Sir Harold Jeffreys and Leif Svalgaard: Expert opinion on Continental Drift and Solar Variablity

Posted: January 25, 2013 by tallbloke in Astrophysics, geothermal, Natural Variation, Uncertainty
Tags: ,

In a Bishop Hill discussion about some very dodgy stats methods the mainstream cli-sci community is using, this nice little factoid popped up from commenter ‘dearieme’:

The Jeffreys Prior: fine, but one must be careful not to follow Sir Harold in all his science.

From Wikipedia: Jeffreys was a strong opponent of continental drift. For him, continental drift was “out of the question” because no force even remotely strong enough to move the continents across the Earth’s surface was evident.

GPS measured global plate motion. Source: Wikipedia commons

GPS measured global plate motion. Source: Wikipedia commons

Which put me in mind of those solar scientists such as Leif Svalgaard who say that planetary effects on the Sun are “out of the question because no force from the planets even remotely strong enough to affect the Sun is evident”.

Which led me to wonder if consideration of the forces which move continents around might throw up any ideas about the planetary-solar connection. What I discovered on Wikipedia’s plate tectonics page is that the question of what the forces are, and how strong they are relative to each other is very much an open question and a hot subject of ongoing debate.

Alfred Wegener’s idea back in the early 20th century was that continental drift was largely due to tidal forces from Moon and Sun. This was eclipsed by considerations around convection in the mantle, because it was thought that the forces were too small, but has recently enjoyed a renaissance, in combination with consideration of pole-equator compression, coriolis force, and axial wobbles.

So it seems the science of plate tectonics is very much NOT settled, and indeed the Wiki page states quite clearly that “The debate is still open”: Putting more flesh on that admission in this passage:

The sources of plate motion are a matter of intensive research and discussion among earth scientists. One of the main points is that the kinematic pattern of the movements itself should be separated clearly from the possible geodynamic mechanism that is invoked as the driving force of the observed movements, as some patterns may be explained by more than one mechanism.[14] Basically, the driving forces that are advocated at the moment, can be divided in three categories: mantle dynamics related, gravity related (mostly secondary forces), and Earth rotation  [tidal and axial wobble] related.

My italics

Now let’s contrast this situation with the planetary-Solar theory and mainstream solar physics. We have an observed set of kinematic measurements correlating the motion of the planets and observed solar variations in a variety of metrics such as the incidence of solar flares, the rate of circulation of latitudinal belts, the sunspot number, the meridional flows, the solar wind speed and density. But mainstream solar physicists such as Leif Svalgaard and Cornelis de Jager dismiss possible planetary effects by invoking the argument that the forces are too small.

Perhaps it is time to take a leaf out of the geophysicists book and adopt the policy that “the kinematic pattern of the movements themselves should be separated clearly from the possible solar system dynamic mechanism (or mechanisms) that are invoked as the driving force of the observed movements.

After all, it would be a pity to miss out on the prospect of being able to accurately predict the future evolution of solar activity levels simply because we don’t yet understand the underlying mechanisms. Especially now that important institutions such as NASA are admitting that solar variation has a much larger effect on the variability of the Earth’s climates than has been appreciated hitherto.

I’ll end this short essay with a quote from Sir David Attenborough, who’s not all bad:

I once asked one of my lecturers why he was not talking to us about continental drift and I was told, sneeringly, that if I could I prove there was a force that could move continents, then he might think about it. The idea was moonshine, I was informed.

  1. vukcevic says:

    As most of us suspect, Dr. Svalgaard is wrong:

  2. oldbrew says:

    Leif S says: “no force from the planets even remotely strong enough to affect the Sun is evident”

    Is that the ‘I see no ships’ argument?

  3. tallbloke says:

    Oldbrew, the “the waves can’t possibly be high enough to hide any ships” argument – yes. 😉

  4. Richard says:

    Here is the JPL’s mapping for tectonic plates montion

    Given that the vertical motion of a lot of those ground based points is much, much more that the recorded sea level rise in the same area I worry about what we are actually seeing.

  5. Richard says:

    For instance see and puzzle about how a yearly signal appears to be visible in the land height data!

  6. Richard says:

    Oh and an overall vertical trend rate of +4.292 +- 1.433 mm/yr.

  7. Hans Jelbring says:

    (Leif Svalgaard who say that planetary effects on the Sun are “out of the question because no force from the planets even remotely strong enough to affect the Sun is evident”.)

