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Cold European Winters and Low Solar Activity
Lockwood, M., Harrison, R.G., Woolings, T. and Solanki, S.K. 2010. Are cold winters in Europe associated with low solar activity? Environmental Research Letters 5: 10.1088/1748-9326/5/2/024001.

What was done
Noting that "solar activity during the current sunspot minimum has fallen to levels unknown since the start of the 20th century," and that "the Maunder minimum (about 1650-1700) was a prolonged episode of low solar activity which coincided with more severe winters in the United Kingdom and continental Europe," the authors write that "motivated by recent relatively cold winters in the UK," they investigated the possible connection between these severe winters and low solar activity, identifying "regionally anomalous cold winters by detrending the Central England temperature record using reconstructions of the northern hemisphere mean temperature."

What was learned
Lockwood et al. discovered that "cold winter excursions from the hemispheric trend" do indeed "occur more commonly in the UK during low solar activity, consistent with the solar influence on the occurrence of persistent blocking events in the eastern Atlantic," and they state that "colder UK winters (relative to the longer-term trend) can therefore be associated with lower open solar flux (and hence with lower solar irradiance and higher cosmic ray flux)." They are quick to note, however, that "this is a regional and seasonal effect relating to European winters and not a global effect."

What it means
The four researchers conclude that since "average solar activity has declined rapidly since 1985 and cosmogenic isotopes suggest an 8% chance of a return to Maunder minimum conditions within the next 50 years (Lockwood, 2010)," their results suggest that, "despite hemispheric warming, the UK and Europe could experience more cold winters than during recent decades."

The case they make for their conclusion sounds logical enough; but only time will tell if the inference proves true.

Lockwood, M. 2010. Solar change and climate: an update in the light of the current exceptional solar minimum. Proceedings of the Royal Society A 466: 303-329.

Reviewed 29 June 2011