In a recent report the UK’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, one of the world’s leading space research organizations, says that critical social infrastructure elements like the electrical grid, computers, telephones, transportation, water supply and food production face “huge disturbances” from space storms.
SHTFplan has previously noted that NASA is monitoring for severe space weather events due to the potential risks that may result if such an event were to occur. According to a 132 page NASA funded report titled Severe Space Weather Events Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts, the interconnectedness of our grids makes cascading failures a real possibility, with worst-case effects resulting in total down-grid collapse:
The loss of electricity would ripple across the social infrastructure with water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in 12-24 hours; loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, fuel re-supply and so on.
The report modeled a scenario of the May 1921 solar storm, which was reported to have ground currents tens times stronger than the 1989 storm in Quebec, Canada. The Quebec storm took out power to millions for approximately 9 hours and cost in excess of $2 billion to. A storm similar to the 1921 storm, if it happened today, would wipe out some 350 transformers and adversely affect 130 million Americans by taking down the a majority of the power grid, if not the whole thing.
To counter the threat, NASA is building what some have dubbed a “solar shield” to protect critical infrastructures. The “shield” is better described as more of a monitoring and response system than a Star Wars style force field protecting the earth:
The threat to power grids during bad solar weather is known as GIC, or geomagnetically induced current. When the sun ejects a huge coronal mass in our direction, the impact with our atmosphere shakes up Earth’s magnetic field. That generates electric currents from the upper atmosphere all the way down to the ground. These can cripple power grids, overloading circuits and in some cases melting heavy-duty transformers.
Those transformers are very necessary to keep the power flowing. They’re also expensive, irreparable in the field, and can take a year to replace. Meaning that a massive coronal ejection could knock down entire power grids for long stretches of time, grinding economies to a halt and making life more than a little inconvenient.
But NASA has a plan to battle these blackouts with blackouts. If transformers are offline at the time the storm hits they will not be affected, so the trick is to figure out where and when a storm is going to hit before it reaches the atmosphere. To do that, NASA’s SOHO and two STEREO spacecraft identify a coronal mass ejection (CME) heading toward earth and create a 3-D image of it, allowing researchers to characterize its strength and determine when it will hit.
NASA and the US government seem to be taking the threat of a societal impacting solar threat as a serious possibility, which is most certainly a good thing. To say that such an event would make life “more than a little inconvenient” is a gross understatement. With a complete and irreparable down-grid scenario, the after-effects would mirror an EMP style attack. According to the Center for Security Policy that means nine out of ten Americans would be dead within one year if the grid could not be repaired.
Luckily, NASA’s on the job, monitoring not just asteroids, but focusing their efforts on the Sun. The only problem with the new shield?
Though NASA will have 24 – 48 hours forewarning that a solar discharge is on the way, they won’t know until about 30 minutes before impact where the geomagnetically induced current (GIC) is going to hit. Not really a whole lot of time when we’re talking about tens of millions of lives depending on the shield to work.
The hope is that within this 30 minute time frame NASA will be able to identify where the GIC will occur and contact necessary infrastructure heads to shut down the grids before the sun takes us back to the stone age.
Related Video Report “Game Changing Solar Storm”: