Solar eruptions could disrupt power grids, telecom by 2012

January 13th, 2009 - 2:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 13 (IANS) Extreme solar eruptions could disrupt communications, power grids and other technology on earth by 2012.These eruptions are expected to increase in frequency and intensity towards the next solar maximum cycle which peaks in 2012, up from the current minimum of its 11-year activity cycle.

“Whether it is terrestrial catastrophes or extreme space weather incidents, the results can be devastating to modern societies that depend in a myriad of ways on advanced technological systems,” warned Daniel Baker, director, Lab for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Colorado University in Boulder.

The study, conducted by the National Academy of Sciences for NASA, provides some of the first clear economic data that effectively quantifies today’s risk of extreme conditions in space driven by solar magnetic activity.

Such conditions can produce solar storm electromagnetic fields that induce extreme currents in wires, disrupting power lines, causing wide-spread blackouts and affecting communication cables that support the Internet.

It also produces solar energetic particles and the dislocation of the earth’s radiation belts, which can damage satellites used for commercial communications, global positioning and weather forecasting.

“Obviously, the sun is Earth’s life blood,” said Richard Fisher, director of the Heliophysics division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “To mitigate possible public safety issues, it is vital that we better understand extreme space weather events caused by the sun’s activity.”

Besides emitting a continuous stream of plasma called the solar wind, the sun periodically releases billions of tonnes of matter called coronal mass ejections.

These immense clouds of material, when directed towards Earth, can cause large magnetic storms in the magnetosphere and upper atmosphere. Such space weather can affect the performance and reliability of space-borne and ground-based technological systems, said a National Academy release.

NASA requested the study to assess the potential damage from significant space weather during the next 20 years. National and international experts from industry, government and academia participated in the study.

“We were delighted that NASA helped support bringing together dozens of world experts from industry and government to share their experiences and begin planning of improved public policy strategies,” Baker added.

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