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Climate Hustle

How would a Solar Grand Minimum affect global warming?

Posted on 16 June 2011 by John Cook

Solar physicists have issued a prediction that the sun may be entering a period of unusually low activity called a grand minimum. This has climate skeptics speculating that solar 'hibernation' may be our get-out-of-jail-free card, cancelling out any global warming from our CO2 emissions. However, peer-reviewed research has examined this very scenario, "On the effect of a new grand minimum of solar activity on the future climate on Earth" (Feulner & Rahmstorf 2010). What they found was even if the sun fell into a grand minimum, global temperature would be diminished by no more than 0.3°C. The sun is not our get-out-of-jail-free card.

Figure 1: Global mean temperature anomalies 1900 to 2100 relative to the period 1961 to 1990 for the A2 scenario. The red line represents temperature change for current solar levels, the blue line represents temperature change at Maunder Minimum levels. Observed temperatures from NASA GISS until 2010 are also shown (black line) (Feulner 2010).

Feulner 2010 simulates what would happen if the sun fell to Maunder Minimum levels in the 21st Century. To include the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, they assume either A1B or A2 scenarios (IPCC TAR). A1B is a more optimistic scenario where carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise in the early 21st Century, stabilise mid-century then fall in the latter-21st Century. A2 is somewhat more pessimistic, projecting carbon dioxide emissions to continue growing throughout the 21st Century. Unfortunately, the latest data on CO2 emissions indicates we're tracking towards the worst case scenario.

Two methods are used to determine how low total solar irradiance (TSI) fell during the Maunder Minimum. Ice core measurements of beryllium indicate a less variable TSI while modelling from solar magnetic flux show a greater decrease in TSI during the Maunder Minimum. In Feulner 2010, both solar reconstructions are used as shown in Figure 2 below. The magenta lines are for the A2 emission scenario, the red line for the A1B scenario.

The important feature is the comparison between the solid line (with no solar change) to the dotted and dashed lines (the two Maunder Minimum scenarios). Just to be conservative (James Hansen was right!), in Figure 1 above, I used the version with more solar variability in order to show the option where the solar minimum has the greatest effect.

Figure 2: Global mean temperature anomalies 1900 to 2100 relative to the period 1961 to 1990 for the A1B (red lines) and A2 (magenta lines) scenarios and for three different solar forcings corresponding to a typical 11-year cycle (solid line) and to a new Grand Minimum with solar irradiance corresponding to recent reconstructions of Maunder-minimum irradiance (dashed line) and a lower irradiance (dotted line), respectively. Observed temperatures from NASA GISS until 2009 are also shown (blue line) (
Feulner 2010).

For both the A1B and A2 emission scenario, the effect of a Maunder Minimum on global temperature is minimal. The most likely impact of a Maunder Minimum by 2100 would be a decrease in global temperature of 0.1°C with a maximum reduction of warming by 0.3°C. Compare this to global warming between 3.7°C (A1B scenario) to 4.5°C (A2 scenario).

Update 16 June: I've added the Figure 1 Grand Solar Minimum graphic to our list of high-rez graphics, free to use on other websites.

Update 17 June: Many thanks to DaneelOlivaw who created a Spanish version of Figure 1 (note - one of these days, I'll reprogram the Climate Graphics resource so it'll be possible to add translations).

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Comments 51 to 100 out of 101:

  1. Badgersouth #31 Joe Romm? Climate Progress? Observations trump theory every time, at least in the world of science. We shall see.
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  2. Poodel,

    "Observations trump theory every time,..."

    Did you read above @37 where I quoted what the scientists say who actually undertook the research? Seems not. Additionally, as you know, you and your fellow 'skeptics' are getting very excited over a prediction, but somehow in your minds eye it is already a reality and trumping the theory. Sounds like a strawman to me.

    Yes, the sun will have the final say, as will the global surface temperature record.

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  3. Albatross #52 Contrary to your assumptions, I've read what the scientists say and I'm not excited about a prediction. The scientists are just confirming what the observations have been saying since 2009, that cycle 24 is likely to to be weaker than previously thought. And if the umbral observations decrease below 1,500G, we may indeed have an even quieter cycle 25. I find the science, guided by objective analysis, to be very exciting.
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  4. Poodle @53,

    OK, thanks for the clarification. But I think you are missing the point of this post and the hype surrounding the conference proceedings. Yes, the current solar cycle, so far at least looks to be fairly quite in terms of sunspot activity. But the current solar cycle is not what is at issue here.

