Solar storms have caused serious disruptions

* Summary of a recent National Research Council report Severe Space Weather Events – Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report

This is the second of a three-part summary of a recent National Research Council report Severe Space Weather Events – Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report. The entire report is available online free as a single PDF file with a simple registration of e-mail address, ZIP code and economic sector. Alternatively, the executive summary is available without registration and the entire text is freely readable through a Web browser.

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The preface of the report includes this description of the effects of a solar storm in "late October and early November 2003 [which] produced intense solar energetic particle events and triggered severe geomagnetic storms, the wide ranging effects of which were described [in a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report published in April 2004] as follows:

The Sydkraft utility group in Sweden reported that strong geomagnetically induced currents (GIC) over Northern Europe caused transformer problems and even a system failure and subsequent blackout. Radiation storm levels were high enough to prompt NASA officials to issue a flight directive to the ISS astronauts to take precautionary shelter. Airlines took unprecedented actions in their high latitude routes to avoid the high radiation levels and communication blackout areas.

Rerouted flights cost airlines $10,000 to $100,000 per flight. Numerous anomalies were reported by deep space missions and by satellites at all orbits. GSFC Space Science Mission Operations Team indicated that approximately 59% of the Earth and Space science missions were impacted. The storms are suspected to have caused the loss of the $640 million ADEOS-2 spacecraft. On board the ADEOS-2 was the $150 million NASA SeaWinds instrument. Due to the variety and intensity of this solar activity outbreak, most industries vulnerable to space weather experienced some degree of impact to their operations.

The summary points out that in March 1989, a solar storm caused, "the collapse within 90 seconds of northeastern Canada's Hydro-Québec power grid during the great geomagnetic storm of March 1989, which left millions of people without electricity for up to 9 hours." Additional examples of space-weather effects include (quoting directly from the summary):

• The outage in January 1994 of two Canadian telecommunications satellites during a period of enhanced energetic electron fluxes at geosynchronous orbit, disrupting communications services nationwide. The first satellite recovered in a few hours; recovery of the second satellite took six months and cost $50 million to $70 million.

• The diversion of 26 United Airlines flights to non-polar or less-than-optimum polar routes during several days of disturbed space weather in January 2005. The flights were diverted to avoid the risk of HF radio blackouts during PCA events. The increased flight time and extra landings and takeoffs required by such route changes increase fuel consumption and raise cost, while the delays disrupt connections to other flights.

• Disabling of the Federal Aviation Administration's recently implemented GPS-based Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) for 30 hours during the severe space weather events of October-November 2003.

The third and final part of this summary series finishes with a few more cases of disruption and some practical recommendations for action.

CONTENTS OF THE SEVERE SPACE WEATHER EVENTS

The 144 page report (there's a National Academies Press flier inserted before the cover page) includes the following sections and chapters:

Preface

Acknowledgement of Reviewers

Contents

Summary

1. INTRODUCTION

• Historical Background (The Great Magnetic Storms of August-September 1859 (the Carrington Event); Space Weather: "The Mysterious Connection Between the Solar Spots and Terrestrial Magnetism")

• Space Weather and Socioeconomic Impacts

• Workshop Planning and Report Structure

2. SPACE WEATHER IMPACTS IN RETROSPECT

• Space Weather and Power Grids

• The Workshop Presentation

• Space Weather and Aviation Navigation

• Space Weather and Satellites

• Space Weather and GPS Services

• Summary

3. SPACE WEATHER AND SOCIETY

• Space Weather, Infrastructure and Society

• Risk Evaluation

• Low-Frequency/High-Consequence Events

• Research on Complex, Adaptive Systems

• Summary

4. CURRENT SPACE WEATHER SERVICES INFRASTRUCTURE

• Space Weather Data, Infrastructure, and Services Provided for Space Weather Situational Awareness and Forecasting

• Space Weather Models and Tools

• Customers for Current Space Weather Services

• Latency of Services and Forecast Windows

• Space Weather Monitoring for the NASA Exploration Missions

• Transfer of the Results of NASA's Theory and Modeling Programs to Operations

• Questions and Discussion

• Summary

5. USER PERSPECTIVES ON SPACE WEATHER PRODUCTS

• Airline Industry Perspective

• Electric Power Industry Perspective

• Precision Geo-Location Services Industry Perspective

• Satellite Manufacturing and Operations Industry Perspective

• U.S. Air Force Perspective

• Summary

6. SATISFYING SPACE WEATHER USER NEEDS

• Organization of the National Space Weather Program

• Core Mission and Current Capabilities of the Space Weather Prediction Center

• Future Directions of the Space Weather Prediction Center

• Panel and Audience Feedback

• Summary

7. FUTURE SOLUTIONS, VULNERABILITIES, AND RISKS

• Power Grids

• Global Positioning Systems and Aviation

• Satellites

• Risk and Predicting Future Extremes

• Summary

8. FACILITATED OPEN AUDIENCE DISCUSSION: THE WAY FORWARD

• Instrumentation and Monitoring: The Space Weather Observation System

• Our Capacity for Understanding and Predicting Space Weather

• A Nation at Risk? Assessing the Potential Disruption to Infrastructure from Severe Space Weather Events

• Risk Analysis and Risk Management

• Who is Responsible? Management of the Space Weather Monitoring and Response System

• Education, Training, and Public Awareness

• The Way Forward

APPENDICES

A. Statement of Task

B. Workshop Agenda and Participants

C. Abstracts Prepared by Workshop Panelists

D. Biographies of Committee Members and Staff

E. Select Acronyms and Terms

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