HomeTop StoriesA conspiracy theorist blames Brazil's floods on an unsubstantiated 'magnetic shift' claim

A conspiracy theorist blames Brazil’s floods on an unsubstantiated ‘magnetic shift’ claim

<span>A screenshot of a post on X, taken on May 14, 2024</span>” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/OiPM0FfgyKsSKDGEfDQd5w–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTEzMTU-/https://media.zenfs.com/en/afp_factcheck_us_713/c229870e61e009 28935e8dbe1c0620a2″/><span></div>
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A screenshot of a post on X, taken on May 14, 2024

The same blue-check account, which has more than 70,000 followers, has spread similar theories about extreme weather events in widely shared posts.

Nearly 400 cities and towns have been hit by heavy rains in Rio Grande do Sul state.

Experts link the historic deluge to climate change exacerbated by the El Niño weather phenomenon, which can naturally affect precipitation levels (archived here and here).

In the wake of the floods, the country saw a wave of related conspiracy theories, some of which AFP has debunked in Portuguese.

But experts told AFP there is no link between magnetic poles and climate change, while scientists in Brazil have been studying the impact of anthropogenic warming on rainfall for decades.

Against principles of physics

“There is no scientific evidence linking global warming to shifts in the magnetic poles or a reduction in the Earth’s magnetic field strength,” says Ingrid Cnossen (archived here), independent researcher for the British Antarctic Survey ( BAS) space weather and atmosphere team, told AFP on May 14.

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A spokesperson for NASA’s Langley Research Center (archived here) told AFP on May 13 that there is no “link between the movement of our magnetic poles and climate,” and pointed to an article (archived here) on NASA’s website detailing the theory was debunked.

The movement (archived here) of liquid iron and nickel buried deep beneath the Earth’s surface generates its magnetic field (archived here) – that movement causes our planet’s magnetic poles to shift (archived here), eventually changing its locations completely capsize every 300,000 years or so. Animals that rely on the Earth’s magnetic field for navigation, such as birds or sea turtles, may become temporarily disoriented by the shift.

“While that may sound like a big deal, polar reversals are common throughout Earth’s geologic history,” with no evidence of major changes or species extinctions, contrary to what “doomsday scenarios” often refer to, NASA writes in its blog post.

The shift also doesn’t happen overnight, the space agency adds, but over hundreds or thousands of years.

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According to NASA, there is no evidence that our climate has been significantly affected by previous magnetic field excursions in the past 2.8 million years.

Furthermore, NASA scientists note that there is no known physical mechanism capable of connecting weather conditions on the Earth’s surface – such as atmospheric conditions – with electromagnetic currents responsible for the shift of the poles.

<span>Comparison of satellite images of the city of Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil, before and after heavy rains that caused flooding and killed dozens</span></p>
<div><span>Guillermo RIVAS PACHECO</span><span >Paz PIZARRO</span><span>AFP</span></div>
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Comparison of satellite images of the city of Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil, before and after heavy rains that caused flooding and killed dozens

Guillermo RIVAS PACHECOPaz PIZARROAFP

Carlos Nobre (archived here), head of Brazil’s National Institute of Science and Technology for Climate Change (INCT), has laid out what scientists think is behind the disastrous recent rainfall: a low-pressure system has been blocked by a high-pressure system in the Midwest and southeastern parts of the country, causing cold fronts to linger over the region, while water vapor rushing in from the Amazon contributed to historic downpours.

Global warming worsened the situation, Nobre told AFP for an earlier story, adding that “the warmer atmosphere can store much more water vapor, creating more frequent and intense periods of rainfall that lead to disasters like this.”

Convergence with climate models

Lincoln Muniz Alves (archived here), climatologist at The Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais), and a lead author of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), agreed. “The tragedy in southern Brazil has an established cause and consensus among climate experts,” he said.

The broader implications of these weather events are linked to global climate change, he told AFP on May 9.

“The increasing severity and frequency of such events are likely related to rising temperatures on the planet, although more detailed attribution studies are needed to confirm this,” he added.

<span>Aerial view of flooded rice plantations in Eldorado do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, taken on May 9, 2024</span></p>
<div><span>Nelson ALMEIDA</span><span>AFP</span> span></div>
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Aerial view of flooded rice plantations in Eldorado do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, taken on May 9, 2024

Nelson ALMEIDAAFP

Chou Sin Chan (archived here), a weather modeling researcher and lead author of the IPCC, told AFP on May 10 that “the projections of future climate by global and regional climate models have shown an increase in precipitation, with large confidence, in the areas south of Brazil, Uruguay and north of Argentina.”

The IPCC has also noted in previous reports (archived here and here) of “significant increases in rainfall” observed in the region in the past.

João Paulo Brêda (archived here), an environmental engineer specialized in large-scale hydrology, told AFP on May 9 that the “exceptional event that is now happening coincides with the predictions of the climate models.”

AFP has debunked other claims about extreme weather events in other regions and their links to climate science, here and here.

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