On the "Magnetic polar shifts cause massive global super storms" story

Image from NOVA - which did a TV special on this issue - click for details

I’ve been avoiding this story (Magnetic polar shifts cause massive global super storms) for awhile, hoping it would simply die, but people keep asking me about it, and I see it appearing on other blogs, so I suppose I’ll have to address it. Mainly what I want to do is present facts about it and let readers make up their own minds.

There has been a lot of worry and hype on this subject. Part of it is fueled by the silly “2012” thing. Some it has been fueled by people who had been primed for “space storms” in solar cycle 24, such as in this Fox News video:

Many people still haven’t got the memo that solar cycle 24 is now forecast by NASA (after a number of forecast reductions) to be about as quiet as the Dalton Minimum, with a peak sunspot count of 59 in their latest forecast. They hear that the protective Earth’s magnetic field may flip/deplete from one source, remember the hype over the upcoming solar cycle, and worry that we are going to get toasted. I assure you, we will, when the sun turns into a red giant a couple billion years from now, but let’s not worry about that.

An artist's depiction of the Sun entering its red giant phase viewed from Earth. All life on Earth is extinct at this phase.

In the meantime, yes, at some point the Earth’s magnetic field will flip. Compasses will point south instead of North. According to the best science we have this happens frequently on Earth (in the scale of geologic time). And, as we know, the sun’s magnetic field appears to reverse its polarity on the advent of each new solar cycle, about every 11 years. The sun doesn’t wink out or get stormy when this happens, nor can we as humans detect any earthly change when this occurs. It’s essentially imperceptible to us.

As for earth, it’s magnetic field also flips, but not nearly as often. About every 200,000-250,000 years. The last one occurred 780,000 years ago, so the period is not constant. This is to be expected in a chaotic system. Below, see the magnetic record timeline as derived from rocks:

More on the magnetic timeline here. Looking at the long term record, magnetic field reversals are rather common. So, as far as Earth goes, it is “business as usual”. It probably would say: “Nothing to see here, move along.” if asked. I’ll point out that life continued through all of this. And, as far as I know, no scientist has linked extinctions to reversals. The Wikipedia article has this to say:

Because the magnetic field has never been observed to reverse by humans with instrumentation, and the mechanism of field generation is not well understood, it is difficult to say what the characteristics of the magnetic field might be leading up to such a reversal.

Some speculate that a greatly diminished magnetic field during a reversal period will expose the surface of the Earth to a substantial and potentially damaging increase in cosmic radiation. However, Homo erectus and their ancestors certainly survived many previous reversals, though they did not depend on computer systems that could be damaged by large coronal mass ejections.

There is no uncontested evidence that a magnetic field reversal has ever caused any biological extinctions. A possible explanation is that the solar wind may induce a sufficient magnetic field in the Earth’s ionosphere to shield the surface from energetic particles even in the absence of the Earth’s normal magnetic field. Another possible explanation is that magnetic field actually does not vanish completely, with many poles forming chaotically in different places during reversal, until it stabilizes again.

There’s a NASA story on the wandering magnetic North pole from 2003 that is instructive, I’m repeating part of it below:

===============================================================

Scientists have long known that the magnetic pole moves. James Ross located the pole for the first time in 1831 after an exhausting arctic journey during which his ship got stuck in the ice for four years. No one returned until the next century. In 1904, Roald Amundsen found the pole again and discovered that it had moved–at least 50 km since the days of Ross.

The pole kept going during the 20th century, north at an average speed of 10 km per year, lately accelerating “to 40 km per year,” says Newitt. At this rate it will exit North America and reach Siberia in a few decades.

Keeping track of the north magnetic pole is Newitt’s job. “We usually go out and check its location once every few years,” he says. “We’ll have to make more trips now that it is moving so quickly.”

Earth’s magnetic field is changing in other ways, too: Compass needles in Africa, for instance, are drifting about 1 degree per decade. And globally the magnetic field has weakened 10% since the 19th century. When this was mentioned by researchers at a recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union, many newspapers carried the story. A typical headline: “Is Earth’s magnetic field collapsing?”

Probably not. As remarkable as these changes sound, “they’re mild compared to what Earth’s magnetic field has done in the past,” says University of California professor Gary Glatzmaier.

see captionSometimes the field completely flips. The north and the south poles swap places. Such reversals, recorded in the magnetism of ancient rocks, are unpredictable. They come at irregular intervals averaging about 300,000 years; the last one was 780,000 years ago. Are we overdue for another? No one knows.

