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.