The COVID-19 pandemic has made us more dependent than ever on advanced information and communication technologies, with many businesses and schools relying on a range of remote services. In this environment, building resilience to potential threats that can disrupt society’s essential daily activities is critical.
For this reason, it is encouraging to see Congress pass legislation to better protect the nation from solar storms that spew millions of tons of charged matter back to Earth. Such space weather events can distort GPS signals, confuse satellite operations, and disable communications and power systems, with severe consequences for our economy and the military ̵
Significant space weather events occur approximately every ten years with far-reaching and destructive consequences. A powerful solar storm in 1989 cut off electricity for millions of Canadians, and the largest storms in 2003 affected more than half of the spacecraft orbiting Earth. Just three years ago, solar flares caused radio blackouts for hours during critical emergency response efforts to get closer to hurricanes in the Caribbean and neighboring regions.
A solar super storm poses even greater risks. The so-called Carrington Event in 1859, which ignited fires in the telegraph offices, would have catastrophic impacts on today’s society, potentially resulting in widespread damage to power grids, communications networks and other technologies that would take weeks, months or even years. for repair. Even before COVID-19 led to greater dependence on e-based technologies, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that such an event could cause damage up to $ 2 trillion – or more than 10 times the costs of Hurricane Katrina.
Despite a growing range of advanced satellites that monitor the sun, forecasters cannot accurately predict when a major storm will erupt from the sun and begin its one to four-day journey to Earth. The observations provide only limited information on where the storm will hit and its potential damage until it is about half an hour from Earth. This does not leave satellite operators and utility operators with enough notice to fully protect vulnerable electronics and shut down critical hardware.
To improve its forecasting capability, the nation must invest in a new generation of space and ground instruments capable of providing continuous measurements of magnetic fields throughout the solar atmosphere. These measurements would alert us to favorable conditions for storms and help us determine whether an oncoming storm will penetrate our atmosphere and target certain regions of the Earth, or look harmlessly.
Scientists are also working on more advanced computer models of the sun. One of their primary goals is to stimulate the accumulation of energy in the twisted magnetic fields within the solar atmosphere, allowing forecasters to predict when the fields will burst and spew tons of charged particles back to Earth.
Fortunately, Congress is starting to take action on this important issue. Last month, the Senate unanimously passed legislation to improve scientific understanding and forecasting of space weather. The Law on Promoting Space Meteorology Research and Observations to Improve Tomorrow’s Forecasts (PROSWIFT) would break down the barriers between the nation’s researchers and meteorologists, coordinate the efforts of leading federal agencies, and establish a integrated strategy across the federal government to address space weather research and observation needs.
This legislation, fittingly, has strong bipartisan support. Sens. Gary PetersGary Charles Peters Congress must finalize space weather law as solar storms pose a heightened threat Senate committee to vote next week to clear Biden subpoenas, Obama-era polls Hillicon Valley: Russia ” amplifies “concerns about postal voting to undermine elections | Facebook and Twitter Take Steps to Restrict Trump’s Comments on the Vote | Facebook to block political ads before elections MORE (D-Mich.) E Cory GardnerCory Scott Gardner Congress needs to finalize space weather bill as solar storms pose a heightened threat Trump courts Florida voters with moratorium on offshore drilling Democrats push White House to oust Bureau of public lands OTHER (R-Colo.) He co-sponsored the Senate bill. In the House of Representatives, Rep. Ed PerlmutterEdwin (Ed) George Perlmutter NIGHT ENERGY: 20 States Sue Over Trump Rule That Limits States To Block Pipeline Projects | House Democrats Add “Forever Chemicals” Provisions to Defense Bill After Introducing Big Amendment | Lawmakers Seek Extension For Tribes To Spend Stimulus Money House Democrats Add Some “ Forever Chemicals ” Provisions To Defense Act After Introducing Major Amendment For Security And Economic Recovery, Congress Must Give the priority to the cannabis bank MORE (D-Colo.) He is working with eight co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle to advance the measure.
With only a few months left on the calendar of the current Congress, the Chamber must provide for the final approval of this important legislation.
Our solar forecasting capabilities at the moment are comparable to Earth weather forecasts before World War II, when communities had few warnings of impending storms. Since then, government agencies, private companies and university researchers have collaborated on momentous advances in weather forecasting, which have saved countless lives, promoted economic growth and supported military operations.
We have now arrived at a pivotal time for forecasting solar storms. At a time when society is more dependent than ever on advanced e-based technologies, the PROSWIFT Act outlines a clear road map for bringing together the expertise of government, the private sector and academia to predict these damaging events. If Congress and the administration successfully enact legislation, this predictive capability will provide a fundamental safeguard for America’s economic competitiveness and national security, and for the business and education technologies that we all rely on.
Antonio J. Busalacchi is the president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a non-profit consortium of 120 colleges and universities focused on research and education in Earth system sciences.