Thursday, November 19, 2009

A discussion about 2012

Mainly because responding in Facebook is tedious and uncomfortable, but also because I think it's quite an interesting discussion:

There are some people who believe that the world will end in 2012. There are all sorts of weird reasons put forward for this, and none of them have any respectable scientific backing. It still makes for an interesting debate, though. I've been having a heated debate via comment responses on Facebook, and I thought I'd bung it here so that anyone with an interest (on either side of the argument) can have a look, maybe even join in.

I'm going to post the relevant parts of the discussion so far 'as-is'. My responses will be italicised. It starts just after this link was posted.

ah mon amis... dont believe anything NASA write up. This close to the date of 2012, they'll be trying to defuse mass hysteria by covering documents.
Here is a quote from the link you sent me about the most valid bit of information on it (the solar flares) it said this:

Q: Is there a danger from giant solar storms predicted for 2012?
A: .......The next solar maximum will occur in the 2012-2014 time frame and is predicted to be an average solar cycle, no different than previous cycles throughout history.

But if you take a look at the official governement NASA website, the information clearly states that there will be (and again i quote):

"This week researchers announced that a storm is coming--the most intense solar maximum in fifty years. The prediction comes from a team led by Mausumi Dikpati of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). "The next sunspot cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the previous one," "

Check the link yourself:

"most intense solar maximum in fifty years"

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that the world ended after the previous high (which would have been a bit more than 50 years ago and, by definition, higher than the one predicted from 2012).

Ok well, an eductaion is always a good thing so if theres anything ive got wrong then tell me, because im always keen to learn. =)
As far as i'm aware the only thing stopping solar flares burning us alive is the magnetic field of the Earth, which has been reported to be rapidly declining at an increasing rate over the last 150 years, and loosing between 10 and 15% of its original strength since then. [How am i doing so far ? :P]
So what might not have effected us 50 years ago might have more serious consequences now, especially since some scientists are suggesting that we're well overdue a full magnetic reversal, which would leave us pretty vulnerable.

And to answer how the Earth could heat up from something other than global warming; This is based on the theory that the Earths 1990's temperature rise was not from atmospheric conditions, but from the solar activity heating up the Earths core.

It's been apparent recently in scientific studies, that the Earths temperature has decreased since all the global warming uproar from Al Gore, which shouldnt be happening in relation to what's been said about Carbon Emissons. It'd be more likley that this is related to the quite phase of the solar flares from 1986-1996.
The reason the Earth could have been previously heating up then, if this makes sense, is due to the effects of the previous solar flares, which have now gone into their quite phase- expected to fire up again and peak in 2012. It'll be interesting to see if the temperature starts to rise soon!

The Earth's magnetic field is reducing at a rate of around 5% per 100 years (so not as rapid as your source suggests). At this rate, it'll take about 2000 years for the field to disappear completely, not 3 as required for your 2012 scenario. As you mention, the Earth undergoes a magentic pole reversal every so often, and we're way overdue for one. There will be an increase in ground level solar radiation because of this. This has, however, happened in the past, and there is no evidence that the world has ended during any of those transitions (still here, ain't it?). Nor is there evidence of mass extinctions around the time of previous pole reversals.

By what mechanism would solar activity heat up the Earth's core? I have heard this assertion a number of times, but it's always without the backing of any science whatsoever.

Global warming is a fact: On average, global temperatures are rising. We are, in fact, still coming out of the previous ice age, so it stands to reason that temperatures should be rising. What's in question is the assertion that human activity is causing /undue/ temperature elevation. Whether it is or it isn't doesn't change the fact that temperatures are rising. This doesn't mean that temperatures can also drop on shorter timescales without fitting in with the general trend, and such variations around the trend are a well documented statistical phenomenon and don't need spurious psuedoscientific explanations! It won't be interesting if they start to rise again soon, because it's all but certain that they will. What would be interesting is if they /didn't/ carry on rising.

