No, a pole shift won't cause global superstorms

By Phil Plait | February 9, 2011 6:30 am

[Note: I may have to start a series of "No, a blank won’t blank" posts; there’s been a spate of nonsensical doomsday pseudoscience lately. Sigh.]

So the latest doomsday fearmongering I’m hearing about are global superstorms caused by dangerous shifts in the Earth’s magnetic field. Maybe you’ve heard: the Earth’s magnetic field is wandering around, and may be about to reverse. When this happens, incoming radiation will affect our weather, causing gigantic storms the likes of which have never been seen except in Hollywood movies.

Panic! Death! Higher gas prices! Cats and dogs, living together!

Yeah, right. I’ll be up front right away: this claim is baloney. Garbage. Nonsense.

The article in question is pretty long, and as usual debunking something takes more time and effort than it does to simply say wrong things. So for the TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) crowd: the article makes basic science errors, attempts to link totally unrelated phenomena, states things as facts that are pure conjecture, and generally gets almost everything wrong. Bottom line: his claim of a link between the Earth’s magnetic field and superstorms is totally wrong.

OK, so you want details? I got details.

The source

As far as I can tell, the source for this silly claim is an article titled "Magnetic Polar Shifts Causing Massive Global Superstorms", first seen online at helium.com, but also reprinted widely (I’m getting lots of emails from people who read it at the Oregon Salem-Online site). The author, Terrence Aym, wrote at least one breathlessly overblown and grossly inaccurate doomsday article without doing the necessary basic research; that one was about Apophis hitting the Earth in 2036 — and you know how I feel about that sort of thing.

This one is more of the same. Aym makes scientific claims that are completely unfounded in reality, and sometimes says things that are simply dead wrong.

For example, some of the basic science Aym claims is way off:

Worse, what shields the planet from cancer-causing radiation is the magnetic field. It acts as a shield deflecting harmful ultra-violet, X-rays and other life-threatening radiation from bathing the surface of the Earth. With the field weakening and cracks emerging, the death rate from cancer could skyrocket and mutations of DNA can become rampant.

Bzzzzt! Nope. The Earth’s magnetic field protects us from charged particles like fast electrons and protons in the solar wind. If we didn’t have a magnetic field the Earth’s air would stop these particles anyway. The radiation he’s talking about — UV and X-rays — are totally unaffected by magnetic fields. That type of radiation is also absorbed by the air (including the ozone layer). Ironically, I will note that without the magnetic field protecting us, subatomic particles in the solar wind could erode the ozone layer, causing an increase in skin cancer rates from UV, but Aym doesn’t say anything about the ozone layer. And it takes X-rays to affect DNA [UPDATE: I’ve been made aware that some forms of UV light can affect DNA], which can’t get through our air no matter what. So that last statement of his is still wrong.

When something as basic as that is wrong in an article, it should make you at least a little suspicious about bigger claims. As well it should. But perhaps it’s an honest mistake. We all make ‘em, right?

But then he says this:

Magnetic polar shifts have occurred many times in Earth’s history. It’s happening again now to every planet in the solar system including Earth.

Um. No it’s not. Venus doesn’t even have a global magnetic field, for example, and there’s no indication I could find that any of the other planets have fields that are "shifting". Aym doesn’t give a reference for that comment, so there’s no way to know where he got it from, or if he just made it up.

And here’s another bit:

Forget about global warming—man-made or natural—what drives planetary weather patterns is the climate and what drives the climate is the sun’s magnetosphere and its electromagnetic interaction with a planet’s own magnetic field.

This is another very confused passage. Of course global warming affects the climate: that’s why we’re so worried about it. His claim that the Sun’s magnetosphere drives the climate is also not true. What really drives the climate are several factors, including the Sun’s energy output (light and heat), how much the Earth absorbs that energy, the Earth’s rotation, its atmosphere content, the shape of its orbit, and so on. Most of these factors are stable (or don’t change much over time), which is why our Earth is so hospitable to life.

However, some factors do change, which is worrisome. For example, dumping so much carbon dioxide into the air is changing how much heat we absorb from the Sun, and that’s why so many scientists are concerned about global warming.

But what about magnetism?

Magnetic repulsion

The very basic premise of Aym’s claims is that the changing magnetic field of the Earth and Sun (he’s not clear which, actually, switching between the two in the article) can change our climate. There may be a modicum of truth in this idea; over long periods of time it’s possible the magnetic field may have some effect on climate. The evidence isn’t at all clear. However, Aym takes this and runs with it, linking short-term magnetic field changes with huge storms across the planet — essentially hyperinflating a real idea into nonsense.

Here’s the deal: incoming galactic cosmic rays (GCRs; very zippy subatomic particles) hit the Earth’s atmosphere. They can seed clouds, changing rainfall patterns. They also create an isotope of oxygen at the same time which washes down in that rain. As it happens, cave formations called speleothems are sensitive to rainfall amounts, so by measuring the amount of the isotope in these formations, you can see if there is any correlation between that isotope and the amount of rainfall. Since the magnetic field of the Sun (and Earth) protects us from GCRs, then maybe changes in that magnetic field can affect rainfall.

Scientists have looked into this, and what did they find?

… a relatively good correlation between the high-resolution speleothem δ18O; records and the dipole moment, suggesting that Earth’s magnetic field to some degree influenced low-latitude precipitation in the past.

That’s pretty interesting, I’ll admit. The correlation isn’t super-strong, but could be there. This idea of cosmic rays seeding clouds and affecting climate has been around for a while (I researched it pretty thoroughly for my book Death from the Skies!), and really, at best the data are interesting and suggest a possible correlation, but it’s impossible to say if there is any definite connection. It’s just too weak to be sure.

All well and good, and an excellent starting point for more research to try to nail this down… unless you read Aym’s article. Instead of quoting the actual paper, as I just did, he instead quotes from a website called ViewZone which is chock full of antiscience nonsense about astral projection, alien abductions, and 2012 doomsday:


"The earth’s climate has been significantly affected by the planet’s magnetic field, according to a Danish study published Monday that could challenge the notion that human emissions are responsible for global warming.

"Our results show a strong correlation between the strength of the earth’s magnetic field and the amount of precipitation in the tropics," one of the two Danish geophysicists behind the study, Mads Faurschou Knudsen of the geology department at Aarhus University in western Denmark, told the Videnskab journal.

Perhaps the author of the article did in fact say that; if he did then that’s not what the actual scientific study appears to say in the journal — there’s a big difference between a "relatively good" correlation and a "strong" one. But that statement is still confused and confusing. This has nothing to do with man-made global warming for one. It’s certainly possible and even likely climate change has several sources, but we know human emissions are a huge cause of it (despite what denialists claim). Even if cosmic rays were affecting us — and that’s not at all clear — then it would probably be minor compared to what we ourselves are doing. If it were that big a source of warming the data would be a lot more clear.

And even if this claim is totally true, it has nothing to do with superstorms, just with low-latitude rainfall. But Aym doesn’t stop there. In another quote he makes an unfounded claim piled on top of a distortion of a NASA finding:

Recently, as the [Earth’s] magnetic field fluctuates, NASA has discovered "cracks" in it. This is worrisome as it significantly affects the ionosphere, troposphere wind patterns, and atmospheric moisture. All three things have an effect on the weather.