Left: Magnetic stripes around mid-ocean ridges reveal the history of Earth’s magnetic field for millions of years. The study of Earth’s past magnetism is called paleomagnetism. Image credit: USGS. [more]

According to Glatzmaier, the ongoing 10% decline doesn’t mean that a reversal is imminent. “The field is increasing or decreasing all the time,” he says. “We know this from studies of the paleomagnetic record.” Earth’s present-day magnetic field is, in fact, much stronger than normal. The dipole moment, a measure of the intensity of the magnetic field, is now 8 × 1022 amps × m2. That’s twice the million-year average of 4× 1022 amps × m2.

To understand what’s happening, says Glatzmaier, we have to take a trip … to the center of the Earth where the magnetic field is produced.

At the heart of our planet lies a solid iron ball, about as hot as the surface of the sun. Researchers call it “the inner core.” It’s really a world within a world. The inner core is 70% as wide as the moon. It spins at its own rate, as much as 0.2° of longitude per year faster than the Earth above it, and it has its own ocean: a very deep layer of liquid iron known as “the outer core.”

see captionRight: a schematic diagram of Earth’s interior. The outer core is the source of the geomagnetic field.

Earth’s magnetic field comes from this ocean of iron, which is an electrically conducting fluid in constant motion. Sitting atop the hot inner core, the liquid outer core seethes and roils like water in a pan on a hot stove. The outer core also has “hurricanes”–whirlpools powered by the Coriolis forces of Earth’s rotation. These complex motions generate our planet’s magnetism through a process called the dynamo effect.

Using the equations of magnetohydrodynamics, a branch of physics dealing with conducting fluids and magnetic fields, Glatzmaier and colleague Paul Roberts have created a supercomputer model of Earth’s interior. Their software heats the inner core, stirs the metallic ocean above it, then calculates the resulting magnetic field. They run their code for hundreds of thousands of simulated years and watch what happens.

What they see mimics the real Earth: The magnetic field waxes and wanes, poles drift and, occasionally, flip. Change is normal, they’ve learned. And no wonder. The source of the field, the outer core, is itself seething, swirling, turbulent. “It’s chaotic down there,” notes Glatzmaier. The changes we detect on our planet’s surface are a sign of that inner chaos.

They’ve also learned what happens during a magnetic flip. Reversals take a few thousand years to complete, and during that time–contrary to popular belief–the magnetic field does not vanish. “It just gets more complicated,” says Glatzmaier. Magnetic lines of force near Earth’s surface become twisted and tangled, and magnetic poles pop up in unaccustomed places. A south magnetic pole might emerge over Africa, for instance, or a north pole over Tahiti. Weird. But it’s still a planetary magnetic field, and it still protects us from space radiation and solar storms.

see caption

Above: Supercomputer models of Earth’s magnetic field. On the left is a normal dipolar magnetic field, typical of the long years between polarity reversals. On the right is the sort of complicated magnetic field Earth has during the upheaval of a reversal. [more]

===========================================================

They didn’t seem very worried about it at NASA then. They were more worried about solar cycle 24 producing a lot of solar flares at the time, which would disrupt a lot of our new technology.

When a big CME heads toward earth, it can cause havoc, whether our magnetic field is strong or not. For example, in 1859, long before our worries about Earth’s magnetic field started, there was the Carrington event:

At 11:18 AM on the cloudless morning of Thursday, September 1, 1859, 33-year-old Richard Carrington—widely acknowledged to be one of England’s foremost solar astronomers—was in his well-appointed private observatory. Just as usual on every sunny day, his telescope was projecting an 11-inch-wide image of the sun on a screen, and Carrington skillfully drew the sunspots he saw.

Right: Sunspots sketched by Richard Carrington on Sept. 1, 1859. Copyright: Royal Astronomical Society: more.

On that morning, he was capturing the likeness of an enormous group of sunspots. Suddenly, before his eyes, two brilliant beads of blinding white light appeared over the sunspots, intensified rapidly, and became kidney-shaped. Realizing that he was witnessing something unprecedented and “being somewhat flurried by the surprise,” Carrington later wrote, “I hastily ran to call someone to witness the exhibition with me. On returning within 60 seconds, I was mortified to find that it was already much changed and enfeebled.” He and his witness watched the white spots contract to mere pinpoints and disappear.

