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Extreme Space Weather: Impacts on Engineered Systems and Infrastructure


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Space weather, which includes high geomagnetic activity, is a risk to modern technology, such as power grids, satellites, communications, global positioning and aircraft avionics. In a new report (and summary) by the Royal Academy of Engineering into space weather and its potential impact, UK science and industry experts have analysed the likely impact of the most extreme space weather on technology.


Dr Alan Thomson, head of Geomagnetism at BGS, contributed to the report by following up an earlier published study he led with BGS colleagues into extreme geomagnetic activity in Europe. This was used to assess where damaging geomagnetically induced currents (GIC) might flow in the UK electrical transmission system.


From our estimates of the magnitude and location of GIC within the grid, the National Grid company were then able to determine that around a dozen high voltage transformers across Great Britain could be damaged to the extent that they would need replaced. In addition local and intermittent electricity blackouts lasting a few hours at a time could be expected for the duration of the ‘super-storm’.


The Geomagnetism team monitors magnetic variations across the UK in real time. This information is relayed to the National Grid control room via a web based system called MAGIC (‘Monitoring and Analysis of GIC’). Through MAGIC, BGS also provides forecasts of geomagnetic activity, information about disturbances in the solar wind that cause geomagnetic storms, and provides an up to the minute UK-wide simulation of GIC flow in the transmission system.


The UK Met Office provides space weather data and forecasts through the Natural Hazards Partnership to government and other stakeholders. BGS real time geomagnetic data and products are an integral part of that service. During bad space weather Met Office and BGS space weather forecasters work together to analyse current conditions and forecast how the storm will develop.


For more information please contact the BGS Press Office.

RAEng Report
Extreme Space Weather: Impacts on Engineered Systems and Infrastructure
RAEng Press Release
BGS Paper
BGS Articles