Scientists are forecasting a prolonged period of lull in sunspot activity.
The sun has sunspot cycles that last about 11 years, which begins with minimum activity, ramps up to maximum activity in about 5.5 years, and then slides back to minimum activity again.
The current cycle, which peaks at 2013, has already been unusually weak. Now, scientists who presented at the American Astronomical Society are also predicting weakness for the next 11-year cycle, which could see “greatly reduced or even eliminated” sunspot activity, reported Space.com.
So what do fewer sunspots on the sun mean for the earth?
One is fewer solar discharges towards the earth. Another is less ultraviolet light from the sun. The impact of these two changes could bring a cold spell to Europe.
Scientists are using history as a guide: a prolonged lull in sunspot activity 300 years ago caused Europe's Little Ice Age. However, a cold spell in Europe today would probably be less severe because of the buildup in greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere.
The cold spell specifically targets Europe because the effects of the sun’s hibernation slows the Atlantic Ocean’s winds from coming to Europe in the winter, thus making way for more Arctic Circle winds.
The Atlantic Ocean's winds are relatively warm and moist. The moisture forms clouds, which acts as a greenhouse to trap in warmth. Contrastingly, those from the Arctic Circle are cold and dry.