(CNSNews.com) --A British professor's new model of solar cycles predicts that the Earth could be heading toward a "mini ice age" that would create conditions not seen since 1645 during the "Maunder minimum" - when London’s Thames River froze over.
Solar activity may fall by as much as 60 percent during the 2030s, according to Mathematics Professor Valentina Zharkova of Northumbria University in England.
Earlier this month, Zharkova and her co-authors presented the results of their study of three solar cycles between 1976 and 2008 at the Royal Astronomical Society’s (RAS) National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales.
In 1843, scientists discovered that solar activity varies over a cycle of roughly 10 to 12 years. Variations within the cycle are hard to predict, although it is known that a “dynamo” [magnetic waves rotating like a conveyor belt] deep inside the sun causes many of the variations.
This dynamo, which is “caused by convecting fluid deep within the Sun,” is what causes the “irregular heartbeat of the Sun,” according to RAS.
Using a new method to collect solar data by using a second set of magnetic waves they found close to the sun’s surface, Zharkova predicts that solar cycles will cancel each other out between 2020 and 2030.
By using a pair of dynamos instead of a single one, Zharkova and her team believe they have created a more accurate model of future solar activity which they also compared to the number of sunspots, currently at their lowest level in more than a 100 years.
“Combining both waves together and comparing to real data for the current solar cycle [Cycle 24] , we found that our predictions showed an accuracy of 97 per cent," Zharkova said.
Using data collected from the Stanford University's Wilcox Solar Observatory, the model predicts that in Cycle 25, which peaks in 2022, the sun’s magnetic waves will be even more out of sync than they are now.
But in Cycle 26 between 2030-2040, the model predicts that the pair of waves will "nearly cancel each other" out.
“In Cycle 26, the two waves exactly mirror each other – peaking at the same time but in opposite hemispheres of the Sun,” said Zharkova. “Their interaction will be disruptive, or they will nearly cancel each other. We predict that this will lead to the properties of a 'Maunder minimum’.''
The phenomenon known as the "Maunder minimum" last occurred between 1646 and 1715. It coincided with the ‘Little Ice Age’ which brought colder weather to Europe and North America for centuries.
Rivers froze over and “frost fairs” became popular. During the winter of 1683-84, the Thames was covered with an 11-inch coating of ice for two months. At lower altitudes, fields remained covered in snow year-round. Iceland lost half of its population during this time.
“Effectively, when the waves are approximately in phase, they can show strong interaction, or resonance, and we have strong solar activity,” according to Zharkova. “When they are out of phase, we have solar minimums.
“When there is full phase separation, we have the conditions last seen during the Maunder minimum, 370 years ago," she said.