    Leif´s comment rests on the assumption that the gravity model formulated by Newton is enough to describe energy interaction between celestial bodies. Still, any scientist should be iaware of the fact that the motion of three celestial bodies cannot be calculated by the help of that model. The extremely good record in predicting the positions of planetary bodies is resting on observational evidence and the addition of a number of “perturbation terms” to “correct” the Newton formula and the Kepler “laws”. Leif´s type of ignorance is preventing curious and competent scientists to get support in investigating what obviously should be worth investigating. Energy fluxes between celestial bodies creates mass motion in atmospheres and spots on the sun. One day that statement will formally be proven by the use of accepted scientific methods.

  8. Edwin crockford says:

    I hit the tail end of this denial whilst at a well known and ancient University. The geology department refused to even admit that is plate tectonics nonsense had any validity and refused to teach it. So an underground set of lectures sprung up run by some geophysicists that did not accept the consensus view.
    All this 40 years ago and still people run round saying the science is settled. That’s what I love about science, never settled, always something else to learn, always something else to disprove.

  9. Paul Vaughan says:

    Richard (January 25, 2013 at 2:52 pm) wrote:
    “Here is the JPL’s mapping for tectonic plates montion
    Given that the vertical motion of a lot of those ground based points is much, much more that the recorded sea level rise in the same area I worry about what we are actually seeing.”

    Good find.
    Looks like hydrology at work.
    See for example …



    Also check a selection of coastal & coastal mountain stations for the Pacific Northwest of North America — very informative. We have a heavy annual rain cycle here and we get multiple meters of mountain snow like nothing I’d ever seen on the east coast when I lived there.

    I also note something interesting for the Philippines, but there are a lot of data gaps & jumps complicating interpretation.

    Hopefully NASA JPL will summarize the annual amplitudes (for all 3 dimensions) on color-contour maps someday soon.

    Thanks for the valuable tip Richard.

  10. Scute says:

    I have always been interested in this. It was the first thing that drew me to the Talkshop when my search terms to do with the the orbit and spin of Uranus were linked to the ‘spin orbit’ sun-planet link theory propounded here. It seems generally accepted that the gravitational forces of the planets alone are insuffienct but I have wondered whether an exact causative link has actually been proposed, nailed down. I think the crucial concept here is keeping in mind the idea of a tipping point, in other words, the ‘last straw’ effects of a small force on a large, already-dynamic, self-fuelled system.

    There was at least a hint of a causative mechanism in a paper discussed here at the Talkshop a few months ago (cant remember who, sorry) when they mentioned effects in the layers at the bottom of the convective layer. They didn’t actually link the words ‘tachocline’ ‘shear force’ and ‘laminar flow’ but came so close to doing so that I wondered if they were implying that this was key to the mechanism. That is, the small gravitational forces pulling on the Sun’s tidal bulge by Jupiter and Saturn were leveraged by their effects at the margin, the tipping point, to allow the unleashing of or dampening of convective forces that lead to sunspots. And still there was no exact mechanism laid out in a blow by blow account of how this would generate sunspots. I was going to comment then on just how far they were saying they had got and what it meant. I didn’t get round to it so I’ll do so now. I don’t know if this is a proposition or a question confirming what they were saying:

    If the tidal bulge, is pulled and therefore sped up by the gravitational attraction of Jupiter and Saturn, this would surely increase the shear force at or near the the tachocline. (I would have doubted the effect would be that low down but only in an intuitive sense, and the authors themselves were discussing effects near the tachocline). This would promote laminar flow which by definition is characterised as a reduction in eddies. That in turn would affect the magnetic field lines in the locality and the propensity for convection plumes to take hold.

    I realise the tidal bulge thickness is minuscule in relation to the convective layer but there is already a large rotational differential at the tachocline (except in the mid latitudes). So, at the margins, a tidal bulge as part of the convective layer perhaps could after all be sped up so as to increase the rotational speed differential between convective layer and core and therefore the laminar flow near the tachocline.

