Michael J. I. Brown

This month there’s been a hoopla about a mini ice age, and unfortunately it tells us more about failures of science communication than the climate. Such failures can maintain the illusion of doubt and uncertainty, even when there’s a scientific consensus that the world is warming.
The story starts benignly with a peer-reviewed paper and a presentation in early July by Professor Valentina Zharkova, from Northumbria University, at Britain’s National Astronomy Meeting.
The paper presents a model for the sun’s magnetic field and sunspots, which predicts a 60% fall in sunspot numbers when extrapolated to the 2030s. Crucially, the paper makes no mention of climate.
The first failure of science communication is present in the Royal Astronomical Society press release from July 9. It says that “solar activity will fall by 60 per cent during the 2030s” without clarifying that this “solar activity” refers to a fall in the number of sunspots, not a dramatic fall in the life-sustaining light emitted by the sun.
The press release also omits crucial details. It does say that the drop in sunspots may resemble the Maunder minimum, a 17th century lull in solar activity, and includes a link to the Wikipedia article on the subject. The press release also notes that the Maunder minimum coincided with a mini ice age.
But that mini ice age began before the Maunder minimum and may have had multiple causes, including volcanism.
Crucially, the press release doesn’t say what the implications of a future Maunder minimum are for climate.

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3 Responses to Michael J. I. Brown

  1. shinichi says:

    The ‘mini ice age’ hoopla is a giant failure of science communication

    by Michael J. I. Brown

    The Conversation

    (July 24, 2015)

    https://phys.org/news/2015-07-mini-ice-age-hoopla-giant.html

    **

    This month there’s been a hoopla about a mini ice age, and unfortunately it tells us more about failures of science communication than the climate. Such failures can maintain the illusion of doubt and uncertainty, even when there’s a scientific consensus that the world is warming.

    The story starts benignly with a peer-reviewed paper and a presentation in early July by Professor Valentina Zharkova, from Northumbria University, at Britain’s National Astronomy Meeting.

    The paper presents a model for the sun’s magnetic field and sunspots, which predicts a 60% fall in sunspot numbers when extrapolated to the 2030s. Crucially, the paper makes no mention of climate.

    The first failure of science communication is present in the Royal Astronomical Society press release from July 9. It says that “solar activity will fall by 60 per cent during the 2030s” without clarifying that this “solar activity” refers to a fall in the number of sunspots, not a dramatic fall in the life-sustaining light emitted by the sun.

    The press release also omits crucial details. It does say that the drop in sunspots may resemble the Maunder minimum, a 17th century lull in solar activity, and includes a link to the Wikipedia article on the subject. The press release also notes that the Maunder minimum coincided with a mini ice age.

    But that mini ice age began before the Maunder minimum and may have had multiple causes, including volcanism.

    Crucially, the press release doesn’t say what the implications of a future Maunder minimum are for climate.

    Filling in the gaps

    How would a new Maunder minimum impact climate? It’s an obvious question, and one that climate scientists have already answered. But many journalists didn’t ask the experts, instead drawing their own conclusions.

    The UK’s Telegraph warned:

    […] the earth is 15 years from a mini ice age that will cause bitterly cold winters during which rivers such as the Thames freeze over.

    Pictures of glaciers and frozen rivers loomed large.

    News Corp’s Andrew Bolt used the mini ice age to attack climate science. Many climate sceptic bloggers readily accepted the story, despite climate never being mentioned in the peer-reviewed paper.

    The media failed in its duty to investigate and inform. It didn’t seek expert comment to put the research into context. Instead journalists tried to answer technical climate science questions themselves, and mostly got it wrong.

    As discussed previously, the impact of a new Maunder minimum on climate has beenstudied many times. There’s 40% more CO2 in the air now than during the 17th century, and global temperature records are being smashed. A new Maunder minimum would slow climate change, but it is not enough to stop it.

    The scientist at the centre of the media storm, Valentina Zharkova, told USA today:
    In the press release, we didn’t say anything about climate change. My guess is when they heard about Maunder minimum, they used Wikipedia or something to find out more about it.

    Mixed messages

    While Zharkova was surprised by the media coverage, she and others continued to discuss a new mini ice age.

    If a mini ice age is at odds with the prior literature, why does Zharkova continue speculating about it? In personal correspondence with Zharkova, she told me it was only after the media coverage that her research was connected to climate change and the Maunder minimum. However, she said that once the connection was made, it did make sense to her.

    Zharkova also told IFLS: We didn’t mention anything about the weather change, but I would have to agree that possibly you can expect it [a mini ice age].

    So it seems Zharkova’s justification is based on media extrapolation of her own press release and Wikipedia, not the extensive peer-reviewed literature on the Maunder minimum itself.

    I emailed Zharkova and she sent me two studies that support her views, but they aren’t representative of the literature and I don’t believe she has critically evaluated their content.