These "cracks" are real, as described by NASA The thing is, though, they happen all the time and have been happening throughout history. They are not new, and are unrelated to magnetic fluctuations; the cause is actually described in the NASA article: sometimes the solar wind has an opposite magnetic polarity as the Earth’s magnetic field, allowing them to interact more strongly and form these cracks. So in that sentence Aym is misleading about the cracks and the Earth’s magnetic field, and then asserts flatly they affect weather, when no such connection is apparent.

Pole dancing

In the article, Aym claims the north magnetic pole of the Earth wanders, and this motion has sped up recently. He again ties this to the creation of superstorms.

Yeah, well, not so much.

The Earth’s magnetic field is roughly like that of a bar magnet, with two opposite poles. The field is generated in the Earth’s core as it spins, creating a dynamo, a self-sustaining reaction. The magnetic poles don’t line up with the Earth’s physical poles (its spin poles if you like), and they also wander. That’s because the field is generated by the liquid interior of the Earth, and so the field is not static. It changes. The poles can wander, too. As it happens, the north magnetic pole does appear to be moving faster than it used to; it averaged about 9 km/year of motion before 1970 and is now moving at about 40 km/yr (note that in the article, Aym says it’s 40 miles/year, but that may just be a typo on his part).

Is that a concern? Not really. It moves a lot, and just because it’s speeding up now doesn’t mean doom and catastrophe (I imagine if it always moved quickly and suddenly slowed down, doomsayers would use that as evidence too). Note that the south magnetic pole hasn’t sped up, indicating this acceleration of the north pole is probably a temporary anomaly.

In any case, why would this motion be of concern? Beats me. Aym never really says why this is bad, or provides any evidence that it might be a problem. He just says it is.

Doomsday promoters also talk a lot about the poles flipping, literally with the two magnetic poles flipping orientation. This is a real event, and happens on geologic timescales. To be honest we don’t know what will happen when the poles reverse, but there is no evidence it will affect our weather. And anyway, it probably won’t happen for millennia in any case.

Weather or not

But what about all the severe weather we’ve had lately, including the ginormous storms that have swept across the United States, and the cyclone Yasi that just hit Australia?

Well, those actually happen pretty often. It turns out cooler-than-average temperatures in the Pacific Ocean surface helped fuel and target the American snowstorms, while warmer waters near Australia fed the typhoon. That happens cyclically in the oceans — it’s the El Niño and La Niña cycle — and aren’t terribly surprising. The past couple of snowstorms have been pretty big, but there’s no reason whatsoever to link them to any magnetic issues. After all, the pole has been wandering for decades, so why would this happen now? And the Sun’s activity is still pretty low right now; so again there’s no reason to connect weather with the Sun. It’s hard enough to figure out how the Sun influences our climate over millennia, let alone season to season. Be very wary indeed of anyone claiming such an easy to spot connection (that’s also been missed by hundreds of scientists who have devoted their lives to such things).

Ad naseum

The article goes on and on, piling up one distortion of science on top of another. And mind you, even if you slog through the entire article there’s one thing that becomes clear: Aym never makes a good connection between the magnetic field and superstorms! He says there’s one, but the best he can do is tenuously connect the magnetic field to climate in general and some weather like rainfall. But superstorms? Nothing.

Toward the end of the article he even links to a scientific article he claims makes a connection between the magnetic field and superstorms… but the article is actually talking about magnetic storms, not weather storms! Yeah. Oops.

Conclusion

So what’s the takeaway from all this?

Well, the big one is that breathless doomsday articles are generally hugely misleading, if not outright wrong. This one is certainly wrong. Big claims with shaky evidence, exaggerated conclusions, an apparent misunderstanding of basic science, and lots of supposition stated as fact — all this points to the conclusion that this article distorts reality beyond recognition.

Sadly, it’s not the first, nor will it be the last. I already have at least two more such articles on my radar and I know there will never be an end to them.

Until doomsday really does come, of course. But don’t expect those guys to get it right if and when it does.

Tip o’ the rain poncho to Michael Lonergan.

Image credits: Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center; Danish National Space Center; Arnaud Chulliat (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris); NASA.


Related posts:

Cosmic rays and global warming
Snowpocalypse 2011 from space
Repeat after me: Apophis is not a danger
Betelgeuse and 2012
Giant spaceships to attack December 2012?

Comments (109)

  1. thetentman

    So will I need a bigger umbrella?

  2. Like the monkeys at the typewriter (or keyboard, if you prefer), they eventually WILL get it right. Then, of course, they’ll crow loud and long (if they are still alive to crow and we are still alive to hear them).

    Phil, I know you like to say that these people are WRONG, but isn’t it just that they are guessing about things we aren’t 100% certain of and there is some really REALLY small chance they are right for the wrong reasons? You yourself state several times that some of the connections are tenuous at best, but that we really just don’t know if they are right or not.

    So is it right to say they are wrong, or is it just really unlikely they are right?

  3. Or is the real problem for us that if scientists give these predictions a 0.00002% chance of being correct, they will rail about the fact that scientists say it’s possible? Spin, spin, spin.

    Is that why you say they are wrong?

  4. Until doomsday really does come, of course. But don’t expect those guys to get it right if and when it does.

    Hey, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

    As it happens, the north magnetic pole does appear to be moving faster than it used to; it averaged about 9 km/year of motion before 1970 and is now moving at about 40 km/yr

    That sounds pretty fast to me. (Even the 9km/year sounds “fast” to me.) Does that affect navigation very much? (With GPS, I would expect it’s effect is lessened quite a bit.) I can’t tell the scale of the map you show. How far has it moved in the past 100 years?

    How does that affect the Bermuda Triangle? :-)

  5. Kevin

    This all sounds like it would tie in with the stuff I read last year (or perhaps the year before) about those individuals who think the Earth’s poles have shifted, with the North Pole not pointed near Polaris (apparent.y the poles are in the tropic regions now). I think they even made the case that the constellations wouldn’t even look different.

    This all causes be to give a big, heavy “sigh” and a shake of my head. We need a bigger clue stick.

  6. Jeff in Tucson

    @The Barber: In general, you may have a good point, but in the case of this post the claims of the article author are LITERALLY wrong. Not–there’s a 0.00002% chance that he’s correct about the magnetic field of the Earth stopping x-rays, etc. Did you even read Phil’s debunking? The scientific claims upon which the original author based his argument are complete nonsense–they are WRONG. LITERALLY. Is there a 0.00002% chance that magnetic pole shifts are occurring to “every planet in the solar system”? NO. Not even maybe. Again, as explained by Phil.

  7. Kevin:

    This all sounds like it would tie in with the stuff I read last year…

    There was a post about that on this very blog, as I recall. I think those people were also claiming “cover-up”. Sure, no one would notice a 26 degree shift in the Earth’s poles, changing the entire look of the sky.

    Tell the Hive Overmind Discover Magazine’s webmaster that they need a better search engine. (At least, the ability to search only certain blogs.)

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2007/10/10/tilt/

  8. Stumps

    “But then only a handful of weeks later another superstorm—the mega-monster cyclone Yasi—struck northeastern Australia.”

    Mega-monster cyclone!!? Love that quote from the article. Aym’s blood vessals were about to explode in shower of blood and hyperbole at that point I think. Too funny.

  9. Paul in Sweden

    Phil says: ” there’s been a spate of nonsensical doomsday pseudoscience lately.”

    You think? :P

  10. Jeremy

    Question…

    “And it takes X-rays to affect DNA, which can’t get through our air no matter what.”

    I thought UV rays were also able to affect DNA, hence skin cancer right?