    I would go further still, with a focus on the mid latitudes:

    The interesting point here is that as Jupiter and Saturn’s effect waxes and wanes over the few months of their conjunction, the rate of differential speeds at the tachocline would wax and wane too. Since the mid latitudes have a zero differential speed between the convective layer and the core, in reality there would be an oscillation, up and then down of the notional latitude at which this stationary rotational speed gradient exists. It would move up and down within a fairly narrow band if the differential speeds in that paper a few months back are correct. Also, if there is no rotational speed gradient at this latitude there must be a very different convection scenario going on there at the depth of the tachocline- except, by definition, there is no tachocline at this latitude strictly speaking. Here’s the deal: I can’t help feeling that Jupiter and Saturn affecting this precise narrow latitude band every (roughly) eleven years is the root cause of at least the onset of the sunspot cycle- not least of all because this is the same time and latitude at which sunspots are first seen before migrating to the equator.

    This phenomenon, instigated solely by the eleven year cycle of gravitational forces from Jupiter and Saturn would instigate a once in eleven year process by which each successive mid latitude band that had been rotationaly quiescent (no rotational speed gradient between convective layer and core) would be turned into a shear layer as the effect travels up the latitude bands while leaving once-turbulent latitudes rotationaly still behind it. The whole process would then act in reverse, (as Jupiter and Saturn moved out of conjunction) back down the latitudes within this narrow mid latitude band and be over in a matter of months having churned over an entire band, not once but twice. It would only happen once every eleven years and only in the precise time and place where we see sunspots emerge.

    Whether it would be the latitudes that change from rotationaly still to shear layer that initiate anomalous convection/magnetic activity I wouldn’t venture. Perhaps it would be the layers that change from shear layer to still. The main point is that it is anomalous changes in the rotational speed gradient between convective layer and core and therefore the sheer dynamics and convection characteristics.

    Forgive me if this is all well-known or has been debunked before but if it has been posited and someone can confirm, deny or entertain it we shall all be wiser. Your thoughts are welcome. Thanks.


  11. Hi Roger,

    well as you know I have two papers that address the above issue

    Scafetta N., 2012. Multi-scale harmonic model for solar and climate cyclical variation throughout the Holocene based on Jupiter-Saturn tidal frequencies plus the 11-year solar dynamo cycle. Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics 80, 296-311.

    Scafetta N., 2012. Does the Sun work as a nuclear fusion amplifier of planetary tidal forcing? A proposal for a physical mechanism based on the mass-luminosity relation. Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics 81-82, 27-40.

    as explained in the second paper, the important fact to take into consideration is that the sun is a generator of energy regulated by gravity and therefore it should work as an amplifier of gravitational perturbations such as the small tidal perturbation. Once the calculations are done correctly it came out that the tidal energy dissipated into the sun stimulate a luminosity variability approximately of the same order of the observed TSI variation.

    So, if my calculations are correct, a working physical mechanism has been found.

    The error of Leif and other like him is that they think that luminosity perturbations occurring inside the solar core cannot emerge out, which ignores wave propagation mechanisms, and treat the sun as if it is a classical Newtonian system, which is evidently not.

  12. Paul Vaughan says:

    @ Scute (January 25, 2013 at 5:01 pm)

    I appreciate your appreciation for modulation of gradients. It’s differentials that drive flow (…and it’s the spatial ones that can scramble accidental &/or deliberate ignorant mainstream interpretation of aggregate temporal evolution).

    The solar cycle is synchronized with JEV, which is synchronized with J+N. This doesn’t mean S plays no role. What it means is that the boundary conditions are set by the highest & lowest frequency gas giants (J & N, respectively). The boundary conditions (J+N & J-N) and their hierarchically downstream echoes (for example in Earth-Moon relations) are evident everywhere in the solar system, including in terrestrial climate. These boundary conditions (which have a special qualitative role) are the easiest aggregate constraints to detect.

    The midlatitude westerly winds on Earth are modulated by the solar cycle. This is via temperature gradient modulation of mass & heat flow (and hence atmospheric shape). I suspect coupling of plate tectonics with solar-driven multidecadal waves thus cumulatively arising (via cumulative turbulent superposition of temporally exponentially damped meridional vs. zonal decadal equator-pole heat & water pumping) as illustrated by Wyatt, Tsonis, & Kravtsov (2011) as well as with qualitatively distinct southern hemisphere high-latitude multidecadal waves alluded to by Bill Illis. This has to do with asymmetric terrestrial flow geometry — i.e. avoiding potentially paradoxical interpretation of temporal evolution requires careful awareness of the role of comparative spatial form in flow modulation, as Bill has patiently & carefully cautioned us many, many times with his excellent illustrations. Thanks Bill. I believe we are one step from decisively understanding the the nature of the Chandler wobble phase reversal of ~1930.

