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SoBad 11-14-2012 04:29 PM

Solar Flares and Solar Winds
 
I have been curious about the unusual weather this year and happened to come across this article very recently. It’s a about lawyers warning insurers about solar risks. Does anyone have insights or thoughts?

-------------------

Increasing threat posed by solar flares leaving underwriters in the dark
Posted By Barbara karouski On 14/11/2012 @ 8:23 PM

Power and utility underwriters may be unaware of the extent of the threat major solar flares pose to the world’s electrical generation infrastructure. That was the message from a specialist lawyer and space weather expert to underwriters and brokers at last week’s London Power Forum.

Jason Reeves from the US law firm of Zelle, Hofmann, Voelbel & Mason LLP said that underwriters’ current wordings were inadequate as far as damage resulting from the geomagnetic-induced currents created by a major solar flare was concerned. Mr Reeves noted some experts and officials believe a major solar event, such as those experienced in 1859 and 1921, could be a civilisation-changing event because of the potential widespread and long-lasting damage to the power grid and power stations. The effects could be particularly severe on the eastern seaboard of the US where geological conditions serve to amplify the effects of a so-called solar storm.

Mr Reeves said: “While power companies have spent lots of money protecting themselves against lightning strikes, with some notable exceptions, little money has been spent on protecting equipment from solar flares.

“I haven’t seen any wording that particularly deals with solar flares yet these could create very large scale problems. It can take 14 months to replace a power transformer, assuming lots of other people don’t need them too, and many transformers are bespoke.

“I don’t think insurance was designed to deal with a major solar event – to rebuild western civilisation. That’s the job of governments. Less dramatically, insurers face attritional losses where infrastructure is prematurely aged as a result of geomagnetically-induced currents.

“Insurers should consider excluding solar flares, sub-limiting coverage or perhaps offering bespoke solar flare cover. They also need to consider their other risks such as space, telecoms, aviation, and CBI – anything that relies on electricity or GPS.”

Earlier in the presentation, Bill Murtagh from the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Centre in the US (http://www.swpc.noaa.gov) explained the sun-spot cycle which leads to increases in solar flare activity every 11 years. Even during some of the less severe peaks, notably in 1859 and 1921, very large flares occurred which had a major impact on Earth. In 1859, the flare triggered fires, affected rail signalling equipment and led to the northern lights being visible as far south as the Caribbean.

Mr Murtagh advised that the planet is increasingly vulnerable to hazardous space weather due to society’s greater reliance on technology and space-based systems, and the interconnectivity and interdependency of infrastructure.

Following a major solar flare, which could release energy equivalent to 100 million hydrogen bombs, the coronal mass ejection takes 18–100 hours to reach Earth, where it creates electrical currents that can flow into the power grid leading to voltage drops, transformer damage and ultimately grid failure. GPS satellites, used by the power industry and others to coordinate activities, can be affected as can the high frequency communications used by the aviation sector.

Space weather is defined as the variable conditions of the sun and the space environment that can influence the performance and reliability of space and ground based technology systems, as well an endanger life or health.

The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Centre issues alerts on increased solar activity on a scale of G1–G5, with G5 being the most intense. Even a moderate level storm can affect power generation equipment.

Mr Reeves and Mr Murtagh were speaking at the London Power Forum at the East Wintergarden, Canary Wharf on Tuesday 6 November. The event, which began in 2007, is organised by five London insurance market power specialists: AEGIS London, Catlin, Chartis, Torus and Travelers. Its aim is to provide a specialist forum for underwriters, brokers and loss adjusters working in the power utility market.

rtruesdell 11-14-2012 04:43 PM

Hi SoBad,

The solar flares and solar wind don't affect our lower atmostpheric weather directly. The increased solar radiation interacts with ionized (electrically charged) particles in Earth's upper atmosphere.

Intense "solar storms" can affect satellite communications and other things that depend on orbiting satellites. Apparently in 1859 an incredibly intense solar flare actually interfered with telegraph systems on the surface. This is very rare.

So while a solar flare could really disrupt electronics and things like communications and other things that depend on electrical fields, they don't do anything to affect our day-to-day weather. I hope that helps!

SoBad 11-14-2012 04:56 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by rtruesdell (Post 7016890)
Hi SoBad,

The solar flares and solar wind don't affect our lower atmostpheric weather directly. The increased solar radiation interacts with ionized (electrically charged) particles in Earth's upper atmosphere.