    What the 'skeptics' are getting excited about is the prediction at by 2020 and for some time thereafter that there will be little or no sunspot activity. It is the projected continuing downward trend that has the 'skeptics" excited. And it is not helping several media outlets, are spinning this madly and now the echo chamber that is the internet is abounding with stories about impending global cooling and ice ages. Quite ridiculous, and anyone jumping on that bandwagon is instantly discredited.

    In a way I'm OK with that, b/c by doing so they have really painted themselves into a very tight corner when temperature continue to rise in coming years and decades.
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  5. Albatross,
    The whole solar / sunspot issue may finally be resolved if a grand minimum occurs. The solar contribution to warming, if any, will be determined, and any more speculation will have ended.

    I am actually a little excited about this, because we can now study the sun's changes in detail.
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  6. The solar contribution to warming, if any, will be determined, and any more speculation will have ended.

    How will the next minimum - if it happens as predicted - tell us much more than we've been learning observing TSI over the last several decades, including the several years of the current minimum?
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  7. I suppose (to answer my own question) it will help to tighten the bounds of the minimal change in forcing that's been computed with observations available thus far ... more data will help do so regardless of whether the minimum predicted by some comes to pass or not, though ...
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  8. yes,
    Since the last half of the 20th century was a time of high sunspot activity, a period of low activity would help set the bounds of the relationship (if any) between the sunspot cycle and global temperatures.
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  9. This is an interesting paper that shows what more we need to know.
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    [DB] Per the Comments Policy:

    "No link or pic only. Links to useful resources are welcome (see HTML tips below). However, comments containing only a link will be deleted. At least provide a short summary of the content of the webpage to facilitate discussion (and show you understand the page you're linking to). Similarly, images are very welcome as they can be very useful in explaining the science. But comments with pictures in isolation without explanation will be deleted."

    Be advised.

    Additionally, per KR's comment, the paper shows that we already know much more than we did just 20 years ago.  And that replicating the observed warming without the AGW component is impossible.

  10. The deniers scorn the idea scientists can accurately project future temperatures, yet they immediately accept a projection on solar activity as settled fact.

    I get the feeling they cherry pick the data they want to believe, bu I must surely be wrong.
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  11. Camburn@59:
    The paper looks interesting to me and I look forward to reading it (but family's in town, so it might take a while to get to it). However, I think the take-away from the paper (at least as far as this topic is concerned) is likely to be in the section about climate change:

    "Despite these uncertainties in solar radiative forcing, they are nevertheless much smaller than the estimated radiative forcing due to anthropogenic changes, and the predicted SC‐related surface temperature change is small relative to anthropogenic changes."
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  12. Camburn - I find links without comment rather difficult to parse/interpret; you might point out what you found interesting in such references. I believe that's part of the Comments Policy?

    To add to what SteveS found in the paper, it's worth looking at Figure 27 and the accompanying discussion, Global mean temperature anomalies, as observed and as modeled

    "Note that the models are only able to reproduce the late twentieth century warming when the anthropogenic forcings are included, with the signals statistically separable after about 1980."

    Figure 28, page 37, also illustrates this, showing estimates with and without anthropogenic forcing - only the modelling with anthropogenic forcings comes anywhere close to observations. And as SteveS quoted from section 6.4:

    "Despite these uncertainties in solar radiative forcing, they are nevertheless much smaller than the estimated radiative forcing due to anthropogenic changes, and the predicted SC‐related surface temperature change is small relative to anthropogenic changes."

    It's interesting work - but the uncertainties on TSI and other solar forcings are well below the knowns on anthropogenic forcings.
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  13. KR #62

    "It's interesting work - but the uncertainties on TSI and other solar forcings are well below the knowns on anthropogenic forcings."

    The uncretainties on the 'absolute value' of the TSI are quite large if you look at the SORCE TIMS value for TSI.

    They measure around 1361.5W/sq.m and the earlier satellites maesure around 1366W/sq.m - a difference of 4.5W/sq.m.

