Tag: superstorms

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:
Read More

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