    Is there any quantitative basis for claims of a mini ice age? Zharkova and her colleagues have cited a 1997 article by Judith Lean, who showed the sun’s brightness (quantified by solar irradiance) was 3 W per m2 less during the Maunder minimum than today. More recent studies, including those by Lean, find the solar irradiance varies less than was thought in 1997.

    In plain English, the small change in sunlight reaching the Earth during a new Maunder minimum wouldn’t be enough to reverse climate change. For the technically minded, even a 3 W per m2 change in irradiance corresponds to a radiative forcing of just 0.5 W per m2 (because the Earth is a sphere and not a flat circle), which is less than the radiative forcing produced by anthropogenic greenhouse gases.

    To be blunt: no mini ice age for us. The real story of the impending mini ice age isn’t about climate at all. It is a cautionary tale, of how science should and shouldn’t be communicated.

    The lessons to be learned from this is scientists must communicate their science concisely and accurately, especially if we are to avoid the media frenzy highlighted by the ABC’s Media Watch. If scientists, science organisations and media aren’t careful, they can inadvertently end up promoting dangerous misinformation.

  2. shinichi says:

    2030年氷河期突入で約20億人が死亡する危険性あり

    週刊ポスト

    2017年2月10日号

    http://www.news-postseven.com/archives/20170131_488511.html

     さっ、寒い! この冬の厳しい寒さにこたえている人も多いはず。昨年11月には観測史上初の「都内11月積雪」を記録。1月には強い寒波が日本列島を襲い、岩手県奥州市では観測史上1位タイの氷点下16.5度を記録した。

     日本だけではない。ヨーロッパでも1月中旬からの厳しい寒波によって少なくとも65人以上が死亡した。全世界が寒さに震えているのだ。

     2015年に英国ノーザンブリア大学のバレンティーナ・ザーコバ教授率いる研究チームの発表によれば、太陽の活動は2030年代に現在の60%にまで減少し、1645年に始まった「ミニ氷河期」(マウンダー極小期)の時代に近い状況になるという。つまり「2030年、世界は氷河期に突入する」というのだ。

     いまから約400年前にもミニ氷河期があった。1645~1715年は、「マウンダー極小期」とも呼ばれ、太陽の黒点の数が著しく減少した。ザーコバ教授はいう。

    「マウンダー極小期には地球の平均気温が1.5度下がりました。今回の寒冷化はその時よりももっと気温を低くさせるでしょう」

     当時、その影響は甚大だった。欧州では英国・テムズ川やオランダの運河が凍りつき、日本でも同時期に寛永の大飢饉(1642~1643年)、延宝の飢饉(1674~1675年)、天和の飢饉(1682~1683年)、そして元禄の飢饉(1691~1695年)と、立て続けに大飢饉が起きている。

    「ミニ氷河期とはいえ、本格化すれば北海道まで氷河が押し寄せ、アメリカは五大湖まで氷に覆われる。欧州も壊滅的です。穀倉地帯の大部分で収穫が不可能になり、食糧危機は必至です」(理化学研究所・戎崎俊一主任研究員)

    『日本列島SOS』(小学館)の著者で、元NASA上級研究員の桜井邦朋博士はこうシミュレーションする。

    「世界の穀倉地帯や漁場が変動する影響で、世界人口80億人のうち、約20億人が飢餓と病気で死亡する危険性があります。とくに日本のように食料自給率が低い国はその影響を強く受け、国家存立さえ危うくなるかもしれません。

     1665年の欧州でのペスト流行も、寒さのためにネズミのエサがなくなり、人里に下りてきたため感染が広がったといわれている。食糧を巡る戦争、紛争も多発するでしょう」

     広島大学大学院生物圏科学研究科の長沼毅教授がいう。

    「一番怖いのはミニ氷河期がトリガーとなって、氷期に突入してしまうことです。食糧難に加えて、エネルギーが閉ざされる。さらに池や川があまねく凍るので、水不足が深刻になる。私は温暖化対策ではなく、来る氷期に備えた省エネ社会を作ることこそ急務だと思います」

    「今日も寒いねぇ?」なんて笑っていられるのも、今のうちか。

  3. shinichi says:

    (sk)

    2017年2月10日号の週刊ポストが、「2030年氷河期突入で約20億人が死亡する危険性あり」などという記事を載せる。読んだほうは「へえー」ってなもんだけれど、困ったことに大半の人が記事をそのまま受け取る。そしてトランプが「地球温暖化なんて嘘っぱちだ」と言ったのを思い出し、「ああ、やっぱり地球温暖化は嘘なのだ」と思い込む。

    産業を担う人たちにとって、利益が減ることが一番の問題だ。地球温暖化対策をとるということになると、カネを払えということになり、カネを払えば利益が減る。だからみんな地球温暖化対策をとることに反対する。そして週刊ポストがそのお先棒を担ぐ。

    あわれなのは、その記事を読んで信じる人たち、地球温暖化は嘘なのだと思い込む人たちだ。その人たちのせいで、人類の未来はどんどん暗くなってゆく。

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