  11. David

    @Ken B:
    Well, at least as far as nautical navigation is concerned, most nautical charts include the annual magnetic variation (difference between magnetic and true North) change and the reference year, so that one can compute the magnetic variation for any given year.

    For an example, you can check out this sample rose at the NOAA website: http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/learnnc_rose.html

  12. Randy A.

    I’d like to suggest another take away lesson from all this — we need better education, especially science education, in this country. Education is the “vaccine” against pseudo-science and all sorts of silliness.

    So all of you who said to yourself “what foolishness!” when you read this post — please contact your elected representatives, and tell them to invest in the future by fully funding education.

  13. Leonardo

    A genuine, but possibly stupid, question;

    If poles do flip & earth behaves much like a dynamo, wouldn’t earth’s rotation change direction? or at least the core?

    What would happen to electronic equipment?

    Thanks, Leonardo

  14. OtherRob

    Well with poles shifting and all it’s no wonder the aliens need to use crop circles to navigate. Their space compasses no longer work…

  15. Gus Snarp

    I may have to start a series of “No, a blank won’t blank” posts; there’s been a spate of nonsensical doomsday pseudoscience lately. Sigh.

    Yeah, wouldn’t it be nice if we could just get people to realize that they should automatically assume that a “blank won’t blank” every time they read a headline? Maybe you should just make it your page header: “Whatever it is, it probably won’t do whatever horror it is supposed to do. If I get around to it, I’ll explain your particular case below.”

  16. Martha

    There is a conspiracy theory out there related to 2012. It goes something like this. The New World Order (or the Illuminati or a cabal of bankers) wants to kill off a large part of the world’s human population. They don’t want people to survive 2012 so they order NASA to cover up the approach of Nubiru and force National Geographic to debunk 2012 predictions. In one internet forum someone accused me of being paid by “them” to debunk 2012 and they said I must have handlers who tell me what to post. Many in this crowd say they have bug out shelters ready for December 2012 and are sharing information about what events will trigger an evacuation. One of them said that a sure sign that the Mayans were right is that skeptics are actively denying it.

  17. chris j.

    But what about all the severe weather we’ve had lately, including the ginormous storms that have swept across the United States, and Typhoon Yasi that just hit Australia?

    isn’t there pretty convincing evidence building that anthropogenic global warming is the likely cause of increasingly bitter winters and winter storms?

  18. Daniel J. Andrews

    subatomic particles in the solar wind could erode the ozone layer, causing an increase in skin cancer rates from UV, but Aym doesn’t say anything about the ozone layer. And it takes X-rays to affect DNA,

    I could be mistaken here, but UVB and UVC both cause direct damage to the DNA and can cause different types of skin cancer. However, the most malignant skin cancer, melanoma, is from indirect damage to the DNA (UVB creates free radicals which can cause skin cancer). UVC is mostly?/completely?) filtered out by our atmosphere, and UVA also causes indirect damage to the DNA (free radicals again).

    Anyway, a bit outside of my area of knowledge so I could be wrong/misled in some aspect but that is what I found with some googling.

  19. Nigel Depledge

    First, an apology for those who’ve missed my participation in some of the livelier discussions lately: sorry, but we’ve had a new web filter installed at work, and it seems to filter out quite a lot more than the old one did, including the ability to post comments here.

    I’ve found a work-around, but it means my internet at work is now slower, so I might not be able to participate to the same level.

    What, why do I hear cheering??

    Anyhow, onto the topic of discussion…

    The BA said:

    And it takes X-rays to affect DNA,

    Erm, no.

    UV is quite capable of damaging DNA, especially if one happens to have pale skin. That’s how you get skin cancer if you spend a lot of time outside in intense sunshine without sunblock on.

    Of course, the ozone layer protects us from the most harmful far UV, but enough near-UV gets through that those of us with pale skin need to be careful when it gets sunny.

    X-rays can affect a lot more than just DNA, but they probably do most damage through the mechanism of disrupting the integrity of our DNA.

  20. Nigel Depledge

    The BA said:

    . . . dumping so much carbon dioxide into the air is changing how much heat we absorb from the Sun, . . .

    More specifically, it’s changing the amount of absorbed heat that can be re-radiated back into space.

  21. DrivethruScientist

    @Jeremy #10 and Phil

    UV is capable of causing the substitution of an adenine for a thymine, resulting in a thymine dimer in the DNA. It’s usually caught by proofreading enzymes though …

    Although looks like Nigel and Daniel beat me to it ;)

  22. Firemancarl

    Well, crap, I guess I’ll save my tinfoil hat for another occasion.

  23. Sam H

    It’s ironic how we humans can form psychological attachments to ideas about the end of the world that extend beyond reason, when common sense dictates that we shouldn’t. And I can say this from experience – even if it’s real (which it is), who hasn’t formed some kind of emotional attachment to the idea of global warming? Although that could just be me. :) But remember that the same can be said for almost any other idea in science.

    As for the idea of the magnetic field deteriorating the ozone layer – I have heard it claimed that one of the reasons Mars lost most of its atmosphere was due to the absence of a magnetic field to protect it’s already thin one from the solar wind, which was ramping up as the sun grew brighter. This is related to the claim that a characteristic of habitable planets will be ample magnetic fields, which protect the atmospheres from stellar winds (especially in the case of, say, stars higher up the HR diagram). So, if we didn’t have the EM field would our atmosphere eventually be stripped away by the solar wind, or is it thick enough that it would survive (except with the absence of the ozone layer)? And BTW, while pole shifts certainly aren’t happening all over the solar system at the same time, is there any evidence of shift cycles on other planets that possess substantial magnetic fields?

  24. Nigel Depledge

    Leonardo (13) said:

    If poles do flip & earth behaves much like a dynamo, wouldn’t earth’s rotation change direction? or at least the core?

    The polarity of the magnetic field depends on the direction of the flow of current in the core, not on the direction of the flow of fluid.

    AFAICT there is nothing to suggest that the core itself rotates differently, and we can be very confident indeed that the Earth’s rotation itself has not stopped and changed direction in the past when the magnetic field has reversed polarity.

    Here’s a little exercise for you: calculate the Earth’s angular momentum, and then try to come up with a way of stopping the Earth from rotating.

    What would happen to electronic equipment?

    Well, it depends on exactly what happens to the magnetic field during the flip. If the field continues to exist but simply wanders from one side of the globe to the other, then we will still be protected (for the most part) from cosmic rays and the solar wind.

    IIUC, though, the field weakens and then strengthens again with the opposite polarity. It is possible that the atmosphere will get more of a pelting from the solar wind during that time than it does now. This will result in a deepening of the ionosphere and different radio propagation conditions for the time it takes for the field to flip. The atmosphere will still, however, protect us (and our electronics) from most of the charged particles slamming into it. I guess there’s a possibility that we’ll be more vulnerable to solar storms but I don’t know enough about that topic to comment with confidence.

  25. VJBinCT

    There is a little article in today’s NYTimes about regulation of witches and fortunetellers in Romania. They recently fell under the tax code. Now, it is proposed that fortunetellers be fined or jailed if their predictions are wrong. Good idea for the pseudo-science crowd here as well. It would be fun!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/09/world/europe/09briefs-witches.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=fortune%20tellers%20romania&st=cse

  26. Carey

    I imagine that “doomsday” will actually occur the precise moment that everyone in the world simultaneously agrees that doomsday is not likely to happen anytime soon.