It was 11:23 AM. Only five minutes had passed.

Just before dawn the next day, skies all over planet Earth erupted in red, green, and purple auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. Indeed, stunning auroras pulsated even at near tropical latitudes over Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Hawaii.

Even more disconcerting, telegraph systems worldwide went haywire. Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators and set the telegraph paper on fire. Even when telegraphers disconnected the batteries powering the lines, aurora-induced electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted.

“What Carrington saw was a white-light solar flare—a magnetic explosion on the sun,” explains David Hathaway, solar physics team lead at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Notice, no mention in any of the historical reports of superstorm style bad weather, just unusual low latitude auroras and wacky telegraphs. Such an event will happen again in Earth’s history, we can be sure of it. From Wiki: “Ice cores contain thin nitrate-rich layers that can be used to reconstruct a history of past events before reliable observations. These show evidence that events of this magnitude — as measured by high-energy proton radiation, not geomagnetic effect — occur approximately once per 500 years, with events at least one-fifth as large occurring several times per century. Less severe storms have occurred in 1921 and 1960, when widespread radio disruption was reported”

Sure, it would be worse today if Earth’s magnetic field was weaker, but comparatively, the terrestrial magnetic field is a wimp and get’s pushed around by the sun anyway:

Now compare that story to what our buddy Caca Kaku has been saying:

But for now, the reality of solar cycle 24 is far less worrisome:

Adding to some of the media hype worry, the north magnetic pole is on the move. In fact, as Luboš Motl has recently pointed out, it has been accelerating in its movement. According to this 2009 NatGeo story, it is now on the move by about 40 miles per year towards Siberia:

Blue lines show Earth's northern magnetic field and the magnetic north pole in an artist's rendering.

Blue lines show Earth's northern magnetic field and the magnetic north pole in an artist's rendering. Picture courtesy Stefan Maus, NOAA NGDC

There was the recent story about runways at Tampa International Airport having to be renumbered because the compass heading has changed. It also added to the worry and hype about the Earth’s magnetic field. Well, it is a story that is likely to be repeated in the years to come, as the pole drifts even more. At some point the FAA may just decide it isn’t worth trying to keep up with, and make runway numbers reflect GPS headings (based on true north) instead.

And that’s not the only effect. Soon, many USHCN and GHCN ASOS station in the USA will be out of alignment with magnetic north. Yes that’s right, they are aligned perpendicular to magnetic north, like this US Historical Climate Network climate monitoring station in Minneapolis, MN:

As far as I can tell, that’s about the only significant “climate disruption” we are going to see.

There’s of course the possibility that a weaker magnetic field might provide for some increased thunderstorm development, such as this linkage between Forbush decreases and thunderstorm electricity, but there doesn’t appear to be any strong linkage to synoptic scale storm formation that we know of. The issue of the sun modulating cosmic ray passage to Earth which is a different issue altogether.

Now compare what has been presented above to the article in Helium that everyone is concerned about:

(Magnetic polar shifts cause massive global super storms)

On the heels of the lashing the British Isles sustained, monster storms began to pummel North America. The latest superstorm—as of this writing—is a monster over the U.S. that stretched across 2,000 miles affecting more than 150 million people.

Yet even as that storm wreaked havoc across the Western, Southern, Midwestern and Northeastern states, another superstorm broke out in the Pacific and closed in on Australia.

The southern continent had already dealt with the disaster of historic superstorm flooding from rains that dropped as much as several feet in a matter of hours. Tens of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed. After the deluge bull sharks were spotted swimming between houses in what was once the quiet town of Goodna.

Shocked authorities now numbly concede that some of the water may never dissipate and have wearily resigned themselves to the possibility that region will now contain a small inland sea.

But then only a handful of weeks later another superstorm—the mega-monster cyclone Yasi—struck northeastern Australia. The damage it left in its wake is being called by rescue workers a war zone.

Do you recognize the writing style? Let’s look at a similar example.

We have recently been told that these storms were caused by “man-made global warming”, let’s listen to Al Gore:

As it turns out, the scientific community has been addressing this particular question for some time now and they say that increased heavy snowfalls are completely consistent with what they have been predicting as a consequence of man-made global warming:

“In fact, scientists have been warning for at least two decades that global warming could make snowstorms more severe. Snow has two simple ingredients: cold and moisture. Warmer air collects moisture like a sponge until it hits a patch of cold air. When temperatures dip below freezing, a lot of moisture creates a lot of snow.”