And as you're evidently interested in the end of the world:

Oh any excuse to plug your blog! Haha

Hell yes! I wants more questions!

LOL you and your cheap methods of advertising!

I hear ya B. However, the rate at which the magnetic field is decreasing is steadily increasing and is expected by some scientists to happen extremely rapidly, after all- does it not stand to reason that once the more the magnetic field begins to destabalise, the faster the process will happen?

So perhaps this could all unfold within 3 years bearing this in mind?
Past reversals of Earths history have even indicated the speed that im suggesting here. For example, archeologists have found wooly mammoths in mid-stride with food still in mid-digestion in their stomachs frozen solid from the last estimated polar shift, indicating great speed of enviromental changes. (wasnt this polar shift classed as mass extinction?)

Weakening of the magnetic field aside, whats expected to happen in 2012 is a reversal. At what point in the weakening of the magnetic field does the reversal take place? Perhaps we're not so far away from that point now?

Scientists have considered that the Earth as displaying symptoms such as abrupt changes to weather patterns, merging seasons and, as mentioned, weakening of the magnetic field that suggest just this.
To name but a few others that we see with our own eyes- did you watch the news this summer? About all the ladybirds that ended up migrating 'accidently' to Brighton due to the magnetic field weakening to the point that even animals cannot properly navigate using Magnetoreception anymore!
Also, killer bees from South Africa, i think, ended up bizarely in France of all places!

Although Earths core may or may not not be directly effected by the activity of solar flares, the Earths atmosphere undoubtebly will be. The point i was trying to drive home was the correlation between recent solar activity and the recent trend of Earths temperature, which has so far been attributed to CO2 emmissions. Periods like the Maunder Minimum show a huge correlation throughout history.

Cheap advertising is the best kind :-)

It doesn't 'stand to reason': A detected increase in degeneration has been factored into current expectations, and the idea that the decrease in magnetic field strength would proceed faster than expected /must/ be backed up by some kind of scientific evidence - at the very least a mechanism must be proposed. No evidence; no proposed mechanism. Therefore simply stating that it might happen and then believing that it will based entirely on presumption is, frankly, nuts. You may as well state that it could just as easily stop abruptly tomorrow. You are simply looking for possibilities that will fit in with your 2012 'theories' and then accepting those possibilities without any evidence.

Perhaps it could unfold within 3 years instead of 2000, but that would mean major errors in our understanding of numerous areas of science (not to mention mathematics!), from geophysics through to the nature of electricity and magnetism. Compare this to evidence of previous pole reversals- they have all happened over the course of thousands of years; hundreds if they're particularly quick. Why would this one be different?

Your mammoth/ polar shift statement is, as far as my knowledge and studies lead me to believe, entirely made up (not necessarily by you). I'd need some serious evidence to even think of starting to believe that. As far as I am aware (and a few minutes of research appears to corroborate this), the last pole shift was around 800,000 years ago. The last mass extinction was 65,000,000 years ago, and the most widely accepted theory (and best evidenced) for /that/ is a bloody great rock from space, not pole reversal. The evidence you cite is wishy-washy at best, and I'd be prepared to bet money on it being entirely false.

I would have thought it'd be obvious at what point in the weakening a field reversal takes place! The field has to reduce to zero and then be regenerated. That's the only way a magnetic field can be reversed- the magnet is essentially demagnetised, then re-magnetised the other way. We are, by all sensible methods of estimation, at least 2000 years away from that point. Not 3.

Changes in weather patterns, seasons and the weakening magnetic field do not suggest that at all. In fact, the first two are more likely to be attributable to changing global temperatures than an effect of the third, and the idea that they're precursors to a magnetic field reversal holds no weight whatsoever.