  27. Trebuchet

    So if the magnetic field goes away and no longer stops particle radiation, would we at least have some pretty auroras in the non-polar regions?

  28. Nigel Depledge

    Sam H (23) said:

    And I can say this from experience – even if it is real, who hasn’t formed some kind of attachment to the idea of global warming? Although that could just be me

    Yeah, it could be that you perceive others as “attached” to AGW because you don’t get it.

    As for the idea of the magnetic field deteriorating the ozone layer – I have heard it claimed that one of the reasons Mars lost most of its atmosphere was due to the absence of a magnetic field to protect it’s already thin one from the solar wind, which was ramping up as the sun grew brighter. This is related to the claim that a characteristic of habitable planets will be ample magnetic fields, which protect the atmospheres from stellar winds (especially in the case of, say, stars higher up the HR diagram). So, if we didn’t have the EM field would our atmosphere eventually be stripped away by the solar wind, or is it thick enough that it would survive (except with the absence of the ozone layer)? And BTW, while pole shifts certainly aren’t happening all over the solar system at the same time, is there any evidence of shift cycles on other planets that possess substantial magnetic fields?

    In principle, yes, increased exposure of the atmosphere to the solar wind could well lead to it being stripped away.

    However, the magnetic field has changed polarity dozens of times (that we know of) in the past and the atmosphere is still here. If we had no magnetic field, the atmosphere – or, at least, its lighter components – would eventually get stripped off into space.

    Venus has no magnetic field to speak of, and it has a very dense atmosphere, mainly of CO2 and H2SO4 – quite dense substances.

    Mars has a trviailly weak magnetic field and – despite being very small – it has still managed to cling onto a thin atmosphere of CO2.

    What seems to be most likely if Earth had no magnetic field is that water vapour would be split into hydrogen and oxygen high up in the atmosphere, and the hydrogen would mostly be lost to space over time. We could even end up with an atmosphere that resembles that of Venus after a few hundred mllion years without a magnetic field. But such a process would, I think, need a lot of time.

  29. Daniel J. Andrews

    chris j, @17.

    Regarding your question, there has been some analysis on individual events. For example, the Russian heat wave in July was something like 3.6 standard deviations above the mean for that month, which makes it well over a 1000 year event (I recall reading it was greater than a 5,000 yr event but can’t find that now so caveat emptor).

    Also, Dr. Joe Romm has a post titled Climate Experts Agree: Global warming caused unprecedented heat wave.
    climateprogress.org/2010/08/14/climate-experts-agree-global-warming-caused-russian-heat-wave/

    You can find an interview with Dr. Kevin Trenberth on extreme weather here.
    climateprogress.org/2010/06/14/ncar-trenberth-global-warming-extreme-weather-rain-deluge/

    I would recommend following the links in both those articles (esp. the first article) to the source though to see what the experts are saying. Sometimes Dr. Romm posts quotes from newspapers that are quoting scientists. Considering how badly wrong newspapers get things, I don’t trust anything they say even if they’re saying something I agree with.

    The tricky part is saying whether or not events ares from global warming, and how much did warming amplify it. Like rolling a loaded die. Is that 6 because the die is loaded or would it have happened anyway? Long-term analysis is one way to tell which is why we have the Extreme Climate Index from NOAA. There’s more data on extreme weather in the U.S. as there is a longer record than for the globe in general. See Jeff Masters here
    wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=1732

    and NOAA’s U.S. Extreme Climate Index here if you want to look at the source.
    ncdc.noaa.gov/extremes/cei/index.html

    These increases in extreme weather are expected as the globe warms as it is one of the basic facts of a warming climate (more energy i.e. heat in a system the more likely that system will oscillate). Also, warmer air holds more moisture so greater rainfalls if temps above freezing, and more snowfall if temps below freezing.

    Weather is the boxer that hits us. Climate is the trainer that trains the boxer to hit us harder.

  30. Daniel J. Andrews

    Speaking of magnetic fields, Nature has an article on Neptune’s and Uranus’ magnetic fields. Abstract here.
    nature.com/ncomms/journal/v2/n2/abs/ncomms1184.html

    I hadn’t realized that a planetary magnetic field could be from the ionization of water and methane. Cool.

  31. Darth Robo

    So Terrence Aym is another Josh Greenberger? Kewl. Remember folks, be wary of science “information” at places like Helium, Searchwarp or Scribd and the like. It could be someone who knows what they’re talking about, but it could also be just another crank. Always check with a scientific source.

  32. Shoy

    Wait, the north and south magnetic poles are moving at different rates? I guess I always thought they were directly opposite one another.

  33. Greg in Austin

    You wrote a book?

    8)

  34. Daumier

    I feel a little silly for bringing this up, but this reminds me that my dad often claims that when the poles eventually reverse (he doesn’t put a time line, so it can happen decades, centuries or millennia from now) all electrical appliances will stop working, which obviously is its own kind of end of the world scenario. He claims it’s because the electrical current will start moving in the opposite direction, making positive negative and vice versa (or something like that).

    I tell him occasionally that sounds like complete nonsense. As far as I know, electrons in our electrical systems don’t rely on the planet’s magnetic poles to know which way to flow. I’ve never been that confident in my understanding of physics so I can’t really explain why that well. And when I look his claim up (ie wikipedia), I can’t find anything about it, not even as a mention as a pseudoscience. If it’s false, does anybody know what I can tell him? If it’s true, I’d really like to know why because that sounds crazy.

  35. Number 6

    RE: the possibilities that some of these events may happen is remote to the 32nd power.

    A highly unusual event can occur, but where do you usually see it?….In a Hollywood movie or a book of fiction…and what makes it so engaging is that we can totally relate to it but remain safe.

    I think it’s a waste of time and energy thinking about highly unlikely events happening unless you want an excuse to not get out of bed in the morning, or unless you want to write the next suspenseful blockbuster, or you simply want to worry a lot (Well, upon reflection, I am guilty of this last action…so I can’t throw a stone after all.).

  36. Left_Wing_Fox

    @32: They may still be directly opposite each other, just not through the dead center of the planet.

  37. Zucchi

    It seems clear that lots of “news” organizations simply don’t have anybody on hand with the basic understanding of science to spot obvious problems with such articles. That’s kind of scary.

  38. sophia8

    Marth@16: Yeah, the Nibiru crowd are amongst the craziest of the crazies. On the ZetaTalk site, I’ve read claims that NASA have been forcing publishers the whole world over to change their printed ephemerii to disguise the fact that the Moon has been nudged out of orbit; NASA is forcing astronomers worldwide not to report this fact, or their sighting of Niburu; NASA is threatening websites that publish photos of Nibuiru etc etc.
    Gah.

  39. Sarah

    I bet this Aym guy is a master of the Illuminatus! card game.

    Also, I didn’t know that Venus doesn’t have a magnetic field. :)

  40. Quiet Desperation

    The New World Order (or the Illuminati or a cabal of bankers) wants to kill off a large part of the world’s human population.

    No worries. My global evil organization will take them out first. :-)

    The NWO, not the large part of the human population, that is.

    You lot get to be driven into my slave pits, but in a kind and caring way. I care, minions! I care.

    Hey, you get full dental.

    Pole shifts are so last century. The only pole shifts that concern the modern supervillain are when the pole in the evil sanctum’s strip club is loose.

    As for 2012, I have had great success showing people a regular calendar, and telling them that the world will end on December 31st because that’s where the calendar ends.

