"Heading for Mini Ice Age" headline gets my Stupid-Story-Award
The headline "Earth May Be Headed Into a Mini Ice Age within a Decade" was published on June 14th by the UK-based The Register; picked up by other media, as well as popping up in the Google News digest. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/06/14/ice_age/
To be sure we are not taking this out of context, their entire lead paragraph said:
"What may be the science story of the century is breaking this evening, as heavyweight US solar physicists announce that the Sun appears to be headed into a lengthy spell of low activity, which could mean that the Earth - far from facing a global warming problem - is actually headed into a mini ice age."
You could easily mis-read this to say that the consensus of US solar physicists were saying that global warming is no longer a forecast. NOT TRUE.
The Register's evidence for this terrible piece of journalism is that the current phase of the solar cycle -- normally 11 years -- has trended downward for several years, and is lower than usual. That much is actually TRUE. However they graph ONLY the last few years (not shown here) and extend it out to 25 years suggesting this is where it is headed, and that this will start cooling the Earth. This is a truly incredible example of selectively picking your facts to suit your pre-existing conclusions.
To see their distortion, look at this 30 year graph of solar output. Even with this honest context, you might be impressed with the recent downturn, as possibly signaling SOMETHING.
There are just two problems with extrapolating this into a case for us heading for a mini ice age.
First, a longer view shows that solar cycles, have LOTS of variations as shown in the last 400 years of sunspots - a related phenomenon - and shows the scale of variations.
As you can see the last 4 years being in decline does not exactlly even indicate we are heading for an ice age. Just for perspective it has been 20,000 years since the last ice age. Our overall climate did not seem to shift significantly with the ups and downs of the last four centuries variation in the sun.
The second reason that this article is ridiculous has to do with scale. The variation in the 11 year solar cycle is about 0.3 watts per square meter of the Earth's surface. Not to belittle that amount but it is a variation of about a tenth of one percent of the solar energy we receive. It is noteworthy.
Noted NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen points out that the measured annual heating component due to the increased greenhouse gases is about 2.4 watts per square meter. In other words, the effect of greenhouse gases––largely carbon dioxide emissions––is 80 times stronger than the variation in a normal 11 year solar cycle. Our soaring CO2 levels now dwarf the effects of solar cycles.
I guess The Register just "forgot" to put the few years of solar lows in context. An honest lead paragraph would have stopped after "...lengthy spell of low activity." That would have been absolutely true.
I would like to give this the Stupid Story of the week award. While very deserving, it has to share that position with another piece of junk journalism that I will cover tomorrow.