Scientists at the National Solar Observatory and the Air Force Research Laboratory say three lines of evidence suggest that the sun may soon enter an extended calm period instead of following its normal 11-year cycle of high and low sunspot activity.
The authors of the studies reportedly “said there was not yet enough data to firm up a climate connection to solar activity” and that they don't know how long the calm period would last. Nevertheless, Fox used the research to proclaim that “We Might Be Headed for a Mini Ice Age”:
Other media outlets jumped on the research as well. In a post at at the Telegraph, James Delingpole wrote: “It's official: a new Ice Age is on its way,” claiming that the recent findings “make global cooling a much more plausible prospect in the next few decades than global warming.”
And under the headline “Earth May Be Headed for Big Chill From Little Ice Age,” Newsmax declared: “The Earth could be heading straight for a little ice age -- and not a global warming phase as dictated by Al Gore and others -- posits the U.S. National Solar Observatory (NSO) and the U.S. Air force Research Laboratory.”
In fact, solar physicist Frank Hill, who was involved in the research, explained via email that those warning of a mini ice age are making a “huge leap” from current scientific understanding of the variables involved:
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.
Bill Livingston, an astronomist who also contributed to the research said in an email that while the solar conditions “could counter 'global warming' somewhat,” he “would not say we are predicting a mini-ice age.”
The Maunder Minimum to which Hill referred is a previous 70-year period of solar inactivity, which coincided with the “Little Ice Age.” During that time, “Europe and North America experienced bitterly cold winters,” as explained by The Economist, which also cautioned that “correlation is not causation.”
Oddly enough, this is not the first time that conservative media outlets, including Fox News, have put the words “mini ice age” into the mouth of a scientist to downplay the long-term warming influence of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.