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New Map On Transmission Infrastructure Vulnerable To Magnetic Storms

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Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

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  • Apr 7, 2020
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This morning, I came across an interesting article on physicsworld.com highlighting some disturbing takeaways from a recent US Geological Survey study. Basically, the agency has identified many of the country’s power lines to be vulnerable to a “once-in-a-century magnetic super-storm”. 

The article’s author describes the natural phenomena, writing: “Geomagnetic storms are rare disturbances of the Earth’s magnetic environment that begin with large ejections of charged particles from the Sun that boost the intensity of the solar wind. When these particles reach Earth, they interact with the magnetosphere and ionosphere to create a magnetic storm. If the original coronal mass ejection is large enough, the result is a magnetic super-storm.”

Such storms have bugged the worlds’ grids and communication systems before. In 1989, for example, a magnetic storm caused a 9 hour blackout in Quebec, Canada. A similar event in 1859 stuck down many North American telegraph networks, causing some stations to catch on fire. 

The report cautions that if a storm of the same magnitude that struck in 1859 were to happen today, the economic consequences would be far greater. It would cause widespread blackouts and damage infrastructure, costing the economy around $2 trillion in total. 

Due mostly to geologic features, four regions in the U.S. are considered particularly vulnerable: the East Coast; the Denver metropolitan area; the Pacific Northwest; and the Upper Midwest.

The article is pretty scant on advice on how to prepare for a magnetic super-storm, but it points out that long transmission lines are at greater risk than shorter ones. However, it should be noted that the study and accompanying map are not yet complete.


 

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Bruce Binion's picture
Bruce Binion on Apr 10, 2020

Yes Henry, this is a problem for energy delivery in many countries. I have studied the effects of solar flares and coronal mass ejection impacts on the magnetosphere and held my breath when Earth nearly took a direct hit in 2012.

As far as doing something about our vulnerabilities here in the United States it is pretty much up to the government. Most projects to harden the system are not going to get funded on their own.

Last year the White House sent out a letter asking about vulnerable areas as related to a solar event as well as a man-made EMP event. I never heard of any official replies to this letter. Perhaps the replies were not published, I do not know.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 13, 2020

You're definitely not alone in your frustration and concern, Bruce-- I found this article from last week that you might find of interest. Of note:

For the $2 trillion that will be spent on the coronavirus, we could harden all critical infrastructures against EMP; deploy space-based missile defense Brilliant Pebbles before the end of a second term in office by President Trump; modernize the entire U.S. nuclear deterrent from top to bottom (including new missiles, bombers and submarines; new nuclear weapons; and a completely renovated nuclear scientific-industrial base) and have over $1 trillion to spare.

The strategy of pretending to do something, but really doing nothing, and then throwing money at the threat when it happens, will get millions of Americans killed when there is an EMP.

I wonder if this is another example of a silent/invisible threat not being taken seriously until it's too late (e.g., climate change)-- what might it actually take to see movement in this regard before it's too late, in your opinion?

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