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Forget Global Warming, are we headed for a 'little ice age?'

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Are we due for a mini ice age?

With all the attention paid to global warming these days, what would happen if our climate disaster came from the other direction --in the form of an ice age? Believe it or not, the possibility of an ice age has long been discussed by scientists, and a mini-ice age is possible as our sun's activity reaches a record low.

Is our planet about to get a lot cooler?

Is our planet about to get a lot cooler?

Highlights

LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) -- Climate is dynamic with changes occurring over hundreds of years, and sometimes even faster. There are a lot of variables. The Sun's output of radiation fluctuates. Currents in the ocean shift. Volcanoes erupt on Earth and sometimes spew massive quantities of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Over millions of years, the Earth's climate has oscillated between tropical heat and ice age.

Presently, many scientists believe we are in a major warming phase, prompted by human greenhouse gas emissions. They predict that in the decades to come the planet will warm substantially, causing climate patterns to shift, the ice caps to melt, and for sea level to rise. They have plenty of data to suggest this has already begun.


But there are a few scientists out there warning that the opposite is possible. The planet could endure a mini-ice age which will cause temperatures to plummet and parts of the Northern Hemisphere to freeze solid in the winter months. Such an event would be very disruptive and prompt the mass migration of millions of people. It could also be deadly.

One scientist, David Dilley, who runs the Global Weather Oscillations website, says that Earth has a pattern of warm and cool phases and that we are now entering a cool phase. According to Dilley, Earth has a natural cooling phase every 230 years, during which we experience a mini ice age for about 60 to 100 years. After that, the planet warms up again. He thinks we are about to enter a cooling phase that will see the Arctic freeze and expand, and coat northern Europe in ice. Not glaciers, but certainly enough ice to create significant problems.

One of the culprits, solar activity, has already appeared. Solar activity is at one of the lowest levels in recorded history.

Astronomers monitor solar activity by counting sunspots, and within the last solar cycle sunspot counts have reached virtually their lowest level in history. The lack of sunspots correlates with solar output, and this means less radiation is hitting Earth. Historically, such low solar activity means lower temperatures on Earth.

The last time such an event occurred was known as the Maunder Minimum, which ran from 1645 to 1715. During that time, sunspots became rare. Some conclude the Maunder Minimum was a contributor to the Little Ice Age which lasted from about 1600 to 1850. But there is no consensus on the Little Ice Age or if the Maunder Minimum had anything to do with it.

Nobody now predicts the planet will freeze over, but the possibility of hard freezes in places, such as London, does exist.

At the same time, such phenomena could be offset by global warming, which some say is warming the planet faster than we can adapt.

For now, there is no agreement that we are in danger of freezing over, but it is an interesting thought to ponder. Dilley predicts we will see these impacts soon, within the next few years. Between now and 2020, we will see if he is a genius, or simply mistaken.

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