  41. Jonathan Latimer

    Good piece. Thanks for being thorough, BA!

  42. ASFalcon13

    Phil, how are we supposed to believe you when you misquote your sources? You could be taking quotes out of context, or quote-mining to pass a different message than what was being said. How can we be sure you’re not bending your references to your own agenda?

    Fortunately, for the benefit of the community, I’ve dug up your sources, and can expose you for the hack you are. Behold:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3ZOKDmorj0

    “Cats and dogs, living together!”? Hardly. You’ve been exposed, Mr. Plait!

    (and, in case anyone hasn’t gotten it yet, this being the internet and all…/sarcasm)

  43. gss_000

    I worked with people who study the core and the magnetic field. You actually can find local polarity flips in the geological records much more frequently than you’d think. We continually survive those. And even when the poles flip, it’s not a big thing. When you look at the equations, a pole flip means the leading term (the dipole moment) changes sign so at some point goes to 0, but the other parts go merrily on.

    This reminds me of the movie, The Core. Horrible astronomically. Horrible in terms of material science, but its geophysics wasn’t half bad….except for creating a crisis where none would exist. According to the science, if the core was to stop rotating we would be in danger of having our magnetic field shut of but in 14000 years. Not a big thing to worry about.

  44. réalta fuar

    Mostly a good de-bunking article though the mistake about UV not being able to damage DNA should have been embarassing. A thing to remember about the earth’s magnetic poles flipping is that it doesn’t happen overnight: the decaying and rebuilding with opposite polarity can take thousands of years. Since it is the changes in the earth’s magnetic field induced by solar weather (coronal mass injections and flares) that accounts for damage to electronic devices on earth, it may be that having no field would actually make technology SAFER (since the atmosphere, as the B.A. said, will protect the surface from high speed protons and electrons). Of course, that last bit doesn’t apply to technology in orbit!

  45. Snowshoe the Canuck

    OMG! The Core was a documentary! When will the World Government begin the process of restarting the dynamo in the liquid outer core?

    Or are the Powers That Be under the tentacles of the aliens? Panic in the streets!
    $cientology is True!
    BRB!!!!

    Okay, I’m fine now, the meds have kicked in. I *have* to stop reading BA and PZ Myers’ blogs back to back.

  46. Raptor

    Daumier, if that was true, then sticking a magnet beside anything would make the appliance stop working. Yet, we stick magnets on frigs all the time. And, to prove that earth’s magnetic field is weaker than a hand held magnet, take a compass, hold it away from the magnet, it points north. Put the magnet beside it, and the compass will point toward it. It’s stronger, by far…

    And, to go further, what your father is confusing is the electromagnetic force. Hold out your right hand, stick your thumb up and then your fingers curl in the direction of the electrical charge. This is called the right hand rule. Oh, your thumb points toward the north end of the compass of that hypothetical magnet, btw.

    For more fun, take a nail, a piece of wire, wrap the wire around the nail (doesn’t matter which way), and then connect both ends of the wire to opposite sides of a battery. Presto, magnet.

    You can also point a compass near this and again play with the right hand rule about which way the electricity is flowing and this is the magnetic force. Just flip the battery around to change the direction of the flow of electrons.

    All of this shows that the magnetic field of the earth cannot effect which way electrons flow through a wire. That is effected by the source of the electricity and the wiring in your house. The fact you can change the direction of flow by flipping over a battery should show that it is outside the influence of the earth’s magnetic field. And, as a result, it won’t matter if earth’s field flips… at least when it comes to appliances anyway.

  47. Yeah, wouldn’t it be nice if we could just get people to realize that they should automatically assume that a “blank won’t blank” every time they read a headline? Maybe you should just make it your page header: “Whatever it is, it probably won’t do whatever horror it is supposed to do.

    Except, of course, in the case of Global warming/climate change/whatever we are calling it now right?

  48. Yojimbo

    @16 Martha

    One of them said that a sure sign that the Mayans were right is that skeptics are actively denying it.

    That reminds me of the guy who once told me that the existance of the Illuminati was proven by the fact that there was no evidence that they existed. You can’t win :)

  49. DrBB

    But wait a sec, what about 2012 schmaht guy? Huh? Some guys who lived a long time ago’s calendar ends then! They lived a *long* *time* *ago*!!! So they musta known a lot more about the future than us–stands to reason! And the magnetic field could flip any minute now. That means it could flip in 2012! I mean, how much more *obvious* could it possibly be???

  50. Sarah

    Ha! Just saw the PE quote. Out of context much? Good thing it links to this article.

  51. Martha (16):

    One of them said that a sure sign that the Mayans were right is that skeptics are actively denying it.

    Ah, the old “he who denied it supplied it” argument.

    Yojimbo (48):

    That reminds me of the guy who once told me that the existance of the Illuminati was proven by the fact that there was no evidence that they existed.

    NB: HGTTG’s “Babel fish”.

    Oh, and I have proof that my vampire-repelling spray works, because there are no vampires around here.

  52. rob

    my campaign of obfuscation and misdirection is working. pole shifts don’t cause superstorms. *i* cause superstorms…bwa ha ha.

    oh drat. i just posted this on teh intertubes. now my cover is blown!

  53. The Captain

    Terrence Aym is proving himself to be the Michael Bay of science reporting,.

  54. Gus Snarp

    @gahrie – No, climate change isn’t going to cause any disaster movie scenarios either. And the climate scientists who accept the theory aren’t claiming it will. That’s the media, and they’re as guilty there as in this case. Please burn your straw men elsewhere. Like on the global warming thread prior to this one.

  55. Sophia8 (38):

    I’ve read claims that NASA have been forcing publishers the whole world over… NASA is threatening websites that publish photos of Nibuiru etc etc.

    So NASA is more powerful than the CIA and WikiLeaks? :-)

  56. Unaspammer

    The pseudoscience debunking posts are always my favorites. Would it be all that wrong to feed bad science to the crazies so that Phil will have more to write about?

  57. Sam H

    @28 Nigel: Don’t think for a minute I doubt AGW – In fact, I think that the projections of 2 or 3 degrees warming are grossly underestimated. I was just noting my observation that we tend to attach ourselves to ideas in science – I for one have always been attached to the idea of ETI and a Sagan-esque galaxy full of millions of alien intelligences – which I’ve now partially let go of, as the Fermi paradox and the apparent rarity of intelligence cannot be ignored. As for AGW, I am myself “attached”, but in no way do I doubt the facts. I may be naive in my observations, but I’ve always noticed that regardless of whether not the ideas are true, the emotional connections we form with ideas such as evolution, AGW, the copernican principle, the diversity of life, quantum gravity and so on can potentially defy common sense (as in my previous example), or in some cases cause us to be very reluctant to reject theories when required by new evidence. If Dawkins’ “rabbits in the Precambrian” were discovered, scientists would be forced to abandon their current view of life’s history, but they’d be reluctant – and not only because the previous theory was such a powerful explanative force. They’d have an emotional attachment to it, and they wouldn’t give it up without confronting it.
    In no way am I saying this is why science is unreliable, but this emotional attachment can lead to bias and sometimes does. It something we must remember to keep the scientific method pure and free of as many limits of human thinking as possible.

    Or perhaps my introverted tendencies resulting from my Asperger’s could be painting a false picture of the psychology of others :roll: – but either way, what do you think?