    Last time I checked the SORCE website - since 2005 the 4.5W/sq.m difference has remained 'unresolved' amongst the scientific community studying TSI.

    If the correct value is in fact 4.5W/sq.m less than the accepted value - multiplying this difference by 0.7 and dividing by 4 will give the incoming solar radiation difference which is about -0.8W/sq.m.

    This compares with the old energy imbalance of +0.9W/sq.m and Hansen's new estimate of +0.59W/sq.m.
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  14. Ken Lambert - To be more exact, the uncertainty on TSI changes are to extremely small. Changes in the data record of isolation are tiny compared the anthropogenic changes, as you are well aware.

    To be entirely clear, Ken, its not the sun, which has been fully and repeatedly demonstrated over and over.
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  15. Ken Lambert @63, "radiative forcing" is defined as "... the change in net (down minus up) irradiance (solar plus longwave; in W m–2) at the tropopause after allowing for stratospheric temperatures to readjust to radiative equilibrium, but with surface and tropospheric temperatures and state held fixed at the unperturbed values" (Quoted from IPCC AR4, my emphasis)

    The current uncertainty in measured change in TSI is 0.014 W/m^2 per annum according to the SORCE homepage, or less than 1/300th of the figure you use. For comparison purposes, that is a relative accuracy of 0.001%/yr (10 ppm).

    Over the entire satellite period, the relative uncertainty of the PMOD index is estimated as follows:

    "An estimate of the uncertainty of the long-term behaviour of the composite TSI can be deduced from the uncertainty of the slope relative to ERBE. For the PMOD composite the slope over the whole period amount s to 1.1 +/- 2.1 ppm/a. Although this standard deviation is partly determined by the sampling of ERBE we may estimate the uncertainty of a possible trend to be <3 ppm/a for periods longer than 10 to 15 years. This implies a possible change of 50 to 80 ppm over the 23 years of the observations. If we add the uncertainties related to the tracing of ACRIM-II to I and of the HF correction (60 ppm) we get a total uncertainty of 92 ppm. The observed change of the PMOD composite as difference between two successive minima amounts to -10 ppm which is not significantly different from zero at the 3-sigma level."
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  16. I do not believe that anyone has associated the change in TSI with global warming, as reported in the previous posts. However, the changes in the solar magnetic field are much larger, and may have a more significant impact. This would be greater outcome of a grand solar minimum.
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  17. "However, the changes in the solar magnetic field are much larger, and may have a more significant impact."

    I would have to say that sounds like a rather desperate clutching of straws (ignore the simple, coherent, physical explantions for climate change, and hope something more exotic turns up). Do have any published evidence of a link between solar magnetic field and climate?
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  18. scaddenp,

    Here is one article of many.

    There is nothing simple about changes in the climate. This is not to say that I believe that CO2 has not infuenced our climate. However, I have read too many people who readily dismiss any other potential influence simply because they cannot attribute the entire warming to it. No one factor has been able to thus far.
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  19. #68: Eric. Can you provide evidence that climate scientists dismiss other potential influences in the way you disparagingly suggest? Because overwhelmingly the science attributes different levels of forcing to different forcing agents, not just CO2. Levels of forcing are strongly discussed, with values and uncertainties gradually converged upon for a wide variety of forcing agents. Maybe some bloggers / internet commentators do, or suggest, otherwise?

    You'd certainly not find any of the >97% of actively publishing climate scientists, who agree with the consilience of evidence, disagreeing with your statement that "There is nothing simple about changes in the climate." Of course there isn't.
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  20. Sky,
    The other potential influence that has been repeatedly dismissed is the effect of land management; urbanization and deforestation. The IPCC did a very poor job of dismissing this aspect in teh AR4 report, and too many people are using their explanation to dismiss any consideration. While most scientists will agree that the UHI is real, they then try to diminish its effect on temperature with arcan reasoning.

    Granted scientists in different fields will attribute different levels of forcing to different agents, oftentimes attributing much higher values to those forcings which they are studying (the sun, oceans, cities, etc.). The same goes for those study CO2 effects on temperature. I am not referring to bloggers, but scientists.