“A rise in global temperature can create all sorts of havoc, ranging from hotter dry spells to colder winters, along with increasingly violent storms, flooding, forest fires and loss of endangered species.”

There’s a catastrophe prediction on every street corner it seems:

Image: treehugger.com - click for story

Me, I’m not worried about the magnetic field flipping any more than I am about the sun turning into a red giant. It’s out of my hands. The best you can do is to adopt the old Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.

For what, I’m not sure, so I don’t worry too much. Nature so far has allowed life to go along on this planet, mostly unabated for millions of years. Sure, we could get squished like a bug tomorrow by an asteroid, but can we do anything about that if we know today?

Bobby McFerrin had it right:

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DB

“Many people still haven’t got the memo that solar cycle 24 is now forecast by NASA (after a number of forecast reductions) to be about as quiet as the Dalton Minimum, with a peak sunspot count of 59 in their latest forecast.”
FWIW, in this month’s forecast it’s down to 58.

johnboy

is “mother” earth mad at us because we denied “global”warming/change[tax]etc.???

Dave Springer

Be prepared… how exactly?

Robert M

We are all going to DIE!
Unless… For just three easy payments of $19.95 you can buy magnetic offsets that will be used to move the north magnetic pole to the geographic north pole, and keep it there. /sarc

TimM

The poles may not have flipped in 780k years but they have gone wandering sometimes halfway to the equator just to decide it didn’t like warm weather and went back to its northern habitat. So the Magnetic North Pole isn’t a warmista 🙂

Kev-in-UK

Totally agree Anthony – just one observation…
the precautionary principal warmist/alarmist types will likely jump on your last sentence!

Volt Aire

Very good article – again. Thank you AW.

Ray

Could a somewhat big iron space body passing fairly close to earth flip the poles?

Gaylon

“”Robert M says:
February 7, 2011 at 10:01 am
We are all going to DIE!
Unless… For just three easy payments of $19.95 you can buy magnetic offsets that will be used to move the north magnetic pole to the geographic north pole, and keep it there. /sarc””
_______________
I can top that: For one low payment of $19.95 you can now get an emergency magnetic generator bracelet! Be one of the few surviviors in your neighborhood when the field flips out! And if you act in the next 6 minutes I’ll send you another free bracelet for a loved one. That’s an $86.00 value for only $19.95!! Call now, at 1-800-FLI-POUT, operators are standing by…
sarc/off

Scottish Sceptic

Does it mean anything? … It certainly means that it could mean something and no doubt when we look back with hindsight it’ll all look so obvious it was/wasn’t important.
If only we had the incredible predictive ability of the warmist “scientists”! (sarc off)
Thanks for the article.

Bob Shapiro

I wasn’t worried, but thanks for the post.
I seem to remember, however, that these kinds of stories used to explain that CMEs were more likely during the time when the Sun is quiet. So, which environment “favors” these supposed technology Extinction Level Events? A quiet Sun or a Solar Max?
If I’m going to ignore it, I’d like to have a better idea of what to ignore.

Ray says:
February 7, 2011 at 10:42 am
Could a somewhat big iron space body passing fairly close to earth flip the poles?
No.
BTW: excellent article Anthony.

LarryD

I what I’ve read is correct, the natural increase in luminosity of the sun will, in 500 million years, push the inner boundary of the habitable zone beyond Earths orbit. We’d better have the tech to move to Mar and terraform it before then. Unless we want to pull the Earths orbit out farther to keep inside the HZ. 🙂

Dave Wendt

The reality is that Gaia has never been the benevolent protective mother figure she is portrayed as in Greeny delusions. Gaia is much more accurately analogized as Darwin’s enforcer. Her role is to provide constant tests of suitability to all life and to ruthlessly weed out all that can’t make the grade. Devoting more and more of one’s very finite time to worrying about outcomes one has absolutely no chance of affecting is a devolutionary habit which can only buy you a ticket on the bullet train to Gaia’s genetic memory hole. It is good to be prepared, but the best preparation is to realize that there is a test coming, but it very likely won’t be on anything that you crammed recently.

