Thursday, October 30, 2014

Crank magnetism with Tim Ball at WUWT

Sou | 10:57 PM Go to the first of 17 comments. Add a comment

This is a beauty. Tim Ball has taken a diversion from his normal paranoid conspiracy theories and shifted to crank pseudo-science. He's decided to embark on an "it's magnetism" kick (archived here, latest update here). He is all over the place. I don't have time to do a thorough dressing down. Here are some snippets for your enjoyment or despair, depending on your mood:

First the headline and gobbledegook in the opening sentence:
Magnetism and Weather: Interconnections? 
Way back in the last century, I suggested that in this 21st century the dominant issue in science would be magnetism and in resources water. 
Not an auspicious start and it goes downhill from there.

Tim Ball's  extraterrestrial excursions

Tim reckons that climate models should include "extraterrestrial factors" like the "Milankovitch Effect". Yes, really. He calls orbital variations "extraterrestrial". Also, I don't really know how far backwards or forwards he expects scientists to run coupled climate models for. 41,000 years? 100,000 years? He wrote:
It is even worse with regard to extraterrestrial factors. Simple solar system activities, like the Milankovitch Effect or Svensmark’s Cosmic Theory, are barely included in their discussion and excluded from their models.

Tim apparently subscribes to a botched view of what he calls "Svensmark's Cosmic Theory", by which I expect he means the hypothesis of Henrik Svensmark that galactic cosmic rays have a noticeable impact on cloud formation and therefore affect weather. Well they might, too. However by comparison with the rise in greenhouse gases, any impact  is less than minimal. It's not even known yet if galactic cosmic rays do have any impact on cloud nucleation. They might or might not. It has yet to be determined. Regardless, there's not been any change in galactic cosmic rays so if they do have any effect, it won't be to change Earth's climate.

Tim Ball sails the ocean

Tim then has a shot at tackling ENSO events. He wrote:
For example, everybody talks about El Nino and La Nina and accept they are caused by ocean current reversals, but suface ocean currents are created by wind, so the wind has to reverse first. But what makes the winds reverse? The upper level tropical easterlies have to weaken, stop, and start blowing in the opposite direction. What causes that? Van Loon and Labitzke showed correlations between sunspots and El Nino, but what was the mechanism?
Oh my. First of all, it's not just changes in the sea surface or wind that happens when there's an ENSO event. There are changes below the surface, too, including a shift in the thermocline. Anyway, scientists have figured out a lot about ENSO and the changes in the Walker Circulation etc. If Tim is trying to sound knowledgeable he's not doing a very good job of it.

Tim Ball's crank magnetism

The best came shortly afterwards. Tim started writing about Earth's magnetic field, which he kept referring to as "magnetism":
... The lava layers are a record of the changing polarity. The problem is it is a crude measure, so it’s unclear how long the process takes. We know extensive extinctions occur at the same time, but other impacts are not known. Does it affect the climate? The larger question is how magnetism affects weather in general.
NASA said in September 2013 that we were within 3 to 4 months of a polar magnetic reversal. They were wrong, but now a new paper says it will occur some time in the next 100 years. 

I don't know where he got the idea that extinction events are tied to a change in the Earth's magnetic field. I'm not aware of any such link. Anyone? And what about his notion about magnetism affecting weather in general?  I'm not claiming it can't and there have been papers suggesting this. It's quite conceivable.

I know you're all scratching your individual and collective heads over the second paragraph. Go on, click the link. It's to an article about the flip in the sun's magnetic field, not Earth's! Something that happens every eleven years or so. What a ning nong.

Tim doesn't link to the "new paper" he refers to. I expect it's this one by Leonardo Sagnotti and colleagues. Here's what ScienceDaily reported about that a couple of weeks ago:
Earth's last magnetic reversal took place 786,000 years ago and happened very quickly, in less than 100 years -- roughly a human lifetime. The rapid flip, much faster than the thousands of years most geologists thought, comes as new measurements show the planet's magnetic field is weakening 10 times faster than normal and could drop to zero in a few thousand years.

Ha ha. Tim couldn't get that right, either.  Earth's magnetic field could drop to zero in a few thousand years. Nothing like what Tim wrote with his "it will occur some time in the next 100 years".

Tim Ball's parallel universe

Tim also wrote:
Some attribute demise of the Neanderthals to magnetic reversals, but why them and not others.
Curious who Tim's "some" were I Googled. I came up with a fictional trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer about:
"the opening of a connection between two versions of Earth in different parallel universes: the world familiar to the reader, and another where Neanderthals became the dominant intelligent hominid. The societal, spiritual and technological differences between the two worlds form the focus of the story."
In the novels,
A significant story feature is the state of the Earth's magnetic field. In the barast world a reversal of polarity happened shortly before the story starts and caused no noticeable harm to the barasts. As to why the pole reversals are off by several years, it is ascribed to random small differences over the intervening 40,000 years. In the gliksin world it is happening as the stories take place; this has an effect on the minds of gliksins, whose brain structures are different from the barasts' (see Religion).

Actually I did come across one real live person, and there may be more, who's speculated that there could be an impact on species if the magnetic field drops. Such ideas are pretty well out on the fringe, though, not the mainstream.

Anyway- that's enough. You get the gist. The real question is why does Anthony Watts post this crap? Does he even read it first? If he does is he so ignorant that he thinks it adds to his credibility in some way? I'd say this is another example of Wondering Willis Eschenbach's scathing indictment on Anthony's intellectual capability.

