The White House has created an action plan to mitigate losses during an extreme solar storm event. The National Science and Technology Council created the action plan, which details steps that need to be taken to ensure the least amount of devastation should a large solar wind event breach Earth’s magnetic field. The plan comes as NASA predicts that there is a 12 percent chance that Earth will be hit by a massive, magnetic-field penetrating solar storm within the next 10 years. Should this single solar wind event take place, the devastation could be widespread. In fact, it would reportedly cause $2 trillion in damages, making it 10 times more expensive than any other single natural disaster on Earth.
The Business Insider reports that the White House is preparing for the worst when it comes to a potential solar wind disaster. With the earth increasingly reliant on technology, a solar storm could cause trillions of dollars worth of damage in a single blow, making it the most economically damaging of any natural disaster. Scientists note that solar activity is predictable. However, that’s only on the short-term. NASA notes that there is a 12 percent chance of a devastating solar storm breaking through the Earth’s magnetic field and causing widespread damage. However, they would not know the storm is coming until about 12 to 15 hours before it hit. The scientists say the sun is similar to a volcano in that there are signs of an impending eruption, but those signs don’t occur until an eruption is inevitable.
“You can think of the sun as kind of like a volcano. It’s difficult to predict precisely when it’s going to erupt, but you can see the signs building up.”
In the report released by the National Science and Technology Council, it is noted that numerous systems could potentially be disrupted during a large solar event.
“Space-weather events are naturally occurring phenomena that have the potential to disrupt electric power systems; satellite, aircraft, and spacecraft operations; telecommunications; position, navigation, and timing services; and other technologies and infrastructures that contribute to the Nation’s security and economic vitality.”
With the United States so heavily reliant on technology, the disruption of these systems, even momentarily, could be devastating. Therefore, an action plan was created to help minimize the devastation should an alert be issued by NASA of an impending space-weather event. The plan begins by evaluating different systems and their vulnerability to a solar wind event. If a piece of technology is particularly vulnerable, engineers would be asked to come up with a better option. The council hopes that “creating engineering standards, developing vulnerability assessments” could help create technologies now that are better suited to handle an extreme solar event.
However, should the event take place before new technology is made available, the action plan includes recovery methods and thresholds for taking action during an event. For example, at what threshold level or time frame should the FAA inform air traffic controllers to ground airplanes due to the potential loss of navigation? The plan discusses various thresholds for different areas of technology, along with recovery plans to get the systems up and operating again in the quickest time frame possible.
Fortunately, it isn’t just the United States taking measures to prepare for a potential space-weather event. The European Space Agency is also working on a warning system to 14 different countries in the European Union. In addition to the warning system, the space weather manager for the ESA says that they are working with the commercial sector to implement precursor programs.
What do you think about the White House’s Space-Weather Action Plan? Did you realize that a solar wind event could cause $2 trillion in damages?
[Image via NASA / SDO / GSFC]