Is Britain at the start of a new Glacial Period?

Posted: May 28, 2013 in e-learning, geography, geology, glacial, Glaciation

By definition an Ice Age is “any period of time during which glaciers covered a large part of the earth’s surface”1, therefore by this definition we are still in the grips of an ice age. However we are in a period of relative warmth called an Interglacial period “A comparatively short period of warmth during an overall period of glaciation. Interglacials are characterized both by the melting of ice and by a change in vegetation”2

These short interglacial periods generally last on average 10,000 years or so, whilst their big brother the Glacial periods in which average global temperatures falls by several degrees can last 100,000 years or so. These changes can be illustrated by reference to ice core analysis, in this case the Vostock ice core, which you can see indicates longer periods of “colder than today” i.e. the glacial periods compared to “warmer than today” the interglacial periods.

Temperature Plot:- Average Global Temperature, 1880-2009

The graph below is compiled by Earth Policy Institute (EPI) from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), “Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index in 0.01 Degrees Celsius,” at, updated December 2009, and from Reto Ruedy, NASA GISS, e-mail to Amy Heinzerling, EPI, 12 January 2010.


Sunspots are regions on the solar surface that appear dark because they are cooler than the surrounding photosphere. This rise and fall in sunspot counts is a cycle. The length of the cycle is about eleven years on average. The Sunspot Cycle was discovered in 1843 by the amateur German astronomer Samuel Heinrich Schwabe.

A peak in the sunspot count is called “solar maximum” (or “solar max”). The time when few sunspots appear is called a “solar minimum” (or “solar min”).


Analysis of data.

Comparison of sunspot activity and global temperatures for the last three winter periods in the UK have been dominated by cold and extended periods of snow and the winter of 2010 has been the coldest since 1890. Could this be linked to sunspot activity? Using the global temperature plots and sunspot activity an attempt was made to correlate the data and identify trends, links or similarities.

This was achieved by using the sunspot plots by extrapolating the sunspot cycles for 2000 to 2017 including the predicted sunspot max of 75 in 2013-2014, this produces the following curve highlighted in red.

Using the curve produced I then attempted to find a comparable sequence within the sunspot records. The results of this was interesting bearing in mind that I completed this activity mid December 2010, before the declaration of the winter of 2010 being the coldest since 1890 ( ). I found that the closest plot was as below, showing a strong similarity between the solar sunspot activities of 1870 to 1890.


If this does indicate a trend?, then based on the sequence occurring now it could mean that we may possibly experience bitterly cold winters that we have had for the last three years for the next 30 to 50 years.

If sunspot activity graph is also correlated to global temperatures, you can see that during this period 1880-1920’s temperatures were below the average global temperature of 13.98oC, we could be entering a period of cooler global conditions.

References (1) (2)


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