The threat of man made global warming is a myth, the threat we face is a new ice age caused by a drop in sunspot activity that leads to a change in the Gulf stream.
It took just six months for a warm and sunny Europe to be engulfed in ice, according to new research.
Previous studies have suggested the arrival of the last Ice Age nearly 13,000 years ago took about a decade - but now scientists believe the process was up to 20 times as fast.
In scenes reminiscent of the Hollywood blockbuster The day After Tomorrow, the Northern Hemisphere was frozen by a sudden slowdown of the Gulf Stream, which allowed ice to spread hundreds of miles southwards from the Arctic.
Geological sciences professor William Patterson, who led the research, said: 'It would have been very sudden for those alive at the time. It would be the equivalent of taking Britain and moving it to the Arctic over the space of a few months.'
Professor Patterson's findings emerged from one of the most painstaking studies of climate changes ever attempted and reinforce the theory that the earth's climate is unstable and can switch between warm and cold incredibly quickly.
His conclusions, published in New Scientist, are based on a study of mud deposits extracted from a lake in Western Ireland, Lough Monreagh - a region he describes as having the 'best mud in the world in scientific terms'.
Professor Patterson used a precision robotic scalpel to scrape off layers of mud just 0.5mm thick. Each layer represented three months of sediment deposition, so variations between them could be used to measure changes in temperature over very short periods.
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He found that temperatures had plummeted, with the lake's plants and animals rapidly dying over just a few months.
Some scientists believe that if the Greenland ice caps melt, an Ice Age could hit within months
Stark warming: An iceberg melts off Ammassalik Island in Eastern Greenland. Some scientists believe that if the Greenland ice caps melt, an Ice Age could hit within months
The subsequent mini Ice Age lasted for 1,300 years and was probably caused by the sudden emptying of Lake Agassiz in Canada, which burst its banks and poured freezing freshwater into the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.
That would have disrupted the Gulf Stream - the flows of which depend on variations in saline levels and temperature - and allowed the ice to take hold.
Some scientists believe that if the Greenland ice cap melts it could disrupt the world's ocean currents and have a similarly dramatic effect.
Oh, where, oh where have all the sunspots gone?
The fiery orange ball overhead has quieted during the past three years. Quiet in the sense that there have been very few sunspots – those black blotches on the sun’s surface caused by intense magnetic activity.
But just how quiet is quiet? Well, so far during the recent solar minimum (a period of low activity during the sun’s typical 11-year solar cycle), we’ve seen 183 sun-spotless days in 2007, 266 in 2008 and 259 in 2009 (as of Dec. 16 2009). Earth hasn’t witnessed a similar three-year stretch (1911, 192, 1913) of sun-spotless days since the early 1900s.
The blank sun has not gone unnoticed by the experts. "We're experiencing a very deep solar minimum," says solar physicist Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center.
"This is the quietest sun we've seen in almost a century," agrees sunspot expert David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center.
So why are sunspots under the spotlight? Because, according to solar scientists, their declining numbers, significant even by solar-minimum standards, could be the harbinger of colder temperatures ahead.
If so, it won’t be the first time the earth shivered as sunspots numbers declined. In the 17th century, the sun experienced a sunspot drought, dubbed the Maunder Minimum, which lasted 70 years – from 1645 until 1715. Astronomers at the time counted only a few dozen sunspots per year, thousands fewer than usual.
As sunspots vanished temperatures fell. The River Thames in London froze, sea ice was reported along the coasts of southeast England, and ice floes blocked many harbors. Agricultural production nose-dived as growing seasons grew shorter, leading to lower crop yields, food shortages and famine.
Canadian author and National Post environmental columnist Lawrence Solomon describes the period:
“Glaciers advanced rapidly in Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia and North America, making vast tracts of land uninhabitable. The Arctic pack ice extended so far south that several reports describe Eskimos landing their kayaks in Scotland. Finland’s population fell by one-third, Iceland’s by half, the Viking colonies in Greenland [yes, it was once green, with forests and pastureland] were abandoned altogether, as were many Inuit communities. The cold in North America spread so far south that, in the winter of 1780, New York Harbor froze, enabling people to walk from Manhattan to Staten Island.”
Is mankind headed for another cool-down or big freeze? Based on recent scientific findings, it might be a possibility. A Danish research team led by Henrik Svensmark, director of the Center for Sun-Climate Research at the Danish National Space Center in Copenhagen, has discovered a strong correlation between sunspot activity, galactic cosmic rays and variations in the earth’s climate, a theory (supported by experiments) that challenges the prevailing concept of human-induced climate change, popularly known as anthropogenic global warming.
Henrik and his team have discovered that increased solar activity in the form of sunspots, flares and other disturbances generate solar winds that strengthen the magnetic fields surrounding earth, creating a bubble that suppresses cosmic ray penetration, inhibiting cloud formation and causing warming.
Conversely, when solar activity diminishes, the protective magnetic bubble weakens and more cosmic rays penetrate the earth’s atmosphere. The high-energy particles serve as host nuclei around which water vapor can condense and form droplets, resulting in more cloud cover and precipitation. Temperatures begin to fall as the clouds reflect more sunlight back into space.
“Galactic cosmic rays carry with them radiation from other parts of our galaxy,” says Ed Smith, NASA’s Ulysses project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “With the solar wind at an all-time low, there is an excellent chance the heliosphere [earth’s protective bubble] will diminish in size and strength. If that occurs, more galactic cosmic rays will make it into the inner part of our solar system.”
If Svensmark and other climate scientists are correct, the decline in solar activity may be responsible for the recent fall in global temperatures. In 1998, global temperatures at the earth’s surface began leveling off and have actually declined slightly since 2001, despite an increase in CO2 levels, calling into question the accuracy of climate models that predict catastrophic global warming.
The decade-long cool-down is clearly visible in satellite temperature measurements, which are widely viewed as more accurate than land-based temperatures readings, according to Dr. David Evans, who was a researcher with the Australian Greenhouse Office from 1995 to 2005. Such readings, he says, are often skewed by what is called the “urban heat island” effect, which articially elevates temperatures.
“NASA reports only land-based data, and reports a modest warming trend and recent cooling,” says Evans. “The other three global temperature records use a mix of satellite and land measurements, or satellite only, and they all show no warming since 2001 and a recent cooling.”
As Svensmark observes:
“In fact, global warming has stopped and a cooling is beginning. No climate model has predicted a cooling of the Earth – quite the contrary. And this means that the [global warming] projections of future climate are unreliable.”
If what Svensmark and other researchers say is true, it is very likely that when the heated debate between global warmers and global-warming skeptics finally ends, cooler heads may ultimately prevail.