NASA recently warned of a collision between modern society and the upcoming solar maximum.
Approximately every 11 years the sun peaks in activity while dotted with sunspots that often eject solar flares with damaging radiation and particles into space. If hurled in the direction of the Earth, the planet endures or suffers consequences ranging from beautiful displays of the aurora as they shimmer in the night sky, to very severe Electromagnetic radiation to the point of knocking out electrical power grids. The later is of most great concern to NASA as they meet to discuss the potential devastation and to recommend new tools to forecast such events as we approach the new solar maximum in 2012.
From the NASA Science News
“The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity. At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms.”
Technology inter-dependencies today are unprecedented and in no way have been tested against disasters such as a severe solar storm. During previous solar cycle peaks, society was only fractionally vulnerable to the effects of solar flares or storms. Just think about how far we have advanced during the past 10 to 15 years, and how we absolutely rely on these modern day systems for our survival, both physical and financial. These systems are mostly invisible to us today and are simply taken for granted that they exist and function as they do.
Try to imagine what would happen, and the absolute catastrophe that would result from what I’m about to suggest…
A solar storm, if severe (the “if” should really be a “when” because it will happen some day), will have catastrophic effects on power, communications, transportation, and infrastructure systems. The systems today have never been tested against such a storm because the really bad solar storms occur infrequently.
We are now on the up-slope of the next solar maximum which will peak during approximately the end of 2012 into 2013. We are completely exposed to this serious threat and attention needs to be drawn towards it to provide forecasting, warning, and mechanisms to shield vulnerable systems that we rely on. If nothing else, we as humans need to be prepared for the disaster that would change the world as we know it.
We live in a global interconnected world of critical infrastructure inter-dependencies including manufacturing, services, and finances that are complex and increasing.
All of these inter-dependencies rely on one common thing, Electrical Power. The entire system as we know it begins at the power plants.
Power Plants, Power Supply
- Electric Power Distribution, Substations
- Oil, Gas, Fuel Supply and Resupply
- Communications, Satellites, GPS, Navigation, Cell Phones, Telephone
- Water, Substations, Pumps, Waste Treatment
- Food, Food Supply Chain
- Heating, Air Conditioning
- Banking, Finance, ATM, Check Processing
- Emergency Services
The backbone of the US grid is a network of very high voltage lines, 345kV (that’s 345 thousand volts), 500kV, and 765kV totaling nearly 160,000 miles of transmission lines that act as a huge antenna for solar storm radiation. The network has grown 10 fold over the past 50 years.
There are estimates that approximately 400 extra-high-voltage transformers would be permanently damaged or destroyed, bringing down the system. The worst part is that these transformers are highly specialized and could take years to replace. Let that sink in for a minute… This is no joke.
A long term blackout lasting years is simply unimaginable. The sheer chaos that would ensue and loss of life would be apocalyptic.
As most of the resources in the supply chain are consumed within the first 1 to 5 days, and as the population begins to discover the full ramifications of the grid down time-line, things will go from bad to very bad while desperation and panic sets in.
The circumstances that would follow can only be imagined or written about in novels, but awareness to this potential disaster is paramount, and in my opinion is not being all doom and gloom – just being logical. Given the high-tech fragility of our modern systems, we absolutely need to consider the risks and consequences, else we’re all fools with our heads in the sand.
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