3 May 2010

At ... another wrinkly has set up a blog, Nigel Calder, a former editor of New Scientist and co-author with Henrik Svensmark of The Chilling Stars. He is too obviously a sceptic - and a welcome addition to a motley band of pensioners determined not to let the AGW frenzy run amok. He intends to embrace all kinds of science subjects so this is a site worth a regular visit. For example, he begins with a study on the way flocks of pigeons switch and change leaders - no single bird is dominant. Next, he has an interesting piece on an annual ice breaking event in Alaska. Early meltings depend on El Nino - and so it was this year. He then produces a graph to illustrate the correspondence between El Ninos and early meltings over the last 100 years or so. The average date is May 1st and this has remained fairly stable as an average ever since the event was inaugurated - which gives a bit of a lie to AGW. Some years it is above and some years below May 1st and these ups and downs appear to match decreases and increases in the amount of cosmic rays reaching the surface of the earth. Next, Nigel turns to Bill Napier's recent article (see earlier post on In the News) that suggested the YD event was caused by the earth straying into a trail of fragments from a very large disintegrating comet. However, Calder also notes that one can imagine impact debris in the stratosphere might have caused the Sun to dim for months or perhaps even years but it's not clear why the effects should have persisted for 13 to 15 centuries. Napier does not discuss the climatology - but he must have thought about it. Nigel then says that although climate theorists tend to explain the YD by melt water from receding ice sheets stifling the North Atlantic circulation he thinks it is no coincidence that the YD was a time of intense cosmic radiation associated with a long period of weak solar activity. He says the Napier theory is astronomically convincing and his impacts may have triggered, accelerated or intensified the YD event even if the depth and persistence of it requires further explanation. An excellent piece of thinking.

 As an aside, at the bottom of this story he refers to the impact theory at the KT boundary - which he supported in New Scientist at the time but was heavily criticised for doing so. He says that it has taken 30 years for Science to admit that a cosmic impact killed off the dinosaurs, referring to a recent paper - but they may still be wrong. The Science paper said it was an asteroid but Shoemaker said it was a comet.

Nigel Calder is also the author of Magic Universe Oxford University Press:2003 and one of the threads on his blog has this title. He intends to pursue the nature of that book, over 100 stories about fundamental research and where it is leading scientists. For instance, a repertoire of tricks let loose in the Big Bang will make you a planet or a parakeet ... so it is fairly irreverent.

Another thread is Albert Einstein's universe. Einstein was an intuitive scientist, he says, and not a brilliant mathematician. Those fancy equations were supplied by other people. So what was in his head?

Another thread is about comets and asteroids which he intends to keep up to date as he has a long standing interest on this subject.