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Mail Online “absolutely wrong” to infer global cooling from new research - but that doesn't stop it warning of new ‘Ice Age’

  • 09 May 2012, 15:45
  • Verity Payne

Last week new research was published in the journal Nature Geoscience suggesting that a period of low solar activity about 2,800 years ago was associated with a sudden increase in windy weather in western Europe in late winter and early spring.

A Mail Online article uses this research to infer that we might now face ' global cooling' - adding to the ongoing series of articles the Mail has published that appear to be an attempt to dismiss man-made climate change.

Just as on a number of previous occasions in which the Mail has linked new research into the sun's effects on climate to the prospect of a ' new ice age' or ' mini ice age', the Mail's interpretation of the new scientific paper is plain wrong.

The researchers involved studied lake sediments from Germany which were deposited around 2-3 thousand years ago. They find that during a period of very low solar activity called the 'Homeric minimum', which has already been associated with cooling in west Europe, there was a sudden increase in windiness.

They also used climate model simulations to show that low solar activity leads to changes in atmospheric circulations patterns which cause cooling over northern and middle Europe and higher temperatures over Greenland - a finding which agrees with previous studies.

The overall conclusion is that:

"[...] the combination of both proxy data [the sediments] and climate models highlights a possible role of the solar forcing not only during the winter but also on the early spring climate over the European Atlantic sector."

From this, and indeed from the title of the research paper - "Regional atmospheric circulation shifts induced by a grand solar minimum" - it is clear that the paper investigates a regional shift in climate. To paraphrase the paper's conclusions, past changes to the sun's activity affected climate in parts of Europe, as suggested by previous research. The new results are interesting in that they advance and consolidate current understanding.

This may be an obvious point, but the paper isn't discussing changes to global temperature.

However, in sticking to what appears to be a recent decision to step up poor climate science reporting, the Mail Online plumps for the headline " Is 'global cooling' on the way? Lake sediment proves sun cooled earth 2,800 years ago - and it could happen again soon"

The sub-headlines go on to say that the "Sun's activity CAN cause changes in Earth's climate," and that the research "May throw predictions of global warming out of whack".

We asked the study's lead author Celia Martin-Puertas, of the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, for her views on the Mail article. Did her paper predict that the planet was about to cool?

She told us:

"it is absolutely wrong that our study may predict a global cooling in the future."

She also pointed out that the Mail appears to have missed this important paragraph from the press release accompanying the study:

"[these] findings cannot be directly transferred [to] future projections because the current climate is additionally affected by anthropogenic forcing, they provide clear evidence for still poorly understood aspects of the climate system. [...] Only when the mechanisms of solar-climate links are better understood a reliable estimate of the potential effects of the next Grand solar minimum in a world of anthropogenic climate change will be possible."

In other words the Mail's claim that this research "May throw predictions of global warming out of whack" is unfounded, and contradicts the press release from the scientists who conducted the research.

Inevitable leap to a 'new ice age'

'Global cooling' is not the only dramatic inaccuracy the Mail introduces into its reporting of this research. The article also manages to claim that we might face an ice age if solar activity wanes:

"Some scientists suspect that the current period of high solar activity - including increased sunspots and solar storms thsi [sic] year - will be followed by a 'minimum' period, which could even cause an Ice Age"

The 'impending ice age' warning is an outright misrepresentation. And yet it's a claim that has proved bewilderingly popular with some British newspapers over the last year or so. Warnings on 'ice ages' from low solar activity just won't go away, as we have outlined repeatedly.

Just to be clear: As far as we are aware, and having spoken with various scientists about their work in this area over the past year or so, there is no scientific evidence or research which suggests we're going to see a new ice age in the near future, even in the event of a 'grand solar minimum'.

Based on a blog?

As we've noted before, Mail Online makes a habit of basing its climate stories on climate skeptic blogs. One of its favourite sources seems to be the Register - an IT blog that takes an inexplicably skeptical line on climate change.

So we have to wonder whether it is just a coincidence that yesterday the Register featured a blog post about this new research, saying that it "flies counter to theories offered by carbon-alarmist climate scientists". Could that be where the Mail Online story originated?

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