Link Found between Cold European Winters and Solar Activity

Science and Children, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Link Found between Cold European Winters and Solar Activity


Scientists have long suspected that the Sun's 11-year cycle influences climate of certain regions on Earth. Yet records of average, seasonal temperatures do not date back far enough to confirm any patterns. Armed with a unique proxy, a team of researchers show that unusually cold winters in Central Europe are related to low solar activity when sunspot numbers are minimal. The freezing of Germany's largest river, the Rhine, is the key.

Although Earth's surface overall continues to warm, a recent analysis has revealed a correlation between periods of low activity of the Sun and of some cooling--on a limited, regional scale in Central Europe, along the Rhine.

"The advantage with studying the Rhine is because it's a very simple measurement," said Frank Sirocko, lead author. "Freezing is special in that it's like an on-off mode. Either there is ice or there is no ice."

From the early 19th through mid-20th centuries, riverboat men used the Rhine for cargo transport. And so docks along the river have annual records of when ice clogged the waterway and stymied shipping. The scientists used these easily-accessible documents, as well as other additional historical accounts, to determine the number of freezing episodes since 1780.

Researchers found that between 1780 and 1963, the Rhine froze in multiple places 14 different times. The sheer size of the river means it takes extremely cold temperatures to freeze over making freezing episodes a good proxy for very cold winters in the region, scientists said. …

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