There are reports of migratory animals making cock-ups every so often for all sorts of reasons. They are highly sensitive to magnetic fields, and human activity causes all sorts of weird fields to pop up all over the place. It is an anecdote; it is not evidence, and your assertion that it is 'due to the magnetic field weakening to the point that even animals cannot properly navigate using Magnetoreception anymore' is unsupported. You conveniently leave out the effect of changing climates on migratory habits (even of those animals that use the planet's magnetic field to navigate).

Yes, sunspot activity has an effect on Earth's weather; that isn't disputed. I'm disputing its relevance to the end of the world; specifically in 2012: there is no evidence that suggests 2012 will be any more likely to play host to the end of the world than any other year.

Right, we're now up to date, so I'm going to start inserting my responses in KM's latest reply. This should make it easier to follow! I'll be in italics as before.

Righty then Briggs, i'm back and with quotes for you this time.

The last mass extinsion wasnt 65,000,000 years ago as you say.
By Definition:" An extinction event is a sharp decrease in the number of species in a relatively short period of time."

Such as the last' ice age', and all those mammoths. Which would make it only 10,000 years ago. And just as likley as theory as the 'bloody big rock from space' idea, it could also have been due (and most likeywas when taking my references to come into consieration) to an extrmeley rapid change in climate.

O.k, if we're going to be pedantic, the last major mass extinction was, as I say, 65 million years ago. The last minor mass extinction was, as you say, 10,000 years ago. Neither of these timescales even nearly coincides with the last magnetic pole reversal, so my point still stands.

Whilst we're on the topic of mammoths and how that source may be entirley false, here's three reliable sources that suggest otherwise:

My problem wasn't with the idea that mammoths (and other creatures) have been found with unusually well-preserved innards. My problem was with the idea that these findings support the idea that we're all going to die horribly in 2012. They don't lend any credence to the assertions whatsoever. In fact... (comments after each link).

>perfectly Preserved mammoth, bbc news:
No comments whatsoever about cause of death. Certainly no indication that the cause of death was a magnetic pole reversal.

> “Siberian permafrost where her body was so perfectly preserved traces of her mother's milk remained in her belly.” :
 Cause of death given to be suffocation in mud (I notice how you conveniently omitted that from the beginning of your quote!), and not anything related to magnetic pole reversal. Before you talk about preservation in mud being brought on by the after-effects of magnetic pole reversal, there are some considerably more plausible ideas mentioned in the comments at the end of the article.

> “They wondered how the stomach contents remained half decayed while the animals froze? This is a problem since it takes a long time to freeze an animal as large as an elephant. A quick freeze came to mind. How could such temperatures be reached on earth, especially when apparently they were in a fairly temperate environment before the quick freeze?” :
This is a creationist website. Most staunch creationists have absolutely no regard for science, sense, reason and other such things. This article does not disappoint in that regard! A simple quote from the second paragraph displays the level of ignorance that the writer has of numerous scientific disciplines:
"Many questions arise as a result of these strange discoveries. Why would the woolly mammoth, bison, woolly rhinoceros, and horse be attracted to Siberia?"
Of course, being a creationist, the writer has a complete disregard for the ideas behind evolution as well as other disciplines within the biological and geological sciences. Thanks for posting it, though: I literally Laughed Out Loud at a number of points whilst reading that article.

Interestingly enough, this backs up my 'weightless' theory that a polar change can indeed happen rapidly, as aposed to gradually over hundreds of years. An ice age would have happened gradually of course, so how would a rapid freeze fit into that? Perhaps, a rapid polar shift.

None of these links back up your idea (not theory) that magnetic polar shifts can happen orders of magnitude faster than any of those in the past that scientists have been able to investigate. Apart from the absurd creationist article, of course, but that's because it uses the distinctly imaginative trick of using Absolutely No Science Whatsoever.