Intense "solar storms" can affect satellite communications and other things that depend on orbiting satellites. Apparently in 1859 an incredibly intense solar flare actually interfered with telegraph systems on the surface. This is very rare.

So while a solar flare could really disrupt electronics and things like communications and other things that depend on electrical fields, they don't do anything to affect our day-to-day weather. I hope that helps!

Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you know a lot more about this than I do, so please don’t take my questions as a challenge to your authority on the subject. All I want is to understand this better (without pursuing a doctoral degree in physics;)

We know that solar activity can affect things on Earth (e.g., 1859 power/communication grid failures you mentioned). We also know that there is a lot that we (as a society) do not know about the Sun. We also know that there is a lot that we don’t know about why certain people do certain things that they do.

I am not claiming to have evidence of a link between solar activity and things going on around here. What I am wondering is, rather, is what evidence is there suggesting that there is no link? “The solar flares and solar wind don't affect our lower atmostpheric weather directly” is a rather strong statement, wouldn’t you agree?

rtruesdell 11-14-2012 05:21 PM

Yes, great comments and questions. I'm no PhD candidate either, :) and challenge to authority is one of the main tenets of science. So there's no problem there! I do have a meteorology degree/background, so I have a certain understanding of how these things work.

The solar activity described in these solar storms consists of high intensity bursts of electromagnetic radiation, but the bursts are of short duration. The sun does indeed drive the weather in the lower atmosphere (I didn't typo it this time!). But the energy flux that drives the weather takes a significant amount of time to have an effect, as it's driven by the conversion of this radiation to heat energy.

By way of example here, note that the most intense solar radiation in the Northern Hemisphere occurs on June 21, the summer solstice. That's when the sun's rays are most direct. But highest temperatures in the summer don't occur until a month or so later. There are "energy sinks", notably the oceans, which take a long time to heat up or cool down, that tend to even out the energy flux from the sun.

So the short answer about solar storms is, these high intensity but short duration events don't really provide enough additional energy to the atmosphere to significantly affect the weather as we experience it in the troposphere (lower atmosphere). It's sort of "smoothed out" over time, as the conversion from electromagnetic waves to heat energy has these buffers in the earth/ocean system.

What these "solar storms" really impact is all things electric. The sun's rays are electromagnetic radiation, and intense radiation disturbs electric fields. So things like transmissions to and from satellites, cell phones/towers, radio, and other weaker electromagnetic signals can easily be disturbed. And apparently, it can really wreak havoc with these systems when there's a super-intense solar storm, like the 1859 event.

There haven't been any of these, shall we say, "super solar storms" lately. The story you quoted talked about the potential for future events to disrupt our current system, which does depend on so much electronics. So with no recent solar super-events, obviously there can be no correlation with recent weather events.

Now, if you want to talk about increasing CO2 concentrations and the resulting potential for extreme weather events (occurring as predicted years ago by computer models), that's the real angle. That's called global climate change, and that's where we should be truly concerned. My two cents. :)

SoBad 11-14-2012 06:01 PM

Thanks for the detailed commnets – all this information could take time to sink in for me. Let me ask you this question – do you think there is a link between solar activity and the recent high-profile storm Sandy, for example? I think I do realise how difficult it is to collect accurate data and establish patterns in meteorology, so I am just looking for your informed opinion, rather than a waterproof statement.

NASA reported a strong solar flare observed on the night of October 22. The emissions, from what I inderstand, normally take a few days to reach the Earth, which is around the time when the weather people started talking about a storm system developing. Do you think this was a mere coincidence or do you think there is a connection?

chrischris 11-15-2012 07:16 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by rtruesdell (Post 7016954)
Yes, great comments and questions. I'm no PhD candidate either, :) and challenge to authority is one of the main tenets of science. So there's no problem there! I do have a meteorology degree/background, so I have a certain understanding of how these things work.

The solar activity described in these solar storms consists of high intensity bursts of electromagnetic radiation, but the bursts are of short duration. The sun does indeed drive the weather in the lower atmosphere (I didn't typo it this time!). But the energy flux that drives the weather takes a significant amount of time to have an effect, as it's driven by the conversion of this radiation to heat energy.

By way of example here, note that the most intense solar radiation in the Northern Hemisphere occurs on June 21, the summer solstice. That's when the sun's rays are most direct. But highest temperatures in the summer don't occur until a month or so later. There are "energy sinks", notably the oceans, which take a long time to heat up or cool down, that tend to even out the energy flux from the sun.

