Eric Holthaus writes: A new study and related press release from the Royal Astronomical Society is making the rounds in recent days, claiming that a new statistical analysis of sunspot cycles shows “solar activity will fall by 60 per cent during the 2030s” to a level that last occurred during the so-called Little Ice Age, which ended 300 years ago.
Since climate change deniers have a particular fascination with sunspot cycles, this story has predictably been picked up by all manner of conservative news media, with a post in the Telegraph quickly gathering up tens of thousands of shares. The only problem is, it’s a wildly inaccurate reading of the research.
Sunspots have been observed on a regular basis for at least 400 years, and over that period, there’s a weak correlation between the number of sunspots and global temperature — most notably during a drastic downturn in the number of sunspots from about 1645 to 1715. Known as the Maunder minimum, this phenomenon happened about the same time as a decades-long European cold snap known as the Little Ice Age. That connection led to theory that this variability remains the dominant factor in Earth’s climate. Though that idea is still widely circulated, it’s been disproved. In reality, sunspots fluctuate in an 11-year cycle, and the current cycle is the weakest in 100 years — yet 2014 was the planet’s hottest year in recorded history. [Continue reading…]