The Sun has an 11 year cycle during which radiation peaks then falls. Scientists have long known about this solar feature but have never been able to link it to the weather patterns on the Earth until just recently. Lead scientist on the project Sarah Ineson of the UK Met Office found that a reduction in ultraviolet light can lead to especially harsh winters, particularly in Europe and North America. Ineson and her team from Imperial College London and the University of Oxford, “used satellite data that more accurately measures UV radiation from the sun and found a much greater variability than previously thought. They found that in years of low activity, unusually cold air forms high in the atmosphere over the tropics. This causes a redistribution of heat in the atmosphere, triggering easterly winds that bring freezing weather and snow storms to northern Europe and the United States and milder weather to Canada and the Mediterranean.” The satellite data used was taken from measurements made by NASA’s Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment (SORCE). The SORCE satellite was launched in 2003 and its purpose is to measure solar radiation across the entire UV spectrum. Ineson and her team took the data gathered from SORCE and generated a computer model to verify their findings. PhysOrg.com explains that the unusually harsh winters experienced in the UK during the past couple of years have been because the sun is now at its solar minimum, and per the study’s conclusions, winters should be harsher during this period of lower radiation.

[Reuters, PhysOrg.com]

  • Kathryn Russell

    Winter is coming…. 🙂

  • Ellery Curtis

    Here is also a great review of the issue from “my man” phil plait over at “bad astronomy” – a great blog IMO.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/06/14/the-sun-may-be-headed-for-a-little-quiet-time/

    He generally echos that this may show a true pattern with some predictability to it, but it appears there are still alot of questions and we will be waiting to see if this link is substantive or not in the next couple of years.

    “The connection still isn’t all that clear — for example, North America had climate issues too, but not as severe as Europe, and while the winters in Europe were terrible, the summers weren’t all that much cooler. Apparently there were other factors, including volcanic eruptions and an unusually weak jet stream (which is affected by ozone production in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, which in turn was lowered due to lower solar activity!), amplifying this effect. You can read about this in detail in my book Death from the Skies! ”

    Of rouse as I read it I started wondering how this headline would play into discussions of global warming. Plait addresses this well:

    “and let me take this chance here to say that no, the Sun is not responsible for global warming, as has been shown fairly conclusively. It can mildly amplify or suppress such things, but is not the main driver of it. If it were, we’d see very strong correlations between the climate and solar activity on a decade-by-decade basis (or even shorter as sunspots form and dissipate over the course of days and weeks). We don’t, and therefore the Sun is not the culprit.”