Sunspot activity on the surface of the Sun follows a well-known but little understood 11 year cycle. Activity rises and falls creating the so-called solar maximum and then solar minimum. During a solar maximum, the Sun is more powerful and is littered with sunspots.
Conversely when the Sun enters a solar minimum – which it did about two years ago – energy from our host star begins to lessen.
However, one expert has warned that the Sun will enter a period of “hibernation” this year, in what as known as a Grand Solar Minimum (GSM).
Prof Valentina Zharkova, from the department of mathematics, physics and electrical engineering at Northumbria University, warned this could cause global temperatures to drop by one degrees Celsius.
While that sounds like an insignificant drop, it could have major ramifications for the planet, including a slow down in agricultural production.
The expert added the Sun’s hibernation period could last for three decades, which will lead to wetter and colder summers.
Prof Zharkova told The Sun: “The Sun is approaching a hibernation period.
“Less sunspots will be formed on the solar surface and thus less energy and radiation will be emitted towards the planets and the Earth.”
“The reduction in temperature will result in cold weathers on Earth, wet and cold summers, cold and wet winters.”
“We will possibly get big frosts as is happening now in Canada where they see [temperatures] of -50C.
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“During this period, very few sunspots appeared on the surface of the Sun, and the overall brightness of the Sun decreased slightly.
“Already in the midst of a colder-than-average period called the Little Ice Age, Europe and North America went into a deep freeze: alpine glaciers extended over valley farmland; sea ice crept south from the Arctic; and the famous canals in the Netherlands froze regularly—an event that is rare today.”
During this period, temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere on land and in the winter were reportedly 1.3C lower than today leading to shorter seasons and ultimately food shortages in what NASA described as a “little Ice Age”.
Prof Zharkova said: “We can only hope that the mini ice age will not be as severe as it was during the Maunder Minimum.