During his regular review of scientific reporting for the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, Boyce Rensberger describes (5/7/09) how the “11-year (give or take) sunspot cycle, associated with a periodic reversal in the sunÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬ÃƒÂ¢”Å¾Â¢s magnetic poles” means that “the number of sunspots increases in the years just before a reversal.” But Rensberger notes that “Where are we now?” depends on “Who you gonna read?”:
The Christian Science Monitor says the next reversal, expected in 2012, could be associated with an unusual number of sunspots and solar flares. Those flares send out barrages of charged particles that can cause problems on Earth. The story carries this hed: “Solar Storms Ahead: Is Earth Prepared? / Sunspot Cycle Beginning in 2012 May Put Satellites, Power Grids at Risk.” The story, by James Turner, focuses strongly on the threat of coming solar storms.
But over at the National Geographic, a different story. Anne Minard writes about a ‘prolonged lull in solar activityÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬Ãƒâ€šÂ (the recent absence of sunspots has gone on longer than expected) and whether it might bring another ‘little ice age.ÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬Ãƒâ€šÂ Minard writes: “The sun is the least active it’s been in decades and the dimmest in a hundred years.” She goes on to talk about the past little ice age during the sun’s so-called Maunder minimum, when Europe saw harsher than average winters. She does include scientists’ belief that the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide since then would swamp any solar-forced cooling.
Meanwhile, almost inevitably, into this otherwise reasoned debate wades a less-than-scientific outlet reaching its own conclusions: “Fox News, predictably, notes the Geographic story and plugs it with this hed: ‘Quiet Sun May Trigger Global Cooling.'”