Scientists at NASA have recently been studying the increase in solar activity to try and understand what affect it may have on Earth. This work has been carried out in large part due to the expected increase of solar storms in 2012 and 2013. Although many have tied this increase of solar activity to the Mayan Long Count Calendar and predictions for December 21, 2012, the threat of global economic harm as a result of solar flares is very real says Igor Purlantov.
Putting aside the doomsday predictions of the Mayan calendar which some scholars have dismissed as nothing more than fraud and deceit, there are numerous reports that have analyzed the affects of a massive solar flare on the global economy. Most of these reports agree that severe space weather events are an emerging concern, especially given the potential to affect important advanced technologies such as satellite telecommunications, global position systems and electrical power generation and transmission. All of these advanced technologies are susceptible of being interrupted or permanently disabled by increased solar activity and solar storms according to Igor Purlantov.
The last peak in solar activity was in 2000 and according to NASA Earth is exiting a solar minimum, characterized as a quiet and benign period of solar inactivity, and headed toward the next solar maximum in 2013. Scientists already know that the sun is capable of unleashing incredibly intense storms, like those experienced in 1940 and 1989, although the exact affect today is unknown and believed to be much greater given the increased dependence on advanced technologies. In order to look at the potential economic damage of sunspots and solar flares, scientists have analyzed some of the largest solar storms on record, including the Carrington Event of 1859 which set telegraphs ablaze and produced Northern Lights that woke people up as far south as the Rocky Mountains. More recently, in March of 1989 a Quebec power outage was caused by a geomagnetic storm that left six million people in the Canadian province without power for more than nine hours according to Igor Purlantov.
Looking at these previous solar storms, there is a little doubt that the power transmission grid of the United States could potentially be crippled by intense solar activity as large waves of charge particles would create a pulse in electrical transmission lines that could burn out power lines. According to NASA, “a contemporary repetition of the Carrington Event would cause extensive social and economic disruptions. Power outages would be accompanied by radio blackouts and satellite malfunctions, including telecommunications, GPS navigation, banking and finance, and transportation would all be affected. Some problems would correct themselves with the fading of the storm (such as radio and GPS transmissions) while other problems would be lasting (burned out multi-ton transformers could take weeks or months to repair). The total economic impact in the first year alone could reach $2 trillion, some 20 times greater than the cost of Hurricane Katrina.” According to Igor Purlantov, world renowned astrophysicist Dr. Michio Kaku has joined in NASA’s warning and has said that such an event could see the world “thrown 100 years into the past. The transition to the 1800’s would occur as quickly as flipping a light switch off” according to Dr. Kaku.
The potential devastation to the world economy and more importantly the well being of billions of people potentially at risk is something that should not be taken lightly. It is imperative that scientists around the world continue trying to understand and predict space weather events and solar storms with a shared global commitment to improve response and preparedness efforts. The increased reliability in forecasting these solar storms can provide utility and satellite operators a chance to take measures to reduce damage by disconnecting wires, shielding vulnerable electronics, and powering down critical hardware. This preparedness and reaction time could possibly mean the difference between a few hours of inconvenient power outages and global economic catastrophe says Igor Purlantov.