    Are you referring to the ridiculous Doran report, where a higher number of a subset of climatologists (there is no evidence that they are "actively publishing") believed that humans have caused the warming than believed that the planet has actually warmed. Then again, maybe these are the climatologists who think the climate is simple.
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  21. You'll have to do a lot better than that Eric, you're still providing no evidence for your baseless claims in the first two paragraphs. The UHI canard has been shot down so much that surely you do not hold any serious sway by it anymore - see Menne et al 2010, or any temperature record that cannot be affected by UHI, like lower tropospheric temps or ocean temps.

    And no, I was referring to Anderegg et al 2010. Once again you're accusing climate scientists of thinking in a simple manner without providing any evidence that they do.
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  22. Eric the Red @70:

    "Are you referring to the ridiculous Doran report, ..."

    In the Doran survey, 76 out of 79 actively publishing climate scientists indicated that they thought the Earth wasn't warming. 75 of 77 indicated that humans where responsible. So, contrary to your suggestion, there was no scientist who bizarrely believed both that the Earth was not warming, but that humans where responsible for the warming. Rather, two less scientists answered the second question, one from each opinion.

    This did not require deep analysis to discover. It only required looking at the actual data with an open mind. Perhaps next time you are inclined to take a cheap shot, you should try looking at the data instead of quoting statistic you plainly don't understand.
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  23. I have read the survey many times, do not be so snide. If you have read it carfeully, you would see how ridiculous it is also. If you are going to quote 97%, then you better be ready to quote 96% believe the planet as warmed. Conversely, you can state your claim that 75 climatologists believe that humans are responsible. I suspect you do not use these numbers, because they would appear very low, whereas 97% sounds convincing.

    So, while 88% of climatologists believe that human activity is a significant contributor to changing temperatures, you continue to quote a cherry-picked higher value. The responders did not say they were actively publishing, nor did they respond how many papers they have written, that was added by the author.

    Nowhere in the survey does it ask to what extent the respondants though CO2 was responsible for rising temperatures, or about any other contributing factors.
    Although Anderegg was more direct in his question, and found that 90% support ACC (not 97%), his definition of someone being convinced or unconvinced based on signing a petition hardly qualifies as good surveying technique.
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  24. Eric the Red - I have replied on the far more appropriate 97 out of 100 climate experts think humans are causing global warming.

    This discussion of consensus is very much off topic here on the Solar Minimum thread.
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  25. Tom Curtis #72

    Satellites are gererally thought to have high precision but low absolute accuracy.

    They can give good day to day, months to month or year to year variations - but not good absolute values.

    If the TSI from SORCE was an accurate absolute value then Dr Trenberth's energy balance diagram would need to be adjusted.

    The Incoming Solar Radiation would drop from 341W/sq.m to 340W/sq.m which would require re-adjustment of the outgoing longwave and reflection terms to give a +0.9W/sq.m warming imbalance.

    The SORCE people had a go at this re-balance here:

    Whatever you can make of this Tom - it had Dr Trenberth rather puzzled.
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  26. Ken Lambert @75, given that you now show every evidence of understanding the difference in uncertainty for absolute measurements of TSI and for relative TSI (ie, change of TSI with time), I am now at a complete loss to explain why you should quote the irrelevant uncertainty for absolute measurements rather than the directly relevant uncertainties for relative TSI when attempting to rebut KR #62.
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  27. RealCimate has a post on the kerfuffel surrounding the statements made during the meeting of the Solar Physics Division.

    It is still not clear what Ken is trying to get at, other than perhaps to fabricate debate and muddy the waters. The post is about the ludicrous claims that the denialosphere (including some media outlets) and "skeptic" spin machine have made concerning the possibility that the sun could enter a Maunder-like minimum around 2020. It also presents the findings of research undertaken to address just such a question/scenario.

    Does Ken think that should the sun enter a Maunder-like minimum that we will enter a period of global cooling or another Little Ice age? If he broadly accepts the paper's findings then we are all mostly in agreement, his arguments are largely moot. If he disagrees, then he seems to be of the opinion that we are in for a period of prolonged global cooling. Or it might be something in between, in which case I look forward to his paper quantifying how much he thinks a Maunder-like minimum might affect global temperatures. Which is it? Because this bickering and pontificating and arguing in circles is getting very annoying.

