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    'Controlled' power cuts likely as Sun storm threatens national grid

    Carol
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    'Controlled' power cuts likely as Sun storm threatens national grid Empty 'Controlled' power cuts likely as Sun storm threatens national grid

    Post  Carol Tue Jun 14, 2011 7:22 am

    'Controlled' power cuts likely as Sun storm threatens national grid Article-1171951-048ABEAF000005DC-343_468x286
    Trouble ahead: How the sun storm might look in London
    'Controlled' power cuts likely as Sun storm threatens national grid
    Officials in Britain and the United States are preparing to make controlled power cuts to their national electricity supplies in response to a warning of a possible powerful solar storm hitting the Earth. In an interview with The Independent, Thomas Bogdan, director of the US Space Weather Prediction Centre, said that controlled power "outages" will protect the National Electricity Grids against damage which could take months or even years to repair should a large solar storm collide with the Earth without any precautions being taken.

    Dr Bogdan is in close discussions with scientists in the UK Met Office to set up a second space weather prediction centre in Britain to co-ordinate a global response to a threat viewed seriously by both the US and UK governments. One topic of discussion is how to protect national electricity grids from the immense power surges caused by the geomagnetic storms which happen when highly energetic solar particles collide with the Earth's magnetic field.

    The most vulnerable parts of the grid are the hundreds of transformers connected to power lines many miles long that can experience sudden current surges during a geomagnetic solar storm, Dr Bogdan said. "It points to a potential scenario where large parts of either North America or northern Europe may be without power from between days or weeks, to perhaps months and, in extreme cases, there are estimates that it could last years," Dr Bogdan said.

    The aim of the joint US-UK collaboration is to improve solar weather forecasting to a point where it is possible to warn power companies of an imminent storm. There is a feeling that if a "category 5" solar storm – the biggest of the five categories – were to be predicted, then taking the grid off-line before it is due to hit Earth and letting the storm pass would be better than trying to keep things running, he said.

    In 1989, a solar geomagentic storm knocked out the electricity grid across large parts of Canada. The loss cascaded across the United States and caused power problems as far away as California. The greatest fear is a massive storm as big as the one documented by astronomer Richard Carrington in 1859, which burnt out telegraph wires.

    "The sort of storms capable of doing that are fairly rare events. We refer to them as 'black swans'," Dr Bogdan said. "If the Carrington event occurred today, and power grid operators did not take efforts to safeguard their infrastructure, then we could be facing a scenario like that."
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/controlled-power-cuts-likely-as-sun-storm-threatens-national-grid-2296748.html

    Tom Bogdan: 'The sky at night stops me from sleeping'
    The head of the world's only civilian operation to forecast solar storms is a worried man. Steve Connor reports"Dr Bogdan says that the recent agreement between President Obama and the Prime Minister to build a second space weather predicton centre is predicated on the idea that society is now far more vulnerable than it was during previous peaks in solar activity.


    "Advanced technology has crept into just about everything we do. GPS has entered so many parts of our lives," he says. But this dependence creates vulnerability, which is why you need a cool head to be the man who will warn the world of a Category 5 storm to rival the infamous Carrington Event of 1859."

    Tom Bogdan doesn't strike you as the nervous type but there is one thing that does keep him awake at night. His insomnia is caused by a 14-year-old satellite sitting between the Earth and the Sun some 1.5 million km away which he fears may one day suddenly die, so leaving the world without a vital early-warning system against a devastating solar storm.

    Dr Bogdan is head of the US Space Weather Prediction Centre, the only civilian operation in the world dedicated to forecasting the size and timing of solar storms on a 24/7 basis. The satellite disturbing his sleep, the Advanced Composition Explorer, was designed with a lifetime of just two years – which is why, 14 years after its launch, Dr Bogdan gets worried.

    Last week, the Earth was bombarded by millions of tons of solar particles travelling at a million miles an hour. Fortunately, this solar storm was a relatively minor affair. Dr Bogdan's centre gave it Category One status, the lowest of the five solar-storm categories. But there is always the risk that one day the Earth will be hit by a Category Five storm, which in space weather terms amounts to a cosmic hurricane capable of knocking out GPS satellites, power grids and critical telecommunications.

    The Sun is now emerging from the lowest period of inactivity since the space age took off 50 years ago. Last week's event is almost certain to be just the start of a cycle that is expected to peak in 2013. It is during this rising activity that we can expect the Earth to be buffeted by some devastating solar storms.

    Britain has now teamed up with the US to create a second solar weather prediction centre which, like its counterpart in Boulder, will operate 24/7 to make forecasts about an "imminent coronal mass ejection" – when the Sun spews out a billion or so tons of energetically charged particles travelling at a million miles an hour that can interact with electronic and magnetic devices, from satellites to electrical transformers.

    The UK Met Office and Dr Bogdan's centre are now exchanging computer models and expertise in the hope that each can learn from one another about the vagaries of space weather prediction, which Dr Bogdan freely admits is still in its infancy: "Today, unfortunately, space weather is where meteorology was at the end of the 1950s."

