Could Slackening Solar Winds Cool the Earth?

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If global warming doesn’t scare you enough, consider worrying about a new Ice Age instead. The Times of India’s Dipannita Das reports that an investigation by India’s National Center for Radio Astrophysics (part of the portentously named Institute for Fundamental Research) has detected “a steady weakening of the Sun’s magnetic field.” That in turn is weakening the solar wind – a stream of protons and electrons flowing off the sun at, literally, a million miles an hour.

So what? Well, among other things, the report says that a continued ebb of the sun's field could lead to a “mini ice age,” of the sort that last happened in the 17th century.

According to a 2002 study by Michael Mann, then of the University of Virginia, the Little Ice Age appears to have been a 400-year period between the 16th and 19th centuries in which the Earth cooled 0.6 of a degree Celsius, and is concurrent with the last drop in solar wind.

Mann, an environmental scientist known widely for his "hockey stick" climate model, did not identify a cause for the chill, but attributes all manner of mayhem to it. “A severe winter preceded the hot summer that precipitated the Great Fire of London in 1666. A harsh winter followed by a warm summer may have added to the discontent of peasants who stormed the Bastille in Paris during the summer of 1789.” He also mentions expansions of glaciers in the Alps and difficulty maintaining fishing grounds against the expansion of the polar ice caps.

Today, though, the possibility of a half-degree off the top sounds pretty good.