bubbagyro

Anthony:
The magnetic field of the sun influences the earth’s magnetic field. When a magnetic moment (the earth) is placed in a strong magnetic field (sun), it tends to align (lowest energy level). Within that field, it precesses at a certain frequency. The precession is proportional to the earth’s magnetic moment, and the sun’s magnetic field, at a precessional frequency called the Larmor frequency.
The amount or quality of the precession depends also on the angle of the fields.
Long story short, a weakening solar magnetic field is important, since the influence is less, allowing precession to increase, as the magnetic moment (the earth, or Mars, etc.) becomes more randomized in direction (less aligned). The top wobbles.
Also, the resonance with the sun’s field, which is less, leads to weaker fields experienced on earth. Electrons and ions race around the earth directional with the field, faster and slower depending on the overall field strength, a composite of the earth’s inherent field and the outside imposed field. This also influences the dipole direction, if the magnetic field is generated by a spinning liquid. The liquid (earth’s core) will deform slightly to accommodate the field change, and the pole position will change also. Perhaps this explains the wandering poles.
What does this mean quantitatively? Who knows, I sure don’t, I just know from my knowledge of NMR that something happens. When the field relaxes, atoms do their own thing. Same with the magnets that are the planets.

It’s all true man! I saw “The Core”! Giant solar laser beams, Hitchcockian bird attacks… Oh, bleep! My watch has stopped! We’re all gonna…
[/sarc]
…take a deep breath, chill out, and hope some of these clowns will buy and read some science books.
I do like Robert M’s magnetic offset credits, though. If I buy some, can I stop setting declination on my compasses? (Yeah, I still use compasses. Don’t even own a GPS unit.)

Curiousgeorge

That’s what I figured. Just more hype. I’ve known about the pole drift since I learned land navigation as a kid using a compass and a paper map back in the late 50’s. Thanks BS of A. 🙂

This item illustrates clearly by WUWT is the best science blog. Anthony, u da man.

joe

morano is leading with this story. someone should tell him.

Al Gored

Great article Anthony! Very informative. Interesting historical background. Great photo of end-of-the-worlders. And great video/song to end.
I learned a lot. Quite remarkable how far and how quickly the magnetic north pole has moved.
But why am I half expecting a new UN bureaucracy to emerge to save us from this imminent threat? [only sort of sarc]

GaryP

I think you were correct not be very concerned about MP reversal since (a) we have no basis for predicting a MP reversal and (b) we don’t know what its effects will be (although they could be bad). Another site I read discussed the HELIUM article and I posted the following earlier. My comments may be a simplification of climate science on a number of points and please feel free to correct me, as necessary.
Climate is not only more complex than you imagine, it is more complex than you can imagine. (I stole that–mostly).
There is, as far as I can tell, no way to know the effects of a pole reversal or to predict if one is about to occur because a pole reversal has never occurred/been observed in recorded history. Why, how, and what would result from such an event is unknown and unknowable. One would expect, however, that there would be large variations in magnetic field strength during the transition from one (reasonably) stable state (north magnetic pole in northern hemisphere) to another stable state (north MP in southern hemisphere). Since the earth’s magnetic field provides protection from cosmic rays (which seem to affect cloud formation and hence climate), etc., it is not a huge stretch to suggest that “bad things” may happen, including climate effects.
The contention that magnetic field variations affect climate is refreshing. After enduring years of assertions, based on nothing but dreams of socialist glory and simplistic thinking, that the earth’s climate is primarily controlled by the concentration of a scarce gas (about 0.04% of the atmosphere) that weakly absorbs infrared radiation at a few wavelengths, it is good to see someone acknowledging how little we know about why the climate varies so much. In 10,000 years, the earth has gone from miles of ice year round over my home (in Ohio) to occasional 100 deg F days in summer and no one has any clear idea why.
There is no agreement of why we enter, or leave, ice ages. We cannot predict, with more than flip of coin accuracy, weather a few days ahead over a small area. But because it suits the political (and financial) goals of politicians and politicized “scientists”, they pretend that they can predict, to several decimal places accuracy, the temperatures of the entire planet centuries from now.
One example: The so-called “consensus” on climate stated explicitly that variations in solar output had negligible effects on climate (see IPCC report). This assertion is ridiculous on its face but was based on the conclusion that the sun’s output does not vary meaningfully. Even without contradictory evidence, perhaps because our solar output data only goes back a few decades or because the IPCC cherry picked one article on the subject and ignored contradictory evidence (in addition, sun spot frequency data going back hundreds of years show “something” varies in the sun dramatically, on short and long time frames, even if we have no idea of the exact pattern and less of causes or meaning), this smacks more of a primitive religious belief than a scientific position. We accept that solar output varies greatly over the life of a star. Why would we base our climate science on medium term solar constancy when this is contrary to both some observations and common sense?
In short, climate “science” is currently at a position relative to understanding climate as alchemy was 400 years ago to understanding chemistry. We know very little, understand less and are unwilling to even acknowledge (for political reasons) how ignorant we are.