    His book-lined office overlooks the Rocky Mountains and is situated within the Boulder laboratories of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for predicting terrestrial hurricanes, among other things. He is a mathematician by training and first got interested in the Sun when he met his academic supervisor, a scientist called Eugene Parker who predicted the existence of the solar wind before it was discovered.

    One of Dr Bogdan's undoubted skills is what in America is called "public outreach". In other words, he is a good communicator, which he demonstrates in his verbal description of what actually happens when the Sun starts to get active.

    "It usually starts with a solar flare, which is composed of a lot of ultraviolet and shortwave radiation travelling at the speed of light, so it takes eight minutes to get to us from the Sun,"
    Dr Bogdan says.

    "Down here at ground level we never see it or experience it but it gets absorbed in the atmosphere overhead by the ozone protective layer. It leads to an overactive ionosphere and that impacts people who operate GPS and any high-frequency radio communications," he says.

    "Ten to 30 minutes later, if we are well connected to the flare site of the Sun where the event occurred, energetic particles will start bombarding the atmosphere," he explains.

    This is when it gets dangerous for astronauts to be out there in space as these particles can penetrate their protective suits and damage their DNA. They can also cause "bit flips" in electronic devices controlled by computer. "In the past we've had satellites rendered inoperable because of severe radiation storms," Dr Bogdan says. "However, the big impacts we are concerned about are power grids, because those long wires connected to transformers can pick up currents that can cause power outages."

    The biggest known solar storm occurred in 1859 and was documented by the British astronomer Richard Carrington, after whom the event is now known. More recently, in 2003, a solar storm caused the loss of an air navigation system across the United States that relied on GPS satellites.

    Dr Bogdan says that the recent agreement between President Obama and the Prime Minister to build a second space weather predicton centre is predicated on the idea that society is now far more vulnerable than it was during previous peaks in solar activity.

    "Advanced technology has crept into just about everything we do. GPS has entered so many parts of our lives," he says. But this dependence creates vulnerability, which is why you need a cool head to be the man who will warn the world of a Category 5 storm to rival the infamous Carrington Event of 1859.

    "We know the Sun is capable of an 1859 event. It would be shortsighted to say that that's the worst the Sun could ever do. It can probably do worse than 1859," he says.

    Route to the stars

    * Born in 1957 in Buffalo, NY – the same year as the largest ever recorded sunspot.

    * His father was an engineer on the Manhattan Project, while his mother was a writer and political advocate for local Native Americans.

    * Graduated from the State University of New York in 1979 with highest honours and went on to earn a Masters and PhD in Physics from the University of Chicago.

    * In 1993 he married Barb Cardell, a sexual health campaigner.

    * For nearly 20 years he was a leading scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research and was appointed director of the Space Weather Prediction Centre in 2006.


    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/tom-bogdan-the-sky-at-night-stops-me-from-sleeping-2296759.html


    Last edited by Carol on Tue Jun 14, 2011 7:41 am; edited 3 times in total


    _________________
    What is life?
    It is the flash of a firefly in the night, the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.

    With deepest respect ~ Aloha & Mahalo, Carol
    Carol
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    'Controlled' power cuts likely as Sun storm threatens national grid Empty Re: 'Controlled' power cuts likely as Sun storm threatens national grid

    Post  Carol Tue Jun 14, 2011 7:37 am

    'Controlled' power cuts likely as Sun storm threatens national grid 5200235_614314t
    Meltdown! A solar superstorm could send us back into the dark ages - and one is due in just THREE years
    The catastrophe, when it comes, will be beautiful at first. It is a balmy evening in late September 2012. Ever since the sun set, the dimming skies over London have been alive with fire.

    Pillars of incandescent green writhe like gigantic serpents across the skies.
    Sheets of orange race across the horizon during the most spectacular display of the aurora borealis seen in southern England for 153 years.
    And then, 90 seconds later, the lights start to go out. Not the lights in the sky - they will dazzle until dawn - but the lights on the ground.

    Within an hour, large parts of Britain are without power.

    By midnight, every mobile network is down and the internet is dying. Television - terrestrial and satellite - blinks off the air.

    Radio is reduced to a burst of static.

    By noon the following day, it is clear something terrible has happened and the civilised world has plunged into chaos.

    A year later, Britain, most of Europe plus North America is in the grip of the deepest economic catastrophe in history.

    By the end of 2013, 100,000 Europeans have died of starvation.

    The dead go unburied, the sick untreated.

    It will take two decades or more for the first green shoots of recovery to appear - recovery from the first solar superstorm in modern history.

    This catastrophe is not some academic one-in-a-million chance scenario.

    It is a very real threat which, according to a report in the latest issue of New Scientist, remains one of the most potent, yet least recognised, threats to the future of human civilization.