  58. Unaspammer

    Daniel J. Andrews @29:

    Regarding your question, there has been some analysis on individual events. For example, the Russian heat wave in July was something like 3.6 standard deviations above the mean for that month, which makes it well over a 1000 year event (I recall reading it was greater than a 5,000 yr event but can’t find that now so caveat emptor).

    Is that a global 5,000-year event or a local 5,000-year event? In other words, do we expect that an event that extreme will happen somewhere on the planet about every 5,000 years, or do we expect than an event that extreme will happen in Russia specifically every 5,000 years? If the former, then it is probably reasonable to link the heat wave with global warming. If the latter, then it sounds like cherry-picking to me. The planet is huge, and a 5,000-year local event is probably something like a 50-year (i.e. a couple orders of magnitude more common) event when considered globally.

  59. Unaspammer

    It looks to me that the 1000-year event thing came from here: http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2010/08/11/global-boiling-russia/

    Unfortunately, the article doesn’t answer my question, but that may just be because I’m not a climatologist and not intimately familiar with the implications of the jargon.

  60. Stacy

    Yeah, I’m confused about the south pole not moving like the north pole does. It was my understanding (via a liberal arts degree admittedly; hey, at least I know there’s a difference between magnetic north and geographic) that the north and south poles are always opposite each other, is that not the case?

    I also thought the line connecting the poles went through the center of the planet, but I’ve heard this is not the case with Neptune (or maybe Uranus). Anyone who knows about such things care to enlighten me?

  61. TANGENT!

    So, Phil… I’d always been told that one of the reasons that terraforming Mars was a virtual impossibility is due to its lack of a magnetic field, thus exposing us to all the naughty bits of the solar wind… but it sounds like (pretending for the moment that we could settle any and all of the other human habitability issues, a nice atmosphere being one example) one would only have to maintain and replenish an ozone layer – again, presuming an earthlike atmosphere – in order to keep the solar wind at bay…? :| augh! I’m just an Economics/Finance guy with a passion for cosmology and space travel.

  62. Pythia

    I love you for this, although I fear you’ll get trapped in the “There’s someone wrong on the internet” cycle. Speaking of which… it’s “ad nauseam.” ;)

    It didn’t help that Aym’s thing came out at the same time as the “everyone’s zodiac sign is changing” story. I know a few people who put those things together for ultimate crazy.

  63. Pollucite

    The geological record shows a pole reversal every ~300 000 on average.
    The last one was 750 000 years ago.
    think about it.

  64. T. Miller

    With the pole shifting, does this mean that it is possible to see aurora at lower latitudes in the future?

  65. Crudely Wrott

    Will somebody please give the InnerTubes to Other Rob @ #14? Please!
    I’d do it but I’m awfully busy right now recalibrating my compass.

  66. @ 64. Pollucite:
    In fact, there were several short duration reversals after the Brunhes-Matuyama reversal 780 000 years ago. The most recent one no more than 18 000 year ago (Mono Lake reversal)

  67. Brian Too

    At what point do we simply categorize Terrence Aym, and everything he writes, as Not Even Wrong?

    I mean, maybe he sometimes writes something correct, but is it worth the effort to find it? Do we care? Are we his publicist?

  68. JB of Brisbane

    Magnetic field my eye. Everyone knows that Cyclone Yasi was caused by Ming the Merciless pushing the button marked “MONSTER MEGA-CYCLONE”.

  69. The original story got it wrong – during a geomagnetic reversal it isn’t UV and X-rays that will damage/mutate our DNA, it is cosmic rays.

    Phil conveniently danced around what we should be worried about. A geomagnetic reversal could lead to massive increases in cosmic rays zipping through people on Earth (there’s one going through you as you read this – do you want many times more?), and cosmic rays are one of the causes of DNA damage/mutation.

  70. kmh5c_mtsu_s11

    I generally love it when you start your debunking of theories. I’d actually missed this one as it hit the radar, I did catch the Apophis story though. I find it quite humorous that even with my layman’s knowledge of meteorology, astronomy, and geology I still found his errors in the parts of the article you excerpted. His claims of the magnetic field shielding us from UV and and radiation is easy dispelled in a high school science text book. I’ve never understood the draw behind disaster films, be they natural or man made. I remember watching the NBC miniseries “10.5” when it first premiered and I got suckered for about two seconds; then a big chunk of California sank into the ocean and I was gone again. The real science is so much more interesting. I’d never heard of speleothems until just now, and learned something new when you quoted the “good correlation” article. How can anyone be taken seriously when they are also quoting unreliable sources? Then when does try to use a legitimate source, it doesn’t even relate to his topic. It’s mind boggling. Especially when you consider that guys like him actually get taken seriously for stuff like this.

    Thank you for keeping the science. I’m so glad I found this blog.

  71. J

    “Magnetic polar shifts have occurred many times in Earth’s history. It’s happening again now to every planet in the solar system including Earth.”

    It’s happening now to every planet simultaneously?

    C’mon. Even if all of them actually had meaningful magnetic fields – why would they all undergo such a phenomenon simultaneously? Wizards?

  72. @6 Jeff –

    What I said was, “but isn’t it just that they are guessing about things we aren’t 100% certain of and there is some really REALLY small chance they are right for the wrong reasons?”. Yes, I did read the article, and yes, I understood that Phil effectively said that their arguments are either ignoring facts, just not stating them properly, or not understanding what they are reading (I believe the first and third are more likely).

    That wasn’t my point.

    What I’m trying to get across is that their conclusion might be correct even though their proof is invalid. We just don’t know because this is science, and a lot of what we “know” isn”t 100% certain. There are almost always at least small chances we are wrong.

    Saying their proof is wrong is one thing, but labeling them wrong in capital letters is another. To me, it feels like the difference between saying someone did a rude thing (like asking if I even read the article) and calling them a rude person.

    One rude act does not mean the person is rude.

  73. Nigel Depledge

    Daumier (34) said:

    I feel a little silly for bringing this up, but this reminds me that my dad often claims that when the poles eventually reverse (he doesn’t put a time line, so it can happen decades, centuries or millennia from now) all electrical appliances will stop working, which obviously is its own kind of end of the world scenario. He claims it’s because the electrical current will start moving in the opposite direction, making positive negative and vice versa (or something like that).

    I tell him occasionally that sounds like complete nonsense. As far as I know, electrons in our electrical systems don’t rely on the planet’s magnetic poles to know which way to flow. I’ve never been that confident in my understanding of physics so I can’t really explain why that well. And when I look his claim up (ie wikipedia), I can’t find anything about it, not even as a mention as a pseudoscience. If it’s false, does anybody know what I can tell him? If it’s true, I’d really like to know why because that sounds crazy.

    This idea really is crazy.

    It is the magnetic fields of the magnets in the generators that tell the electrons which way to flow (that and the direction of the relative motion of the magnets and the coils of wire). Having said that, all of the mains electricity supplies in Europe and North America are (IIUC) AC, so the electrons flow in both directions equally anyway.

    If this does not convince him that the idea is untenable for DC equipment, ask him to use his computer facing south instead of north and see if it makes any difference at all. If it doesn’t (and it won’t), then ask him how the Earth’s magnetic field can affect the operation of the equipment at all. If it can’t affect it now, then how can it have an effect when the field reverses polarity?

  74. Nigel Depledge

    @ SamH (57) –
    I stand corrected.

    I must have conflated this one with a different issue over which we were at loggerheads. My bad.