  13. oldbrew says:

    Nobody likes the ground shifting under their feet 😉

  14. A sad example….
    Yesterday very low solar wind (250 Km/s.)
    Today geomagnetic disturbance

    rog, I’ve had great fear …earthquake near Lucca(Tuscany) Italy
    Magnitude 5.0 – NORTHERN ITALY

  15. w.w. wygart says:

    ” if I could I prove there was a force that could move continents, then he might think about it.”

    Well, among other possibilities, maybe the forces required are much smaller than one might at first suppose – not fully understanding the underlying process. Park an iceberg the size of Manhattan on the mainland and it’s an immovable object; plop it in the water and a fresh breeze will get it moving – no mystery there. What are the actual forces acting upon a continent and what are their magnitude?? What are the actual forces required to set and keep one in motion???? How do you find out?????

    What are the actual forces acting on the Sun, the Earth’s climate system and what are their magnitude??…

    We simply don’t know enough yet about the dynamics of the sun, solar system, the earth’s climate system to say we have a high confidence in our understanding even of the magnitude of the forces necessary to cause its operation – in my opinion. Hopefully those smarter than me will shed some light on the subject, people here on this blog seem to be moving the ball forward in our understanding, which is why I follow [since I cannot contribute meaningfully].

    A number of years ago I worked a school that happened to have a 1961 edition of World Book encyclopedia still on the shelves [older than me BTW]. It’s article on geology that attempted to account for the present states of the continents and mountain uplift was, to be polite, ‘entertaining’. The theories extant at the time [which was what all ‘smart people’ believed] was this incredibly tortured account of vast 50k meter deep trenches [and where did those come from??] slowly filling with sediments eroded from continental mountain ranges, tilting the continents and uplifting mountain ranges & etc. – all quite laughable to a ‘modern’ ‘smart person’ – yet any nine year old of the day could tell you just by looking at the map that Africa and South America obviously went together, yet all of the ‘smart people’ would smile politely at you [down the ends of their noses] in your naiveté and in perfect confidence of their ‘rightness’ inform you that your observation was a “coincidence”. All of those 1961 ‘smart people’ we all now know for a fact were completely wrong, and not just wrong, would not admit they were wrong and some went to the yawning grave still refusing to believe they were wrong – or – they simply adopted the ‘new’ ‘right’ orthodoxy of plate tectonics and completely obliterated from their minds that they had ever been wrong.

    Are our accounts of the workings of solar or celestial dynamics any less tortured than World Book c. 1961?? What WILL the ‘smart people’ think of us in 2043???

    So is what we witness in current debate over ‘whatever’ the issue du jour is: a] science, b] a scientific process gone wrong, or c] a mental health issue?

    “A coincidence is what you have left over after you apply a bad theory.” JBS Haldane


  16. Paul Vaughan says:

    Hans Jelbring (January 25, 2013 at 3:44 pm) wrote:
    “Leif´s type of ignorance is preventing curious and competent scientists to get support in investigating what obviously should be worth investigating.”

  17. Edwin Crockford, I do not know of any geologist in Australia that was not taught about crustal plates and continental drift. School children more than 60 years ago were taught in geography that Australia was special and was drifting about 25cm per year (ie northern parts getting more tropical). Australians had dinosaurs from which monotremes, that exist no where else, developed and from these came marsupials. South America has one example of a marsupial which shows that there once was a connection to Australia after Africa and India broke away.
    Wider education maybe is a reason that there is no geologist of my acquaintance that accepts AGW (or climate change as referenced by alarmists and the IPCC). World respected geologist Prof. Ian Pilmer (discoverer of the Broken Hill western load and gold deposits in many countries) is a bete noir of the alarmists because he understands the past better than any of them and can demonstrate with factual data where they are wrong. The book “heaven+earth-Global warming: The Missing Science” may contain a few misinterpretations and typographical errors but it is a worthwhile reference for the beginner. His chapter 3 -The Sun pp100 to 147 covers such things as cosmic radiation, sunspots , magnetic fields and chemical origins. Chapter 4 -The earth PP148 to 236 mentions plate tectonics, volcanics, atmospheric changes, oceans, evolution of life, extinctions etc.I value my signed copy.

  18. Steven Mosher says:

    yes, some people make the trace gas argument as well.

