Tree Rings Offer Insight Into Mysterious, Devastating Radiation Storms

Tree Rings and Sun

A composite image showing a tree ring and flames – UQ researchers used tree ring data to model the global carbon cycle to challenge the common theory about Miyake Events. Credit: The University of Queensland

New light has been shed on a mysterious, unpredictable, and potentially devastating kind of astrophysical event, thanks to a University of Queensland (UQ) study.

A team of researchers, led by Dr. Benjamin Pope from UQ’s School of Mathematics and Physics, applied cutting-edge statistics to data from millennia-old trees, to find out more about radiation ‘storms’.

“These huge bursts of cosmic radiation, known as Miyake Events, have occurred approximately once every thousand years but what causes them is unclear,” Dr. Pope said.

“The leading theory is that they are huge solar flares. We need to know more, because if one of these happened today, it would destroy technology including satellites, internet cables, long-distance power lines, and transformers.

“The effect on global infrastructure would be unimaginable.”

“Rather than a single instantaneous explosion or flare, what we may be looking at is a kind of astrophysical ‘storm’ or outburst.” — Qingyuan Zhang

Enter the humble tree ring.

First author Qingyuan Zhang, a UQ undergraduate mathematics student, developed software to analyze every available piece of data on tree rings.

“Because you can count a tree’s rings to identify its age, you can also observe historical cosmic events going back thousands of years,” Mr Zhang said.

“When radiation strikes the atmosphere it produces radioactive carbon-14, which filters through the air, oceans, plants, and animals, and produces an annual record of radiation in tree rings.

“We modeled the global carbon cycle to reconstruct the process over a 10,000-year period, to gain insight into the scale and nature of the Miyake Events.”

The common theory until now has been that Miyake Events are giant solar flares.

“But our results challenge this,” Mr. Zhang said. “We’ve shown they’re not correlated with sunspot activity, and some actually last one or two years.

“Rather than a single instantaneous explosion or flare, what we may be looking at is a kind of astrophysical ‘storm’ or outburst.”

“The effect on global infrastructure would be unimaginable.” — Dr. Benjamin Pope

Dr. Pope said the fact scientists don’t know exactly what Miyake Events are, or how to predict their occurrence is very disturbing.

“Based on available data, there’s roughly a one percent chance of seeing another one within the next decade. But we don’t know how to predict it or what harms it may cause.

“These odds are quite alarming, and lay the foundation for further research.”

The research is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

Reference: “Modelling cosmic radiation events in the tree-ring radiocarbon record” by Qingyuan Zhang, Utkarsh Sharma, Jordan A. Dennis, Andrea Scifo, Margot Kuitems, Ulf Büntgen, Mathew J. Owens, Michael W. Dee and Benjamin J. S. Pope , Proceedings of the Royal Society A Mathematical Physical and Engineering Sciences.
DOI: 10.1098/rspa.2022.0497

The study was also completed with undergraduate maths and physics students Utkarsh Sharma and Jordan Dennis.

The work was supported by a philanthropic donation to UQ from the Big Questions Institut.

13 Comments on "Tree Rings Offer Insight Into Mysterious, Devastating Radiation Storms"

  1. Another outlandish theory using tree rings as a pseudo marker has been published. I’ve seen several of these.

  2. Even another Carrington event would be enough to do us in. I guess it’s only a matter of time.

  3. Are they seriously not linking this with the magnetic poles reversing?

    • What does the poles reversing have to do cosmic radiation. Maybe you should look up the term “cosmic”?

      • I guess you don’t understand the Earth’s magnetic shield, what a pole shift is and just how it would relate to “cosmic” radiation.
        You see, JB, the Earth’s magnetic shield blocks cosmic radiation from cooking us. It’s created by positive pole at one end and negative at the other.
        During a pole shift, there may be dozens of poles, all fluctuating and moving. This causes the shield to become fat less effective. Thus allowing more cosmic radiation to hit Earth.
        Best to think before ridiculing someone lest you look ridiculous yourself

  4. @Tony
    Tree rings, polar ice dust, ancient structures.

    We learn from all of them. Hopefully we will continue to learn more and maybe create a few giant megalithic structures with what we have learned for the next genesis to try to do better then we did.

  5. Doom of the week, Chicken Little.

    You think I’m afraid of any of this alarmism?


  6. Well, Instead of being negative which can create chaos in the collective Consciousness and in turn affects the ebb and flow and the health of the planet -because humans are microcosm in the universe. I support Mr. Qingyuan Zhang and team for working to identify and narrow how what’s going on in our star, for the safety and protection of humanity as well as our technology(although I don’t agree with social media) which has given us life saving discovery’s.

  7. Could a mass coronal ejection or event as described in this news article hit Venus and blow away its 900 mile deep hothouse gases?

  8. I had French Toast for dinner.

  9. Instead of a 2 year cosmic event, I’m thinking a periodic weakening of Earth’s magnetic feild, allowing more radiation to reach the surface.

  10. As has been touched on, this could very well likely be the result of pole shift.
    It’s the magnetic poles that produce the Earth’s shield from cosmic radiation. Then it would seem logical that during a pole shift, when the magnetic shield is in disarray, an increased amount of radiation would hit Earth.
    I wonder if the scientists have compared these increased radiation events with pole shift data to see if they align.

  11. Rain. A factor or not a factor that is my question. Ha ha.

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