Very interesting and pitched just right – this is why WUWT should be Best Science Blog.

bubbagyro

GaryP:
No, the warm-earthers say that, “the sun’s irradiance varies only slightly”. Things they do not “see” (other than visible light) they don’t apprehend or comprehend. This is only a myopic view of solar output—but I believe their “blinkers” are intentional. Much higher energies, UV and X-rays, e.g., are at the short wavelengths that we do not see. Short wavelengths=high energy, which means more chemical and physical changes.
UV, just one measure, in the higher energy bands varies as much as 10% cycle-on-cycle. That is what we can gather from past history, which means it is underestimated, IMO, since such an “inconvenient” thing does not fit neatly, if at all, into their little model boxes.
Remember, as B.O. Plenty said, in the 1940s comic strip Dick Tracy, “He who controls magnetism, controls the universe.” Prophetic words.

I’ve done a bit of digging into the Earth’s magnetic field, and have some doubt into the validity of the latest models.
Reversal may not be as disastrous as suggested. I think it is more likely that magnetic poles drift towards equator (there are already above 1/3 of their journey there at just above 60 degrees latitude.
Standard model (Jackson et al) of rotating cylinders
http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/JC.gif
does not lend itself to an easy reversal, since rotation needs to be reversed.
However, if the field is generated by separate cylindrical vortices as suggested here:
http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/MF.htm
The vortices can move around globe freely maintaining direction of rotation. In such a scenario there would not be a catastrophic change in the Sun-Earth connection and no major disruption of the Earth’s biosphere.

Stephane

I was watching a 2009 cheap B serie Movie called ” Polar Storm ”
Was kind of good but the usual, ITS THE END OF THE WORLD !!!! movie with really cheap animation for a 2009 movie lol.
I still recommand it for every one lol

Laurie Bowen

I am glad you did . . . .
Magnetic Polar Shifts & End Timers
http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=Magnetic+Polar+Shifts+end+timers&btnG=Search&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=
Being from the “Bible Belt” I always, have to ask those that espouse these DOOM prophecies one question . . . .
If you are right about YOUR predictions . . . . who in this world is going to know you were right?

Ray

Don’t get lost in the woods during pole reversal. I guess this would not affect the GPS system though.

James F. Evans

Whatever happens with the magnetic poles, man can’t stop it, he can observe it, possibly, man can cope with it.
Something to watch.

JJ

Somebody needs to plot the relationship between global electric generating capacity and increasing magnetic pole instability. As the planet has become increasingly electrified, the speed of magnetic pole movement has increased.
And now we have all of these electric cars, not only carrying around enormous magnets and using electricity, but moving all over the place at high speed. It cannot be a coincidence that now the magnetic pole is moving all over the place, too.
Clearly, we are all about to die in some Super Storm caused by too many Prius driving hippies.
I know that the evidence for this is uncertain, but that is the very reason why we must ACT NOW! We are in Post Normal Science territory here, folks. Facts are uncertain! Stakes are high! The Precautionary Principle demands that we do whatever is necessary! Deniers like Ed Begely jr should be tried for genocide, driving around in their Death Cars!
Never waste a good crisis! Never!

Bill Yarber

I agree that the AGW crowd is over hyping this threat, but the threat, though low probability, could be devastating to our global electronic and networks and power grids. Yes, Solar Cycle is a weak one but it only that’s one strategically aimed CME (like the one in 1859) to potentially wipe out communication satellites and electrical grids around the world. It is a very serious threat to our civilization and economies acre d the world.
That said, we can’t stop it from happening and we have no way of predicting when it will or might happen. However, given sufficient warning, we can shut down the satellites and maybe take steps to protect our power grids. Longterm, the solutions to build protection into our future satellites and power grids to minimize, if not totally eliminate, the potential for catastrophic failures.
I won’t lose any sleep over this problem and seriously doubt that 12/21/2012 will see the end of civilization as we know it. We need to keep this problem in perspective: but also realize that it is real, has happened before and will happen again, and we are basically unprepared if for a direct CME strike!