From the WUWT comments

There aren't all that many comments, though the article has been up for a few hours now. Perhaps Tim Ball has stunned the WUWT-ers into silence.

Mark decides it's all to do with the high voltage transmission grid connecting Earth to the Sun :)
October 29, 2014 at 9:16 pm
And the earth’s magnetic field is influenced by its electrical connection to the sun. Understanding the electrical nature of the sun is key to understanding earth’s climate and weather.

WUWT's resident solar physicist, lsvalgaard, tries to set Mark straight:
October 29, 2014 at 9:32 pm
There is no electrical connection to the Sun. There is strong magnetic connection

lsvalgaard taught me something new today, writing about the Laschamp Excursion:
October 29, 2014 at 9:36 pm
Perhaps the clearest indication that the climate is not influenced directly or indirectly by the Earth’s magnetic field is the Laschamp Excursion [~39,000 years ago], when the magnetic field went to near zero strength and reversed polarity http://www.leif.org/EOS/Laschamp-Excursion-Climate.pdf 

 You can read more comments in the archive here.

L. Sagnotti, G. Scardia, B. Giaccio, J. C. Liddicoat, S. Nomade, P. R. Renne, C. J. Sprain. "Extremely rapid directional change during Matuyama-Brunhes geomagnetic polarity reversal". Geophysical Journal International, 2014; 199 (2): 1110 DOI: 10.1093/gji/ggu287


  1. "changing polarity .... We know extensive extinctions occur at the same time"

    "It's to an article about the flip in the sun's magnetic field, not Earth's! Something that happens every eleven years or so."

    And the number of species surviving on the sun is zero. QED.

    Ah, life is so easy when you don't have to bother with niggling little issues like sanity.

  2. From the comments:

    Bill Jamison October 29, 2014 at 10:35 pm
    The author seems to be confused. “NASA said in September 2013 that we were within 3 to 4 months of a polar magnetic reversal.” – OF THE SUN not the earth... That has NOTHING to do with the relatively new claim that the earth’s magnetic field may flip “soon”...

    lsvalgaard October 29, 2014 at 10:40 pm
    The author, but that does not deter people from lapping this up.

    I don't see a reply to lsvalgaard. Presumably Ball will ignore it, in the hope that no-one notices his errors.

    1. I was hoping to see something about polar ice caps on the sun. Alas, none. -- Dennis

  3. Conflating The Earth and The Sun is not exactly brilliant.

    1. No, one shines far more brilliantly than the other!

    2. Hahaha!
      There are 3 balls under discussion. Let's list them in order of illumination.
      1. The Sun.
      2. The Earth.
      3. Dr Tim.

  4. If the last reversal was 0.75Ma ago, it could hardly have effected the extinction of Neanderthals who died out approximately 40,000 years ago ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neanderthal#cite_note-bbc.co.uk-57 ).

    1. A bit of illumination from the U.S. Geological Survey's FAQ on geomagnetism:


      Q: Could the mass extinctions observed in the paleontological record be correlated with magnetic reversals?

      A: The magnetic field of the Earth does protect us from fast-moving charged particles streaming from the Sun, and so does the atmosphere. It is not clear whether or not the radiation that would make it to the Earth's surface during a polarity transition, when the magnetic field is relatively weak, is sufficient to affect evolution and cause extinctions such as that of the dinosaurs. But it seems that the radiation is probably insufficient.
      This conclusion is supported by the fact that reversals happen rather frequently, every million years or so, compared to the occurrence of mass extinctions, every hundred million years or so. Most reversals appear to be of no consequence for extinctions.

    2. Yeah. Helps to remember that Van Allen belts are a kind of storage mechanism; the relatively lethal intensity of ionizing particles in the belts doesn't directly reflect the threat to Earth when the field is down.

  5. The non-impact on climate of the Laschamp event should be sufficient hint that geomagnetic excursions don't drive climate. Mind you, at ~41ka it could have done for the Neanderthals... (only kidding).

  6. The cranks who get prominence on Watt's blog are the product of half-curious minds who hear of some observation and do what all humans do, make leaps of logic and imagination to connect this new information to other observations to make sense of the world. In a teaching environment and well-connected academic groups these ideas can be discussed and refuted easily. Sometimes great leaps are made. Where these cranks go off the rails is not seeking early critical feedback from those who have thought about the same sorts of issues.

  7. The article was an incredible word-salad. I like his trick of saying what the IPCC should have been studying, then criticising them for it.

  8. Dr Ball is magnetically several years behind the curve. The proof that all climate change is controlled by the Earth's magnetic field was provided several years ago by a fellow who, after a productive career doing geomagnetic modelling for the USGS, retired and unfortunately went off the rails:


  9. What is laughable is the ability of deniers to grasp at any theory no matter how esoteric or illogical to try and disprove the obvious. They are nutters of the first order.
    The second order nutters are the ignorant media. Bert

  10. It might be interesting to be around during a magnetic reversal. You could start seeing auroras all over the planet.

    1. Is that right. It's a few years since I last saw an aurora. The last one I saw was from the Princes Highway west of Melbourne - a lot of green curtains. Also saw one from north eastern Victoria quite a long time ago. That was surprising for being so spotted so far north - above the hills, (north of) the Great Dividing Range. It was mostly red. Pretty spectacular.

    2. I suspect a magnetic reversal will result in no auroras for a time. Research suggests the magnetic field drops to a low value first, then reappears reversed.

      I don't think anyone really know for sure, other than reversals do happen.


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