    I might suggest Ken goes and tries to argue his points with the authors at RealClimate.
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  28. The discussion on RC has linked to some earlier papers whcih described the potential for a solar minimum.
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  29. Tom, KR, Albatross,

    The 97 / 100 thread seems to have gone dead.
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    [DB] There are no dead or closed thread posts here at Skeptical Science, just some with no current participation.

  30. Sorry, messed up the RealClimate link. This should work.

    They also link to a previous paper (Wigley et al. 1990) that is consistent with their findings.

    If a Maunder-like minimum comes to pass it is not going to be the silver bullet that some hope for, we still urgently need to start reducing our GHG emissions.
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  31. There is no current participation because my last three attempts have not registered.
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    Moderator Response: (DB) Posting a comment with the sole word "Test" in it did not constitute a comment with any substance, so it was deleted.
  32. I just read an interesting article in Scientific American, March 2011, A Shifting Band of Rain. There's a good reconstruction of the Northern Hemisphere temperature anomaly during the Little Ice Age, about -1.0 C cooler than present. Here's an interesting observation from the article, "when solar energy reaching the top of the atmosphere decreased by just two tenths of a percent for about 100 years, the ITCZ migrated south toward the equator by 500 kilometers." The prediction is another 500 kilometer migration to the north by 2,100, based on projections from increased GHG. This prediction is pretty bold considering that the ITCZ is about where it was during the Medieval Warm Period.
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  33. This popped up over at RC, comparing the long-term European temperature records with the global datasets.
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    [DB] This is part of JBob's long-standing efforts to counter known global effects with local measurements.  It is meaningless and has little if any bearing on the topic of this thread.

  34. Actually it shows the correlation between sunspots and European temperatures back to 1650.
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    [DB] Not about sunspots or global temps.  Still off-topic.

  35. thepoodlebites @82, If a 1 degree reduction in temperatures in the LIA caused the ITCZ to migrate 500 km south, I fail to see how a prediction of a 500 km north migration for a predicted 3 degree increase in temperatures over MWP peak values is bold.
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  36. Tom Curtis #76

    "I am now at a complete loss to explain why you should quote the irrelevant uncertainty for absolute measurements rather than the directly relevant uncertainties for relative TSI when attempting to rebut KR #62."

    Because we really don't know what absolute level of TSI will produce an equilibrium condition on Earth in the absence of AG forcings.

    It is OK to look at relative TSI back as far as satellite measurement goes and find only the 11 year ripple - but if that average TSI was at an absolute level higher than an 'equilibrium TSI' to start with (a 20th century solar maximum for example) - then that would contribute an increasing energy input to the Earth system.
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  37. Albatross #77

    Your link to Realclimate did not work.

    I went there in the early days and found that the site was far inferior to SKS, with no where near the quality of science contributions.
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  38. Realclimate is not trying to do same thing as Sks. However, the contributors are publishing climate scientists so the discussion there is rather more informed on the specialized areas.
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  39. Ken @87,

    The link @80 works.

    Re "I went there in the early days and found that the site was far inferior to SKS, with no where near the quality of science contributions. "

    Empty rhetoric mate. The post at RC is written by Feulner.
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  40. RC has a much heavier emphasis on modeling - no real surprise with Gavin there. The discussion tends to get much deeper into the details of some of the aspects of global warming.

    Discussions tend to get more heated, with less tolerance to opposing opinions and more personal attacks. The moderators are a little more sensitive than here, and are quick to send those undesireable posts into the "bore hole."

    Here, OT posts (like this one) will usually receive a warning, followed by future movement to the appropriate thread.
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    Moderator Response:

    (DB) It is duly noted that differences exist between RC and SkS; as you also note, we are now well off-topic so let us return the discussion to the OP.

  41. Tom Curtis #85 Yep, +3.7°C (A1B scenario) by 2100 is another bold prediction. That's about 0.4 C per decade, we'll see. It's possible that the ITCZ migration may head back toward the equator, just like during the Little Ice Age. Seems just as likely to be another natural mode of climate variability.

