Superstorms and magnetic poles

Last month I wrote an article entitled “Earth’s Magnetic Poles, Reversing or Not?” I noticed that yesterday it receive an unusually large number of hits. Why the sudden interest?

Upon searching, I found an article in the Salem, Oregon News by Terrence Aym titled “Magnetic Polar Shifts Causing Massive Global Superstorms.” In this story Aym claims that shifts in Earth’s magnetic poles and changes in the magnetic flux of the Sun caused the recent storms we have been experiencing in the last few days. Aym’s story is nothing but science fiction.

In the article, Aym refers to a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research, titled, “Midday magnetopause shifts earthward of geosynchronous orbit during geomagnetic superstorms with Dst = -300 nT.” (You can read the paper here. Warning, it is very dense.) The paper concerns electromagnetic disturbance of the Earth’s magnetosphere caused by solar magnetic storms. The paper contains the words, “superstorm” and “space weather.” Aym also writes about the wandering magnetic poles, which I discussed in my article. These phenomena have nothing to do with weather in the Earth’s atmosphere. I guess that Aym Googled “superstorm” and found the paper. Either through misunderstanding of the scientific paper or in a deliberate attempt to conflate unrelated phenomena into a sensational, apocalyptic story, Aym writes “Now it is here: an unstoppable magnetic pole shift that has sped up and is causing life-threatening havoc with the world’s weather.” He also confuses slight wobbling of the magnetic pole and shifts in the magnetosphere with wobbling of the Earth’s rotational axis and shifts in the Earth’s orbit. Quite different phenomena. He then goes on to predict all manner of disasters. Sheer nonsense.

Aym adds some verisimilitude to his story by almost correctly stating: “A Danish study published in the scientific journal Geology, found strong correlation between climate change, weather patterns and the magnetic field.” This refers to a theory proposed a decade ago by Henrik Svensmark and Eigil Friis-Christensen that cosmic rays influence Earth’s climate through their effect on cloud formation. (Svensmark, H. 2007. Cosmoclimatology: a new theory emerges. Astronomy & Geophysics 48: 1.18-1.24. Svensmark’s book, The Chilling Stars, is a popularized version of his research.) The original theory rested on data showing a strong correlation between variation in the intensity of cosmic radiation penetrating the atmosphere and the amount of low-altitude clouds. Cloud cover increases when the intensity of cosmic rays grows and decreases when the intensity declines. The strength of Earth’s magnetosphere controls how much cosmic radiation reaches the atmosphere. But this work is about climate, not weather.

Aym’s story has the attributes of a B-grade disaster movie on the Syfy channel, scientific fact be damned.

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12 comments

  1. Did you clear this with Al Gore?
    I know what causes the whole thing!
    (1) Global Warming Causes Global Cooling.
    (2) And all the expansion and contraction from global warming/cooling – causes the pole shift!
    That’s it!
     

  2. After reading your article I read Aym’s, both the Salem-News one and the original it pointed to at a site called Helium.com

    Then I decided to do a bit of research myself and I think you may be mistaken. I found some of these sources below that seem to support his idea which really is nothing more than an interesting extrapolation but I don’t think it should be tossed out so fast like you have done.

    I also talked to some long time friends of mine, one who is a professor of physics and another that holds a masters degree in electrical engineering. Both read the article and told me there could be something to it.

    The article is more substantial than just hogwash or science fiction and I think you are doing your readers a disservice dismissing it like that.

    Is there a link between Earth’s magnetic field and low-latitude precipitation?
    http://geology.geoscienceworld.org/cgi/content/abstract/37/1/71

    Earth’s Magnetic Field and Climate Variability
    http://www.megakastro.gr/weather_agro/solar_modulation.htm

    Weather and the Earth’s magnetic field
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v247/n5437/abs/247131a0.html

    Does the Earth’s Magnetic Field Influence Climate?
    http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2006AGUFMGP51B..02

    Aym’s Helium article differs somewhat from the Salem-News article. Maybe the people at Salem transposed some of it wrong, plus the Salem article concludes by pointing to the original article that continues on for awhile with more information.

  3. What I get from the Aym article is that his main contention is that changes such as polar wandering and the Earth’s internal magnetic field signal disaster.  I am not aware of any evidence to support this.  There have been suggestions that solar magnetic flux may have an influence.
     
    Cosmic ray flux is affected by the strength of the solar wind, or magnetic flux on periods of  11, 22, 80 and 200 years, all of which are well-known periods of solar activity.  A weaker field allows in more cosmic rays which ionize the atmosphere and form nuclei for cloud formation.  The variation in cosmic ray flux depends on where the solar system is in the galaxy relative to the spiral arms  – within spiral arms are more stars, hence more cosmic radiation.  There are cycles within cycles, and most are in the time-frame of climate rather than weather.  The subject is controversial and there have been attempts to attribute individual weather events to cosmic ray flux.  I think, however, Aym make too much of it.

  4. Jonathon, a very good article.  Recently more work has been done in the theory of cosmic rays and cloud formation.  The Chilling Stars by Henrik Svensmark has a lot more information on this subject if you have not read it. You are correct when you stated this has more to do with climate than weather.  The cosmic ray theory looks like it would come closer to causing these large storms than any other reason, but his would be a long trend rather than an individual storm. In the past several years the suns magnetic field has been expanded which would have caused less cloud formation, but since the suns magnetic field has shrunk this would let the formation of more clouds and would lead to larger than normal storms.

  5. You wrote:  “Last month I wrote an article entitled “Earth’s Magnetic Poles, Reversing or Not?” I noticed that yesterday it receive an unusually large number of hits. Why the sudden interest?”

    Well, I can tell you the likely cause of an influx of hits is a result of radio personality and political info warrior, (PrisonPlanet.tv & InfoWars.com) Alex Jones’ light being shed over the subject-matter, yesterday!   He has a massive following so, when he high-lighted the subject of the Earth’s Polar Magnetic Fields, you can bet his listeners immediately began “Google-ing”.  That’s why I’m here!  Very interesting topic, I might add!  Guess we’ll be seeing where it takes us, soon enough!

  6. What else did you expect from the Salem News? It’s a screwball publication filled with oddball stories. Today they had an article by the same pseudo scientific author proclaiming how the next ice age could topple the US government.

  7. If the poles change, Pennsylvania will end up in South America.  I hope I don’t have to learn Spanish and how to cook Encheladas?
    I’ll just get Tom to cook for me.

  8. Thanks for noticing the jump in hits and writing a clear debunk and posting where people will see it.  Maybe it’ll help a bit.   Good luck with the folks who don’t believe your sanity check.

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