To provide you with further proof of this, an ice core researcher (Jørgen Peder Steffensen), from the Centre for Ice and Climate at NBI ,University of Copenhagen, pulled up some fascinating data which doesnt make it look as though the transition from our last 'ice age' happened gradually at all :
“Our new, detailed data from the examination of the ice cores shows that in the transition from the ice age to our current warm, interglacial period the climate shift is so sudden that it is as if a button was pressed”

1. Reference?
2. So what? A rapid transition from our last ice age doesn't in itself point to a rapid magnetic polar shift. You still have made no tangible connection between the two.
3. We haven't yet left our last ice age.

Like....a polar shift? We're overdue both a polar shift and an ice age, isn't that just a little bit coincidental?

Or it could be that someone had a big red 'stop the ice age' button and pressed it. That 'theory' is, as it stands, just as scientifically backed as your magnetic polar shift 'theory'.

There are other points you made about the speed in which the shift could take place that arn't particularly valid too.
For a start, there is no evidence that the expected speed can be calculated accurately 100%:
"The task of finding an accurate reversal record seems to be all the more difficult because the magnetic field weakens considerably when it switches direction" - A study published by Science News.

Nope, that's true. Nothing that relies on statistics can be calculated 100% accurately. However, we can develop an expectation based on collected data. This expectation is actually highly unlikely to be fulfilled exactly, but the further a prediction falls from this expectation, the lower a probability can be applied to it. Events with a low enough probability can be discounted. Your assertion that a magnetic pole reversal can happen more than a thousand times faster than all the evidence collected to date suggests is a considerable distance from this expected value of around 2000 years, and will have a correspondingly low probability.

So really, theres no conclusive evidence that supports what youre saying. And besides, scientific results from research into such events are never reliable enough for the conclusions drawn from them, even with our current state of technological progress.

That depends on which part of what I'm saying you're looking at. Much of it is scientifically accepted (there is no such thing as 'conclusively proven' in science), and are in no danger of being overtaken by your entirely unsupported ideas. Some of them are the most likely members of a wider range of possibilities, of which your assertions are rather further down the pecking order, and that's only if they're sensible enough to be considered in the first place.

As an example; A researcher named Gibson and his team ,including scientists from NOAA and NASA, compared measurements from the current solar minimum interval, taken in 2008, with measurements of the last solar minimum in 1996 and reported back saying,

"Although the current solar minimum has fewer sunspots than any minimum in 75 years, the Sun's effect on Earth's outer radiation belt was more than three times greater last year than in 1996. The new observations from last year are changing our understanding of how solar quiet intervals affect the Earth and how and why this might change from cycle to cycle. “
Correct. Again, though, this has no relevance to your idea that a magnetic pole change can be all but instantaneous.

Also, couldn’t unforseen astronomical events change whats expected to happen according to calculations? The gravitational effects of planetary alignments expected in 2012 are so small that it wouldn’t create a crisis on earth, but what problems will arise as the magnetic field weakens further? (as it already is doing and has been doing for 150 years now.)
Wouldnt the extra gravitational pull could be enough to tip the balance and throw the earth into a speedier pole reversal at such a vulnerable time?

The gravitational effects of the Moon on the Earth are many, many times greater than the effect of all the planets combined. Even an alignment (which isn't even due in 2012, so I don't know why you've mentioned it!) wouldn't cause any noticeable effect.

My point is, that science is changing all the time, and not necessarily because its advancing in the same direction. We can't be certain what's going to happen when we're talking about things we dont fully understand.

That is also true, but there's a big difference between not fully understanding something and screwing up what we do understand, chucking it in the bin and just making stuff up because it sounds good.

The mayans on the other hand, appear to have knowledge from sources we cant explain, the full extent of which we have no idea of.
It's ancient advice worth taking onboard when you consider that up until the 20th century, the mayan calander appears to be the most advanced system of tracking galactic time.

