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Tech journalist since the dark ages. Windows Secrets, LangaList newsletter, Windows Magazine (NetGuide, Home PC), Byte, Popular Computing, yadda yadda yadda. Google me, if it matters.

This feed is mostly personal interest; it's NOT my professional writing. There's tech here, yes, but also lots of general science and some politics and weird humor thrown in.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

About that coming "mini ice age..."

A mathematics professor, Valentina Zharkova, recently gave a presentation in which she predicted that we could soon see a temporary 60% drop in solar magnetic activity.

Her presentation was a speech, not a peer-reviewed paper.

But a number of publications, including the British tabloid the Daily Mail, interpreted her remarks as predicting a 60% drop in solar light and heat, and ran an article saying we're in for a "mini ice age," with illustrations of a frozen-solid Thames.

Other publications --- including some who should have known better --- repeated and amplified the misinterpretation.

Many used the ambiguous phrase "drop in solar activity," even though Zharkova clearly stated she was talking about "magnetic wave components" inside the sun --- not its light and heat.

But Zharkova didn't help when, in interviews, she went way beyond her research and speculated about possible climate effects on Earth and Mars (!), and got the numbers wildly wrong. (It's not her field; she should have simply said "I don't know.")

In all, it was like christmas for climate change deniers and right-wing news operations.

Most solar scientists say there's maybe a 15-20% chance of a deep magnetic minimum of the type she's predicting. Maybe that number will increase if Zharkova publishes her research so others can check her work.

But in any case, a temporary drop in solar magnetic activity does not equal an equivalent drop in the Sun's heat and light. If the deep magnetic minimum does occur, most climate scientists say that any cooling effect will be trivial, and overwhelmed by the long-term warming we're locked into. (2015 is on track to be the hottest year in human history.)

If you want the details, from people who study the sun and climate for a living: