When the Sun’s magnetic output is low, winters in Europe tend to be cooler than average – whereas higher output corresponds to warmer winters. That is the conclusion of a new study by physicists in the UK and Germany that looked at the relationship between winter temperatures in England and the strength of the Sun's magnetic emissions over the last 350 years. The group predicts that, global warming notwithstanding, Europe is likely to continue to experience cold winters for many years to come.
The possibility of a link between European winter temperatures and solar activity can be seen in historical records from the second half of the seventeenth century. For about 50 years the Sun remained free of sunspots (in contrast to its normal 11-year cycle of sunspot highs and lows) and at this time Europe experienced a number of harsh winters. Motivated by the fact that the relatively cold winters of the past few years have come at a time when solar activity fell to the lowest values for 100 years, Mike Lockwood of the University of Reading and colleagues set out to establish whether or not there is a strong connection.
Lockwood and colleagues used data from the Central England Temperature record. This provides monthly temperature data from several monitoring stations in central England all the way back to 1659 – the world's longest instrumental temperature record. The researchers first removed the estimated contribution from the warming recorded in the northern hemisphere as a whole over the past century – which is widely believed to have been caused by increasing levels of manmade carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Hemispheric temperature records data back to 1850; to extend the analysis back to 1659 they used data from a number of different proxy sources, such as tree rings, isotope concentrations in stalagmites, sediment depths, lake heights and documentary evidence.
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