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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
go away, as we have
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
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?