  75. Nigel Depledge

    @ gameshowhost (62) –
    I think the advantage of a magnetic field is it protects the atmosphere from erosion by the solar wind. The atmosphere protects the planet’s surface, but gets eroded over time by the constant bombardment from solar wind.

  76. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Nigel Depledge : I think you’re right about that. :-)

    @47. gahrie :

    Except, of course, in the case of Global warming/climate change/whatever we are calling it now right?

    See : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqMunulJU7w&p=029130BFDC78FA33

    Its called a lot of things, the politer ones being the Greenhouse Effect, Climatic Change, Global Warming, Climate Change, Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW, some folks add a ‘Catastrophic’ in front making it CAGW) and, by me at least, Human Caused Global Overheating.

    What’s in a name? A lot of confusion & politics and arguing sometimes. ;-) :-(

    But whatever we choose to call it, the problem remains the same & the experts, the climate doctors who *really* know what they’re talking about because they’ve spent decades studying it keep telling us :

    http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2010-warmest-year.html

    and showing us good evidence & good reasons :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/10/26/climate-change-the-evidence/

    why we should be worried about this problem.

    So unless you have real, y’know evidence – & that’s new evidence not long debunked climate canards please – to prove otherwise we need to take the Global Warming issue seriously and take steps to mitigate it. We might not want to face up to that reality – but sooner or later we will. The longer we leave it, the worse it gets. :-(

  77. @Nigel (77):

    TY; I hadn’t considered that aspect.

    I wonder what sort of rate of deterioration an earthlike atmosphere would face in the absence of a magnetic field, at Mars’ distance from the sun (just thinking to myself here) …

  78. Unfortunately, if Terrence is getting paid via the Gawker model, this post just made him realize that writing crap and getting someone respectable to debunk it is worth his time. *sigh*
    There is no doubt that this will continue to get worse as we go through 2011 AND 2012. Until the Mayan calendar “expires” and nothing untoward happens, this will just be the Y2K problem all over again. People will build bunkers and stock up like they haven’t since the Cuban Missile Crisis. There are people who *need* to have things not be coincidental but for there to be an actual, real plan that some shadowy group is executing. I’m currently reading a book that I’m going to review on my blog claiming that the Crusades (with the Knights Templar, et al) were a vast conspiracy to destroy the Roman Church from within. *facepalm*
    I’d say “keep it up, Phil” but I’m not sure we’re discouraging them – if they’re getting paid by getting hits, they’re going to keep putting up things that reinforce people’s belief in conspiracy and “wisdom of the ancients”.

  79. Dave

    @60 Stacy

    Poles need not be directly opposite or even in pairs ( Think of a horse shoe magnet )
    The total field for all poles must total zero, but that is it.

  80. Ken Z

    It’s obvious that we need to pump that atmosphere full of CO2 and other greenhouse gases to protect ourselves from magnetic inversion. I think that’s the point of the original article!

  81. Fleur

    All true, but does anyone take Terrence Aym and his ilk seriously? I googled him and can only find articles on sites such as Helium, which are the internet’s equivalent of Speakers Corner and not locations where professional journalists hang out…

    Of course, the average person may well take Speakers Corner seriously. And the internet is much more pervasive, hence the problem!!

  82. I take it this would not be a sudden event? The reversing of the poles? If a gradual shift over several hundred or thousands of years, I wonder what affect this would have on migratory birds and other animals, that depend on magnetic lines for navigation? Would they migrate, if they had nothing to guide them? Would they stay in one geographical area and maybe freeze to death? Is this the answer to some extinctions in the past? All conjectures. But…. one must wonder at the implications.

    dr burke

  83. What if the magnetic field suddenly ceased to exist, during the long switch? What would birds use to guide them for migration? How long would the lull be for? Days, years, decades, centuries? Would they stay in one location and not migrate? Hence their demise? What if all the birds or most of them died off during a polar magnetic switch? Would this open a window for other species to evolve? Like humans? Would this spell the end to some prehistoric reptiles? I think so. Maybe not all prehistoric creatures died from an asteroid, but from a polar magnetic switch? Conjecture.

  84. Mark

    Thanks for taking the time to refute this BS. I’ve seen Mr. Aym’s science fiction stories in a number of places, I loved his claim last year that BP was going to “nuke” the oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. The publisher of one of the sites that promotes his writings claimed I didn’t know anything when I suggested that this was nonsense. When no nuke was detonated, there didn’t seem to be any apology for the false claims.

    Uncensored media is nice to bypass gatekeepers that avoid troublesome topics. But most of those claiming to be uncensored are also unfactchecked.

    Mark Twain said that a lie could go half way around the world in the time the truth was putting its boots on. Thanks to the internet, this goes even faster now.

    Perhaps this is just another example of a conspiracy to create fake conspiracy claims similar to Fox TV’s promotion of the “no moon landing” hoax in February 2001.

  85. gdave

    @dr burke (86 & 87):

    I am admittedly not an expert, but:

    1) We have a (admittedly incomplete) geologic record of past geomagnetic pole reversals. We have a (admittedly incomplete) fossil record of mass extinction events. I am not aware of any evidence of any correlation between the two, nor am I aware of any evidence for a mass extinction solely or primarily of birds or other migratory animals, as would be expected if your conjecture were true.

    2) Geomagnetic pole reversals occur at widely varying intervals, but they sometimes occur as few as a few hundred thousand or even a few tens of thousands of years apart, with the last one known occurring about 780,000 years ago. These simply aren’t sufficient time scales for a trait as complex as geomagnetic navigation to evolve – and migratory birds have been around for a lot longer than 780,000 years.

    3) I am unaware of any animals that DEPEND on geomagnetism for navigation, although a number of species may USE it, along with other means, such as astronomical cues and simply remembering the route. Given 1) and 2) above, it seems unlikely that a geomagnetic pole reversal or a disappearance of the geomagnetic field altogether would confuse migratory birds or other animals that may use geomagnetic navigation enough to cause their extinction.

    Of course, I could be wrong.

  86. Here is my creative fabrication on how a switch in earth’s magnetic field caused the extinction of dinosaurs. Magnetism is similar to gravity. For both, you double the distance and you get 1/4th the attraction. Therefore, in the process of switching the polarity of the earth’s magnetic field, there was a brief time, lasting a few minutes at most, when the earth also had no gravity, and for a short period of time, the gravity actually was reversed. During this time, animals and rocks would start floating in the air, and when gravity was restored, they plummeted back to the earth. The larger animals would die and the smaller ones would survive. Some of the smaller dinosaurs would realize the importance of growing feathers and learning how to fly, so they could survive the next magnetic reversal, and thus birds evolved from dinosaurs. It would be fun to be alive at this time, clinging to a tree to keep from being drawn into the air, and watching the huge dinosaurs floating in the air. Let’s get down to earth on this. This was presented for entertainment purposes only, and no such thing ever happened.

  87. robert schambach

    One thing I do wonder about is the effect the shifting magnetic fields si its imapact on migatory species. It is well documented that migatory species use the mgnetic fields of the earth to move form one location to another. Where wiil I be duck hunting in 2-3 years?

  88. Nigel Depledge

    Bill de Voe (80) said:

    Until the Mayan calendar “expires” and nothing untoward happens, this will just be the Y2K problem all over again.

    Well, yeah, apart from the fact that the Y2K problem was a real issue that was prevented from occurring by the hard work of many IT professionals.

