G3 Level Solar Storms and Disruptions to Satellites and the Power Grid Increasing


Picture Credit: NOAA

IAI has dedicated some time recently to investigating long term economic threats to the U.S. economy in conjunction with recently becoming a Fellow at the American Center for Democracy. I have already written about the threat of cyberwarfare for ACD and they focus on this area in their Economic Warfare Institute. The preservation of independent policy making institutes like ACD is essential to protection of the First Amendment. For policy wonks, the linkage between economic threat events and totalitarianism was postulated by Fromm (1942) and Rickert (1998) who found that systemic changes in the economy led to declines in real incomes and increases in economic equality.

Nothing then is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.

Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Cartwright, June 5th, 1824

Like Black Swan events in the stock market, economic threat events are infrequent in occurrence but have material consequences and usually involve economic losses. The same is true for weather / space events as the author of Black Swans and Antifragility, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, has pointed out recently. Statistician Taleb has extensive knowledge about risk management and has about written “ruin events” in a series of papers. He writes, “Our concern is with public policy. …Policy makers have a responsibility to avoid catastrophic harm for society as a whole; the focus is on the aggregate, not at the level of single individuals, and on global-systemic, not idiosyncratic, harm. This is the domain of collective ‘ruin’ problems.”


On Tuesday, October 25th, 2016, magnetically charged solar particles triggered a G3-level geomagnetic storm which threatened power grids, satellites and radio navigation systems, according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). PJM Interconnection LLC, operator of the biggest U.S. power grid, and Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) which manages high-voltage transmission lines across 15 U.S. states and one Canadian province, issued geomagnetic disturbance (GMD) warnings on Tuesday and MISO is conveniently running an Emergency Operating Procedure (EOP) Coordinating Workshop today.

Northern Lighthouse Project estimates that a strong G3 storm occurs 200 times in each 11 year solar cycle.

A G2 storm alone (our current state) affects RF radio propagation (shortwave communications) and high-latitude power systems which can cause voltage alarms, and long-duration storms may cause transformer damage. ore auroras are in the offing.  SpaceWeather.com warns that, “this solar wind stream is broad and fast; it is currently blowing 700+ km/s and is expected to influence our planet for some days to come.  High-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras on Oct. 26-27.”

Based on the loss of instrument use in the 1950s due to “radioflash”, the British have studies electromagnetic pulses for a half century, as the Telegraph reports. In a recent  report (and summary) by the Royal Academy of Engineering into space weather and its potential impact, UK science and industry experts have analyzed the likely impact of the most extreme space weather on technology.


Picture Credit: Markets-S.Murray@SpaceWeather.com

Truly beautiful but tough on electronics, these auroras are forcing the Internet of Things (IoT) system developers (like IBM) to consider the impact of communication disruptions. And, more critical than having your fridge fail to order a new loaf of bread, blockchain networks operations are critical to the Internet of Value (IoV) or the ValueWeb. For the unintiatiated, IoT is becoming pervasive and is being embedded in buildings, the environment, automobiles, households and in everything that can host a sensor, as IBM broadcasts in this video.

“It’s not so much about the emergence of new technology, it’s the convergence—the ability to use sensors for everything in the world to basically be a computer, whether it’s your contact lens, your hospital bed, or a railway track.”

Harriet Green, General Manager,  IBM Watson Internet of Things, Commerce and Education

Some organizations are being left behind as GovLab points out in “Value and Vulnerability” that we, “encourage state CIOs to make IoT part of the enterprise architecture discussions on asset management and risk assessment and to develop an IoT roadmap. States must consider security, privacy, accessibility and standardization when crafting a roadmap for IoT.” Wise advice indeed…

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