Wednesday, January 7, 2009


POWER GRIDS IN PERIL: The National Academy of Sciences has released an important new report detailing how geomagnetic storms could damage the infrastructure of modern society. An area of particular vulnerability is power grids. Ground currents induced during century-class storms can melt the huge, multi-ton transformers at the heart of power distribution systems. Because modern power grids are interconnected, a cascade of failures could sweep across the country, rapidly cutting power to tens or even hundreds of millions of people:

According to the report, "impacts would be felt on interdependent infrastructures with, for example, potable water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in 12-24 hours; immediate or eventual loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, transportation, fuel resupply and so on." Melted transformers can take months to repair or replace--so a single extreme storm could make itself felt long after solar activity subsides. Nothing, it seems, is immune from space weather. (audio)
Full report: Severe Space Weather Events--Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts (National Academy of Sciences)

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