working in this field don’t agree:

Tim Palmer, Royal Society Research Professor in Climate Physics, University of Oxford

“Having just come back from an IPCC meeting in Hobart Tasmania, where many parts of Australia (including Tasmania) are still burning and where Sydney just experienced its all time hottest temperature (over 450C), we have to be careful about linking regional climate anomalies (cold or warm) to external effects like the sun. Why should declining solar activity lead to a hotter Australia? There is much that we don't understand about regional climate variations, but we do understand that a large part of it is associated with unpredictable internal variations in climate that are unrelated to any variation in external forcing. For these reasons a key yardstick to measure the effects of increasing levels of greenhouse gases is temperature averaged over the whole globe and over about ten years in time.” 

Mike Lockwood, Professor of Space Environment Physics, University of Reading

“The one thing we do know is that the solar magnetic field in the heliosphere is considerably down (estimated to be down at levels not seen since about 1900) and so cosmic ray fluxes are higher (in observations that go back to the 1930s). If (and it’s a massive 'if') cosmic rays influence clouds we would expect that to have a global effect not just a European one (and as Tim points out, the current cold spell is surely not global!)”.

Document type: For The Record

Published: 22 January 2013

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