Conversations That Matter: Sunspots dwindle, effect on climate is guesswork

By Stu McNish

The sun is going through a stage known as a solar minimum. It’s a normal cycle but one that some have controversially linked to the mini ice age that lasted more than 50 years starting in the mid-1600s. Others blame other factors for that mini ice age.

The number of days without a recordable sun spot has been rising year over year for the past three years. The current minimum is considered to be a part of a continuing series of solar cycles with decreasing activity or intensity.

What it means on Earth is open to interpretation. Some people and agencies suggest it could lead to a cooling off period; others say it would not affect the climate at all.

Physicist William Happer, of Princeton University, points to Danish proverb: “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Can mathematics establish patterns and back them up with empirical evidence to support a prediction? We talked to Valentina Zharkova, a mathematics professor at Northumbria University in England and one of the first people to raise awareness of the decrease in solar activity, for a Conversation That Matters about the sun, its reduced activity and her reading of the impact it will have on temperatures on Earth. She hopes it might give us a little break to address carbon-related issues.

This article appeared on the Vancouver Sun website at