    [Reply] What’s that Mosh? Trace gases moving continents or affecting solar variability? 🙂

  19. Coldish says:

    Cementafriend: 25cm/yr seems rather fast – should that be 2.5cm?

  20. Coldish says:

    The problem that geophysicists such as Jeffreys had with Wegener’s continental drift theory was that the lithosphere (solid outer layer of the earth, around 100km thick) underlying the ocean basins is too strong for the continents to be able to plough through it. This problem vanished when people like Hess** assembled evidence to show that continents and adjacent ocean basins move together, forming plates which ride passively on the underlying convecting mantle.
    **Hess, H.H. 1962. History of ocean basins. In: Petrologic studies: a volume to honor A.F.Buddington, pp 599-620. San Diego.

  21. tallbloke says:

    Scute: It’s great to see intelligent people applying their minds to this. Come to the conference.

    Nicola: your papers have pioneered the solar-planetary theory into the modern literature which is a great achievement. I think there are several possibilities for mechanisms. Similar to the situation with plate tectonics at the moment, we don’t know yet which are correct, or dominant. the important point is that they are viable.

    The other important point I have tried to make in this post is that discussion of the viability of the proposed mechanisms should be separated from discussion of the validity of the correlations between planetary motion and solar variation. For too long detractors have successfully diverted attention from the strength of the correlations with spurious argument about the supposed impossibility of a viable mechanism. Nicola was wise to keep the issues apart in his two papers, and this is a good example to follow.

  22. G. Watkins says:

    Miles Mathis has some interesting essays on plate tectonics and heat generation in the core.
    Who knows, but certainly entertaining and thought provoking.

  23. tallbloke says:

    I got a lot of flak last year for highlighting Mathis’ paper on the Earth heat question:

    As you say, who knows. My main reason for republishing the paper was to engender discussion of the disconnect between astrophysics theories and Earth science theories that Miles pointed out.

  24. Hi Coldish, I just looked up it up here,, and I quote ” About 95 million years ago, tectonic forces (movements and pressures of Earth’s crust) split Australia from Antarctica and the southern supercontinent of Gondwanaland. Geologists estimate that the continent is drifting northward at a rate of approximately 18 in (28 cm) per year. They theorize that south Australia was joined to Antarctica at the Antarctic regions of Wilkes Land, including Commonwealth Bay. Over a period of 65 million years, beginning 160 million years ago, Australia’s crust was stretched hundreds of miles by tectonics before it finally cleaved from Antarctica.”
    Another site,, gives 1 (eg Eurasian) to 8 (Pacific)cm/yr for various plates but does not mention the Australian Plate. A christian site mentions 14 cm/yr for the Pacific plate but again does not mention the Australian plate.
    Many of the earlier texts talk about Pangaea breaking up 200-250 myr ago and then quote movements of upto 10 cm/yr However, if one takes a later date for Australia’s split off then 25 cm/yr is possible. There certainly is considerable volcanic activity in Indonesia and PNG.

  25. Klam says:

    My completely (unproven, as of yet unscientific) bogus theorems (insert strongbad quote) hints and points to the expanding earth theory (neal adams). Together with the electric universe theories these are highly controversial. But in my opinion, just because we haven’t yet found a mechanism that increases earth mass, doesn’t mean there doesn’t exist such a mechanism. Some scientist (Meyl) point to neutrinos. Since E=MC^2 why not the possibility that electricity.

    For me it is clear THAT the earth is expanding, and continents don’t “drift” but the oceans expand. if you can understand a bit of german, i’ld like to suggest the (ARTE) documentary on youtube “und sie bewegt sich doch” (vom wachsenden erdball).

  26. oldfossil says:

    Although the solar wind from Sol is reasonably well understood and very well measured — see the widget on this page — nobody seems to be paying attention to the galactic winds as a possible factor in solar variation.

    Regarding continental drift, the simple fact that the joint centre of gravity of the moon and the earth lies well below the earth’s surface produces strong mechanical leverage. However for that hypothesis to be proved they would have to show that the wandering continents are those that drift westwards.

  27. tallbloke says:


    If you want to help raise the profile of the talkshop and improve our chances of getting sponsorship for the September conference, please nominate us for the Bloggies awards.

    Nominations close later today.

    Thanks for your help.

  28. Scute says:

    Done. And confirmation email actioned.

    And thanks for your feedback, above.