    'Controlled' power cuts likely as Sun storm threatens national grid Article-1171951-006F2A05000004B0-942_468x286
    Solar activity: The sun, seen through a NASA telescope
    Moreover, it is something that has happened before - not that long ago - and indeed has the potential to arrive every 11 years.
    So what actually is it?
    Solar storms do not normally cause much concern. Swarms of electrically charged subatomic particles from the Sun periodically buffet the Earth and its surroundings, causing health worries for astronauts and the owners of satellites, whose delicate electronics can be fried.
    But down on the surface, cocooned under an ocean of air, we rarely notice more than the pretty lights in the sky, created as the electrically charged particles from the Sun sweep into the Earth's own magnetic field to generate the Northern and Southern Lights.
    But every now and then, the Sun is convulsed by a gigantic tempest: 50,000-mile-wide eddies of boiling hydrogen plasma on its surface ejecting a billion-tonne, malevolent blob of crackling-charged gas into space at a million miles an hour.
    And, very occasionally, one of these mighty coronal mass ejections, as they are called, smacks into the Earth head-on.
    This last happened on the morning of September 1, 1859.

    That day, one of Britain's top astronomers, Richard Carrington, was observing the Sun.

    Using a filter, he was able to study the solar surface through his telescope, and he saw something unusual.

    A bright flash of light erupted from the Sun's surface and detached itself from it.

    Unbeknown to Carrington, that bright spot was a cloud of charged plasma on its way to Earth.

    Just 48 hours later it struck, and the effects were extraordinary.

    Brilliant aurorae lit the Earth's night skies right down to the Tropics - their light being so brilliant it was possible to read a newspaper at midnight.
    In California, a group of gold miners were roused from their bed hours early, thinking the dawn and a new day's prospecting had come. It was 2am.
    Telegraph operators received severe electric shocks as solar-induced currents surged through the networks. It was as though the Earth had been immersed in a bath of electricity.

    Such damage as there was, was easy to repair. In 1859, the world ran mostly on steam and muscle.

    'Controlled' power cuts likely as Sun storm threatens national grid Article-1171951-046E074A000005DC-110_468x409
    Solar flare: Large-scale activity on the sun in 2003

    Human civilisation did not depend on a gargantuan super-network of electric power and communications.

    But it does now. Electric power is modern society's 'cornerstone technology', the technology on which virtually all other infrastructures and services depend.
    Daniel Baker, a space weather expert at the University of Colorado, prepared a report for the U.S. National Academy of Sciences last month, and the conclusions make grim reading.

    'Every year, our human technology becomes more vulnerable,' he says.

    A repeat of the 1859 Carrington event today would have far graver consequences than the frying of some telegraph wires.

    The problem comes with our dependence on electricity and the way this electricity is generated and transmitted.

    A huge solar storm would cause massive power surges, amounting to billions of unwanted watts surging through the grids.

    Most critically, the transformers which convert the multi-thousand-volt current carried by the pylons into 240v domestic current would melt - thousands of them, in every country.

    This would bring the world to its knees. With no electricity, we would not just be in the dark.

    We are dependent, to a degree few of us perhaps appreciate, on a functioning grid for our survival. All our water and sewage plants run on electricity.

    A couple of days after a solar superstorm, the taps would run dry.

    Within a week, we would lose all heat and light as reserves ran out, the supermarket shelves would run empty and the complex supply and distribution networks upon which our society depends would have started to break down.

    No telephones, no medicines, no manufacturing, no farming - and no food.

    Global communications and travel would also collapse - a solar superstorm would probably destroy the network of GPS satellites upon which every airline depends.

    Of course, the power grid can be rebuilt, new transformers and cables made, new satellites launched - but organising this in a world teetering on the brink of collapse would not be easy.

    Humanity would recover, but it would take decades. A seemingly innocuous event, one which apparently poses no direct threat to human health at all, would have an effect on our world comparable to that of a small nuclear war.

    So could this really happen? And why is 2012 a year to worry about? Well, we know that solar superstorm did happen, back in 1859.
    And we know that 20 years ago a much smaller storm knocked out the power grid across much of eastern Canada, leaving nine million people without electricity.

    We also know that the Sun's activity waxes and wanes in 11-year cycles.

    Currently, the Sun is very quiet. But a solar maximum - a peak of activity - is predicted for 2012, and this is when a superstorm could strike, probably around either the spring or autumn equinox, when the orientation of the Earth's magnetic field to the Sun makes us very vulnerable.
    The main point is that every solar maximum puts us more in danger as our growing population becomes ever more dependent on electricity.
    Ironically, the least-affected parts of the world would probably be the poorest areas.

    Those Third World nations that usually suffer most from natural disasters, on account of their poor infrastructure, would adjust most quickly to life without electricity, while richer nations would be paralyzed.

    So can anything be done to prevent an epic disaster?

    A more robust electricity grid would be a start. And we need new satellites to give warning of what is happening on the Sun.

    Of course, it may not happen in 2012 - it may not happen in 2023, the year of the next solar maximum.

    But sooner or later, a re-run of the Carrington event is inevitable.

    Perhaps it would be wise to start stocking up on some candles.


    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1171951/Meltdown-A-solar-superstorm-send-dark-ages--just-THREE-years.html#ixzz1PFleeEOH


    _________________
    What is life?
    It is the flash of a firefly in the night, the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.

    With deepest respect ~ Aloha & Mahalo, Carol

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