    Just tagging this on, what volcanic eruptions occurred during the Little Ice Age that could explain the temperature drop (1400-1800)? Tambora (1815) and Krakatoa (1883) but these occurred after we were coming out of the Little Ice Age. There's Kuwae (1452) and Huaynaputina (1600), but neither was as strong as Tambora and Huaynaputina was a southern hemsiphere eruption.
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  42. Tamboro was one of the strongest eruption in human civilization. The estimate of the global temperature drop varies up to ~3 C (locally more), but was relatively short-lived, and temperatures began to rise after a few years. There would need to be a prolonged series of eruptions over a few centuries to explain the temperature drop.
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  43. Can I suggest that John Cook adds the following update from the National Solar Association to the post:

    "Dr. Frank Hill issued a follow-up statement:

    "We are NOT predicting a mini-ice age. We are predicting the behavior of the solar cycle. In my opinion, it is a huge leap from that to an abrupt global cooling, since the connections between solar activity and climate are still very poorly understood. My understanding is that current calculations suggest only a 0.3 degree C decrease from a Maunder-like minimum, too small for an ice age."

    There you have it. I'm sure WUWT, FauxNews and those in denial about AGW who have been propagating the misinformation surrounding this story will promptly correct the public record ;)

    Notice how Dr. Hill is reluctant to comment outside his field of expertise. In contrast, notice how "skeptics" routinely talk through their hats and pontificate on subjects way,way outside their level of understanding or expertise.
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  44. I was not aware that anyone was predicting an ice age.

    At this point it is just speculation, although it has been postulated for almost five years now, and the data is leaning closer to such an event. Others have predicted a Dalton-like minimum, similar to the 19th century. From a scientific standpoint, it would be fascinating to observe and measure, if it were to occur.
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  45. Eric @94,

    "I was not aware that anyone was predicting an ice age"

    I can only assume that you are feigning ignorance here. Of course the reputable scientists and people who know what they are talking about are not making such silly assertions, but you and I both know that is sadly irrelevant for the denial/"skeptic" misinformation machine. The very existence of this post is because of the ludicrous claims being made by "skeptics", contrarians and deniers of AGW. From the main post:

    "This has climate skeptics speculating that solar 'hibernation' may be our get-out-of-jail-free card, cancelling out any global warming from our CO2 emissions."

    Also watch this video by Hadfield and follow some of the links in this article.
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  46. Albatross,

    In a way, yes.

    I would place the blame more on the sensationism of the media. Afterall, what makes a better headline, "A return to the temperatures of the 70s," or "Another Little Ice Age is on the horizon?"

    The media is largely scientifically ignorant. Most reporters cannot distinguish between a scientific expert and a science fiction writer (no slam intented towards those writers who are science experts). The same does occur in the other direction; remember the big media portrayal of the "Barbecue Summers?" Incremental changes, even over long periods, are too mundane for the average reporter. But someone making a claim of extraordinary proportions (regardless of the probability) raises the excitement of the media.
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  47. EricR,

    "In a way, yes"

    I do not know to what you are referring. My claim that you may be feigning ignorance?

    Please do not get confused between media sensationalism and a very deliberate attempt to distort, confuse and misinform. You seem quite naive about the agenda against science and the theory of AGW that "media" people like Delingpole and Gunter and Solomon and Bolt and Limbaugh have. These guys are excited alright, but not for the reasons you think, they are excited because science stories like this allow them the perfect opportunity to distort, confuse and misinform the public about the theory of AGW.
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  48. Yes, to your first premise.

    I am not referring to the people mentioned, but rather the media at large. While there are some science writers for various circulars, the larger reporting arena is largely ignorant of any science beyond the high school level (and that may be a stretch). A quote from a scientist is enough to solidify any story.

    I am not naive about the agendas regarding the science. There is enough name-calling, mis-information, and scientific rebutals to other journal articles to fill an encyclopedia. There are times when it seems that half the articles in a particular journal are a direct response to previous work.

    A solar minimum (whether it is grand or not) will be a boon to astrophysicists. Whether it becomes exciting to others will depend upon its effects.
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  49. "There are times when it seems that half the articles in a particular journal are a direct response to previous work."

    Only half? Maybe the others were more subtle. That is the way scientific conversation should and are held. Science makes good progress this way.
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  50. Actually meant to say rebutal. Most scientific progress builds on previous work.
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