Tree rings offer insights into devastating radiation storms

Tree rings offer insights into devastating radiation storms

Composite image showing a tree ring and flame – University of Queensland researchers used tree ring data to model the global carbon cycle to challenge popular theory about the Miyake events. Credit: University of Queensland

A University of Queensland study has shed new light on a mysterious, unpredictable and potentially devastating type of astrophysical event.

A team led by Dr Benjamin Pope from the University of Queensland’s School of Mathematics and Physics applied sophisticated statistics to data from trees thousands of years old, to learn more about radiation “Storms”.

“These massive outbursts of cosmic radiation, known as the Miyake events, occurred about once every thousand years, but their cause is unclear,” Dr. Pope said.

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

Enter the humble tree ring.

First author Chengyuan Zhang, a mathematics student at the University of Queensland, developed a program to analyze every bit of the available data. tree trunk rings.

“Because you can calculate tree rings to determine its age, you can also observe historical cosmic events that go back thousands of years,” said Mr. Zhang. “When radiation hits the atmosphere, it produces radioactive carbon-14, which filters 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 10,000 years, to gain insight into the scale and nature of the Miyake events.”

The popular theory until now was that the Miyake events are giant solar flares.

“But our results challenge this,” said Mr. Zhang. “We’ve shown that they are not associated with sunspot activity, and some actually last for a year or two. Instead of a single instantaneous flare or flare, what we might be looking at is some kind of ‘storm’ or astrophysical explosion.”

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

“Based on the available data, there is about a one percent chance of seeing another one within the next decade. But we don’t know how to predict it or what damage it might cause. These possibilities are very worrying, and lay the foundation for further research.”

The search was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society AIt was completed with the help of undergraduate students in Mathematics and Physics Utkarsh Sharma and Jordan Denise.

Tree ring analysis reveals very abnormal solar activity in the middle of the Holocene

more information:
Modeling cosmic radiation events in the tree ring-shaped radiocarbon record, Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1098 / rspa.2022.0497.… .1098 / rspa.2022.0497

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