A south magnetic pole might emerge over Africa, for instance, or a north pole over Tahiti.

Marvelous! Winnie-the-Pooh (the Milne original) would then finally have his East Pole and West Pole!

re GarP cosmic rays and clouds.
If I may quote from my book, “While the Earth Endures”
It has been known since the early 20th century that the earth reverses its magnetic field—this occurs at irregular intervals of the order of 700-900 thousand years. Sometimes the earth attempts a magnetic reversal which fails. An example of one such event left evidence in the rocks at Laschamp in France about 40,000 years ago.
During these reversals or near reversals the magnetic field intensity drops toward zero over a period of a few thousand years (there is some evidence to suggest we may be heading that way again soon). This would affect the shielding the earth has against cosmic and solar radiation and therefore if the cosmic ray/cloud hypothesis is correct one might expect coolings to occur during these periods. A team led by Jürg Beer of the Swiss Institute of Environmental Science and Technology investigated the event at Laschamp and found that there seemed to be no noticeable change in the temperature during that period. Here was genuine scientific research which cast very proper scientific doubt on Svensmark’s idea.
When a scientist has a hypothesis that has scientific objections based on observations then he can do one of two things: abandon the hypothesis or modify the hypothesis.
Naturally any scientist will look at the second option as well as the first one if he already seems to have a considerable amount of supporting data.
As it happened, Svensmark had already got a suspicion as to a possible explanation for both the Laschamp Excursion (as these failed reversals are called) and the actual magnetic reversals not producing noticeable cooling. When he pursued this suspicion he discovered that it was correct.
The earth’s magnetic shield is the second barrier against incoming solar and cosmic particles or rays. Of the two, cosmic rays have the wider spread of energy levels, the highest levels of which considerably exceed those from the sun—indeed, this was one of the ways of distinguishing cosmic from solar particles. However, the earth’s shield was known to be far less effective against these highest energy level particles. These are the ones which penetrate deepest into the earth. The results of the impact of the high energy cosmic rays on the atmosphere are very complex, but the net result is that particles called muons of very high energy penetrate to ground level. It is these particles which are primarily responsible for the formation of the low-level clouds that cause the cooling and it is the origin of these particles that the earth’s magnetic shield is the least effective screen—screening out less than 3% of them. Thus, when the earth’s shield fails, as in a magnetic reversal or a Laschamp episode, it would make hardly any difference to the intensity of muons causing cloud formation. The solar wind on the other hand continues to ‘blow away’ many of these high-energy particles.

vukcevic says:
February 7, 2011 at 11:57 am
Correction :
However, if the field is generated by separate cylindrical vortices as suggested here:
http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/MF.htm

should be:
However, if the field is generated by separate conical vortices as suggested here:
http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/MF.htm

Jeff L

Great compilation of the pertinent data & observations.
Hopefully this will make the whole issue a little less foreign to many & reduce alarmism related to the subject.

TonyK

‘The Core’ meets ‘2012’! What’s not to like?

Mike McMillan

There was the recent story about runways at Tampa International Airport having to be renumbered because the compass heading has changed. It also added to the worry and hype about the Earth’s magnetic field. Well, it is a story that is likely to be repeated in the years to come, as the pole drifts even more. At some point the FAA may just decide it isn’t worth trying to keep up with, and make runway numbers reflect GPS headings (based on true north) instead.
We renumbered the runways at Houston a couple years ago, and the local airport up in Illinois renumbered back when I was a kid.
You’ll notice that the pole is moving directly away from the US. That means the direction to it won’t be changing that much for the time being. GPS headings are a non-starter, because even the newest aircraft are seriously tied to magnetic headings in their nav systems.
I found a slick animation of the movement of isogonic (equal variation) lines over time.
http://wiki.gis.com/wiki/images/4/43/Earth_Magnetic_Field_Declination_from_1590_to_1990.gif

kramer

Thanks WUWT for this article, it was quite interesting!

vukcevic says:
February 7, 2011 at 11:57 am
I’ve done a bit of digging into the Earth’s magnetic field, and have some doubt into the validity of the latest models.
Doubt is always good if it is based on knowledge about the subject. From your various posts it is clear that your doubt is misplaced.