The Mayan's were avid astronomers and made lots of observations. This, coupled with a decent understanding of maths, allowed them to make their own calendar. It's very different to ours, yes, but then so are the multitude of other methods of tracking the years that other civilisations have dreamt up. This doesn't mean it's special. It's just a calendar. They didn't have special knowledge bestowed upon them by divine forces, as you seem to be implying. They just liked maths. In fact, in terms of a solar year, the Mayan calendar is actually less accurate than the Julian calendar, and substantially less accurate than the Gregorian calendar. So yes, the Mayan calendar was advanced for its time, but ours is distinctly more advanced, which is understandable.

It should be looked to as 'learning from your elders'.

They would be our 'elders' only if their civilisation (and accompanying development) had developed further and for longer than ours. They didn't.

The possibility then, that their predictions for 2012 are accurate cannot be discounted and should be included in any estimations of the events which are to unfold, especially if several factors coincide with the given including-

Who's predictions? The Mayans? What predictions? As far as I am aware they made no predictions about the year 2012; their calendar just ends in that year. And saying it 'ends' is not entirely accurate either: their calendar was cyclic- it repeats on a 13,000 year cycle

- The over due ice age
We're not overdue for one of those, and any sensible estimates for the next one don't fall within the next 3 years.
- The over due pole reversal
Which may, according to current estimates, happen in around 2000 years. That's quite soon in the timescales that we're talking about, but the chances of it happening in 2012 are so low as to be considered zero.
- The alignment of the planets
What alignment of the planets? There is no alignment due. Not even nearly. This is one of the stupidest parts of the 2012 hoax- it's not even almost slightly true even if you squint a bit and pretend you're in la-la land.
- The inexplicable climate change
It's not inexplicable.
-The unusual behaviour of animals due to this and the changes to their magnetoreception.
I've heard of no such behaviour outside statistical likelihood.
- The weakening of the Earths magnetic field
Which is incredibly unlikely to have reduced to problematic levels within the next 3 years.
- The solar maximum that we'll be expereining, due to peak in 2012.
As you've said already, such things can't be predicted with 100% accuracy. Current estimates put the next solar activity peak somewhere in 2013, having been improved upon since the 2012 date was calculated.
- The accelerated rising temperature of the Earth
You've stated somewhere above that global temperatures are actually falling.
- The unprecedented Geotectonic instability ( between 1997 and 2007 (incl), a period of only 11 years, there were 99 earthquakes with magnitude 7.0 or greater : This is more than a six-fold increase)
- The rapid dissapearance of the polar ice caps.
This is the same point as at least two others above, neither of which have any sensible link with anything related to the 2012 hoax.

At this point one might suggest the signs of the times point to global warming, and that would previously have been the case if it werent for the complete lack of correlation between CO2 emmisons and that of global warming:

Haha! You state there is no correlation whatsoever, and then show me a graph which implies at least the possibility of the opposite! O.k, so the fact that both lines on the graph are rising on average doesn't actually confirm a causal link, but saying that it proves a "complete lack of corelation between C02 emissions and that of global warming" is laughable!
Also, I don't know where you got your data from, but that graph is a pretty poor choice for either proving or disproving a link between the two sets. A plot of the moving averages would give you a distinctly clearer picture, and I'd suggest performing some proper statistical analysis on the raw data before making wild (and counter-supported) assumptions.

Perhaps, then we have to look to the next logical conclusion that could result in such effects on our Earth.
It's more logical to leave the possibility of a 2012 cataclysm open than to deny it all together since there is no conclusive evidence either way.

In that case, it is more logical to worry about the destruction of the planet by a mutant space-goat next Thursday than to deny it all together since there is no conclusive evidence either way. My point is that there are more important, more likely things to worry about. You can't possibly plan for every situation, but planning for fairy tales ahead of more realistic possibilities is lunacy.

From a survival point of view (yo ho ho) it's also better to be on the safe side ;)

Expect the best, prepare for the worst, and all that jazz.

I'd respond to these two statements, but it'd amount to not much more than a copy-paste of my previous paragraph.