  89. You should omit the part where you use “carbon dioxide” that affect global warming as this is still wildly debated on how much it really affect the climate.
    Carbon dioxide is just a tiny % of all the greenhouse gases and most of it come from the sea and volcanous.
    It makes you look unprofessional considering that you lean heavily on facts.

    Edit:
    Later I read that you claim that humans are a huge part of the reason for climate change.
    Still, one that rely heavily on facts, this is utter nonsense.
    “but we know human emissions are a huge cause of it (despite what denialists claim)”
    This is not facts or carved in stone, there exist no hard evidence for this claim.
    It’s accepted that climate change is here but the reason for it is still debated and unknown.

    Get your facts straight!!!!!!

  90. Nigel Depledge

    Frederick (95) said:

    You should omit the part where you use “carbon dioxide” that affect global warming as this is still wildly debated on how much it really affect the climate.

    OK, first off, it is a demonstrated fact that CO2 is a potent greenhouse gas.

    Not as potent as methane, but more potent than water.

    When atmospheric [H2O] remains more or less constant, but CO2, methane and other GH gases are increasing, the data show a clear link to recent changes in Earth’s global climate.

    What is under debate is not whether or not CO2 is a major contributor to the recent warming, but what the most probably impact is likely to be, i.e. will it cause 2 °C or 5 °C of warming (or whatever the exact figures are)?

    Carbon dioxide is just a tiny % of all the greenhouse gases and most of it come from the sea and volcanous.

    This was true 200 years ago. It is no longer true. About 1/3 of atmospheric CO2 is there because we put it there.

    It makes you look unprofessional considering that you lean heavily on facts.

    So, where exactly does Phil stray from the facts, then? Where are your links to the latest climate science to show he is wrong?

    Oh, you don’t seem to have any.

    Edit:
    Later I read that you claim that humans are a huge part of the reason for climate change.
    Still, one that rely heavily on facts, this is utter nonsense.

    Your claim here is utter nonsense.

    The current rate of climate change is unprecedented. Humans have caused a (roughly) 50% increase in atmospheric [CO2]. It doesn’t take a genius to join the dots.

    “but we know human emissions are a huge cause of it (despite what denialists claim)”
    This is not facts or carved in stone, there exist no hard evidence for this claim.

    Blah, blah – yes there is. All of the evidence points directly at human activity as the most significant contributing factor to the recent climate change.

    For example, have you any idea how cement is made? No? Well, the essence of it is: you burn fossil fuels to heat limestone until it emits its CO2 into the atmosphere. Now go and find out how many millions of tons of it we make every year.

    It’s accepted that climate change is here but the reason for it is still debated and unknown.

    Utter rubbish. THe causes are known – and they’re pretty much all to do with the modern western lifestyle.

    Get your facts straight!!!!!!

    Right back atcha, you boring troll.

    Phil’s claims – and mine – are supported by the preponderance of evidence, as is in the public record of the scientific literature.

    Your claims are made-up talking points funded by Big Oil and Big Coal.

    If you’re going to try to criticise the science, you should first go and learn what the science is.

  91. Kari Ukkonen

    A s the north pole has been shifting the north has been warming up since the sun is higher in the sky, causing the ice to melt. As the ice melts it cools the ocean currents and even a small change in the ocean temperatures can cause the southern climates to cool, especially in the winter, giving us snow where it usually does not snow and can be changes in weather patterns and seasonal changes. So the way I see it, there is an indirect relationship with weather changes and polar shift. The global warming is a natural occurrence that goes together with polar shifts. Global warming does not mean that the whole planet warms up, some areas will cool as a result of cooling ocean currents and some will warm up, but the average temperature of the planer warms and this is why it called global warming. If there is a shift which takes place and earth realigns itself according to planetary alignment, the poles will melt and new icecaps will be formed over the new pole areas, since the poles allways have seasonall darkness and cold.

  92. Kari Ukkonen

    Just adding to my previous comment. If there is a pole shift. There is no knowing where the warm ocean currents will flow, they obviously would not be flowing in their current paths if the pole shift was enough to move the north pole even into central Siberia on the mid Atlantic, Pacific or pretty well any substantially different location, this would definitely alter our weather patterns significantly all around the world. None of us were here during the last shift so we really don’t know how fast the poles can melt or how fast the final shift actually happens after it has begun, with magnetic fields there is a point of balance and once that balance is breached, the changes in movement are quite unpredictable.

  93. Axl

    ? If the magnetic poles are changing, there is no problem for the sea. If the geographic poles changes, than changes the oceans but this movement is sow slow.

  94. Orange

    Everything will be fine. Why do I get a feeling that people /want/ an end of the world? Is that our post modern condition, to be apocalyptic masochists? Hmm. It is darkly romantic.

  95. Binka

    I have read so many articles now about doomsday and the 21st of December 2012 and honestly I am so confused by it all….some claim you will be safe as long as you stock up on food and water…others tell you to buy property in Africa because it is the most stable continent. Again others say to become a hermit and live in the mountains away from all reactors and at least 3000feet above sea level….
    This all smells like money pit and drive people into spending their money….
    I would love to read somewhere a clear message of what we can expect in December 2012…none of this confusing stuff and scientific terms which nobody can understand…put it in easy words….yes most of the population is going to be up sh*t creek or….no we are all going to be bumped around a bit but will be fine….
    By the way I do appreciate the article and the clearing up of a lot of false statements….
    So any ideas whats going to happen to the human race in Dec. 2012?

  96. Watchdog

    Yawn… Anyone remember the Y2K panic.. yep Cats and dogs living together.. you get the picture. What happened? Er nothing really. Everyone woke up on January 1st, some of us with a big hangover and we went to work the next day.. Yawn.

    Now everone is running around citing a culture calenadar whos end is 2010 based on an intrepretation.. note an interpretation of a suvivalist… Grow up people.

    We will wake up on 12/12/2012 again and wonder if we have done enough Christmas shopping or will the tree last longer this year or better yet, not tip over like last year.

    Jan 1st 2013, some of us will wake up with a hangover; again, and we’ll go to work the next day.

    People, if there is going to be a natural catastrophe of this magnitude, a twelve foot hole in the ground is not sufficient to protect you we will all die..

    I really like the comment one poster said, “it is all about someones fear and someone to capitalize on that fear in order to make money.”

    Eat, drink, be merry and enjoy life; you only have one life to live. And for those people who believe in reincarnation, one like to live that you can remember..
    See ya in 2013…with a hangover..

  97. Phil

    “Fading magnetic fields

    So do we need to worry? Well, birds, sea turtles and bees may get confused as they seem to use the magnetic field to navigate. More drastically, since the Earth’s magnetic field protects us from potentially harmful radiation from the Sun, as it fades we could well be faced with a disaster on a global scale.” Physics.org

  98. Wixxi

    @Kari Ukkonen

    That’s incorrect. The actual Polar land or icemass does NOT move away from its original position when a magnetic pole moves. So the ice doesn’t migrate to a new spot where the sun has a more vertical angle on it making it melt faster. Thus magnetic field shifts or displacement is not linked to any sort of ocean changes.

    However, as Axl stated the geographic poles are in fact moving, but the speed at which this happens is rediculously slow and will not be causing any serious issues in the nearby and even distant future.

    My view on this is that a reversal of the magnetic field will inevitably occure “soon”. How soon is a hard question. Although i will admit that the increasing speed at which it currently moves does kind of worry me.

    What consequences and or disasters this will bring along is an even bigger question mark. But expecting the worst can only lead to relief.

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