Mac the Knife

Now I know why my magnetic personality has seemed a little wobbly lately!
Thanks for the interesting perspectives on the terrestrial dynamo, Anthony!

pkatt

I read that story too, but I had also read about magnetic reversals and got the feeling that it would happen over a long period of time and wasn’t going to be that big of deal so I discounted it. Its beginning to feel like people want some huge disaster to come along as there is a new one forecast every year or so now days. Kaku is only discrediting himself.. hopefully the news agencies will get that soon.

Laurie Bowen

Thank you, Mike McMillan, that is very neat . . . !!

carbon-based life form

Hey Anthony,
Sounds like you have determined that the October 2005 change in character of the magnetic field is only coincidental to the October 2005 “step change” in solar activity?

reason

“I what I’ve read is correct, the natural increase in luminosity of the sun will, in 500 million years, push the inner boundary of the habitable zone beyond Earths orbit. We’d better have the tech to move to Mar and terraform it before then. Unless we want to pull the Earths orbit out farther to keep inside the HZ. :)”
Could I put in a request, so long as we’re making the year longer by widening our orbit? Let’s slow rotation and make our days longer, too. I have no problem putting in solid 12-14 hours of work during the day, but factor in family / personal time, and you only get 4-6 hours to sleep. If we could make days 36 hours long, then you could get in a good long workday, have plenty of time before and afterwards to spend with your family / get stuff done around the house, and STILL get a nice 12 hours of sleep.
Plus, making the days longer in addition to the year longer might help ease the transition into our new “Avoid The Sun’s Wrath” calendar.
Maybe we could even iron out that whole “leap year” nuisance.
/abject silliness

Leif Svalgaard says:
February 7, 2011 at 12:52 pm
……………….
Now Dr. Svalgaard
You were not aware of two poles in the North Hemisphere, until I pointed it to you.
You were not aware that the Hudson bay pole closely follows in reverse proportion the solar activity trend, until I pointed it to you.
You declared Siberia magnetic pole nonexistent, when I pointed it to you.
You were not aware that the Northern hemisphere temperature follows in reveres proportion the Hudson Bay area geomagnetic flux, until I pointed it to you .
You were not aware that the Northern hemisphere is gaining in magnetic strength while the South is decaying, until I pointed it to you.
And more….
All of these were initially declared by you nonsense, then just a coincidence, and some by now you reluctantly accepted. All can be found and verified in the extensive exchanges on the WUWT pages.
Now, out of sudden you are an expert and unquestionable authority on all of the above.

bubbagyro

One thing is for sure…
None of these influences are accounted for in the cAGW models.

Fremma

Orienteering maps are oriented to Magnetic North. To me, losing the relationship between my compass and my orienteering map due to the wanderings of the Earth’s magnetic field would be very significant climate disruption.
However, orienteering maps tend to be so detailed that we get at most five years use out of them before we need to remap anyway due to changing ground features. I’m not going to lose any sleep over even a greatly accelerated wandering Magnetic North Pole.

vukcevic says:
February 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm
Now, out of sudden you are an expert and unquestionable authority on all of the above.
Yes, on the things that are true, the rest is still nonsense.

Anthony
This is correct map of the Earth’s total magnetic field:
http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/geomag/data/mag_maps/pdf/F_map_mf_2005.pdf
Notice that the strongest magnetic field is in the central Siberia (above 61000 nT, latitude 64 N) and west of the Hudson bay (59000 nT, latitude 62 N ). In the South it is 67000 nT, latitude 60 S.
There is only minor drift in both the Hudson Bay’s and the Siberia’s poles. The major change is the exchange of intensity between two, Hudson Bay is declining while the Siberia is gaining the strength. Around 1997 there were of the same intensity.

Leif Svalgaard says:
February 7, 2011 at 1:32 pm
Yes, on the things that are true, the rest is still nonsense.
Since all in the list above
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/07/on-the-magnetic-polar-shifts-cause-massive-global-super-storms-story/#comment-593508
you declared in the past year or two, to be nonsense ( records are on WUWT and SC24), which do you now consider to be true, if any, and which to be nonsense, so we can ascertain progress of your learning.

Thank you Anthony for a healthy dose of good old common sense. I saw this on climate depot last night (does anyone else feel just a little guilty after going to that site?), but the Salem News seemed to have pulled the story.
Even if it does flip, my guess is it will be like Y2K, a bit of inconvenience and then we’ll just get on with our lives. Methinks Mr Kaku is liking the limelight too much.