So the short answer about solar storms is, these high intensity but short duration events don't really provide enough additional energy to the atmosphere to significantly affect the weather as we experience it in the troposphere (lower atmosphere). It's sort of "smoothed out" over time, as the conversion from electromagnetic waves to heat energy has these buffers in the earth/ocean system.

What these "solar storms" really impact is all things electric. The sun's rays are electromagnetic radiation, and intense radiation disturbs electric fields. So things like transmissions to and from satellites, cell phones/towers, radio, and other weaker electromagnetic signals can easily be disturbed. And apparently, it can really wreak havoc with these systems when there's a super-intense solar storm, like the 1859 event.

There haven't been any of these, shall we say, "super solar storms" lately. The story you quoted talked about the potential for future events to disrupt our current system, which does depend on so much electronics. So with no recent solar super-events, obviously there can be no correlation with recent weather events.

Now, if you want to talk about increasing CO2 concentrations and the resulting potential for extreme weather events (occurring as predicted years ago by computer models), that's the real angle. That's called global climate change, and that's where we should be truly concerned. My two cents. :)


Science is all about being curious and sceptic and challenging , as you say. that the core of the work procedure and it is what engines innovation.

We enjoy the benefits of it daily and can now predict and mitigate things thanks to it.

CO2 is the main force right now and we can control that. Thats actually good compared to the idea that increased incoming solar radiation would have been a much harder situation.

dParis 11-16-2012 11:07 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by SoBad (Post 7016863)
I have been curious about the unusual weather this year and happened to come across this article very recently.

What is usual weather? Weather systems that destroy areas outside of the New York metropolitan area?

chrischris 11-16-2012 11:18 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by dParis (Post 7019995)
What is usual weather? Weather systems that destroy areas outside of the New York metropolitan area?


What is healthy doubt and when does it usually become overly implemented?

dParis 11-16-2012 11:36 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by chrischris (Post 7020025)
What is healthy doubt and when does it usually become overly implemented?

?detnemelpmi ylrevo emoceb yllausu ti nehw dna tbuod yhtlaeh si tahW

norbac 11-16-2012 11:51 AM

December 21st is fast approaching, after all.....

chrischris 11-16-2012 12:27 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by dParis (Post 7020081)
?detnemelpmi ylrevo emoceb yllausu ti nehw dna tbuod yhtlaeh si tahW

Very coy.
Cant answer?

chrischris 11-16-2012 12:31 PM

Agree 100% with the OP.
The weather has been very very extreme this year.
Not surprising though.

SoBad 11-16-2012 05:49 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by dParis (Post 7019995)
What is usual weather? Weather systems that destroy areas outside of the New York metropolitan area?

On the theory that DC is a remote suburban conference/drug/prostitution retreat of NYC, NYC is the only city that matters in this country. We had no winter last year, the summer started in March, June was unbearable, and then there was this storm bull just recently. That's unusual weather.

SoBad 11-16-2012 05:55 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by chrischris (Post 7020194)
Agree 100% with the OP.
The weather has been very very extreme this year.
Not surprising though.

I was hoping to limit the scope of discussion in this thread to potential climate factors that are outside of humans' control (namely, solar activity).

dParis 11-16-2012 05:59 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by SoBad (Post 7020612)
On the theory that DC is a remote suburban conference/drug/prostitution retreat of NYC, NYC is the only city that matters in this country. We had no winter last year, the summer started in March, June was unbearable, and then there was this storm bull just recently. That's unusual weather.

Unusual weather, in theory. Carry on...

Nostradamus 11-16-2012 06:18 PM

next year, NASA is predicting record breaking solar flares exploding off the sun. and if one of these makes a direct hit on earth, oh well.
I know I know, there were solar storms earlier this year too but that one is supposed to be baby size compared to what is to come in 2013

SoBad 11-16-2012 06:27 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Nostradamus (Post 7020639)
next year, NASA is predicting record breaking solar flares exploding off the sun. and if one of these makes a direct hit on earth, oh well.
I know I know, there were solar storms earlier this year too but that one is supposed to be baby size compared to what is to come in 2013

Yes, I saw the same forecast based on the 11-year cycle model. However, it sounds like there is an educated belief out there that there is no connection between space weather and Earth weather. What do you think?

Nostradamus 11-16-2012 06:35 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by SoBad (Post 7020644)
Yes, I saw the same forecast based on the 11-year cycle model. However, it sounds like there is an educated belief out there that there is no connection between space weather and Earth weather. What do you think?

That is correct. Caltech has proven that most of our extreme weather is due to our own abuse of our planet. Global warming is manmade, not space made.

SoBad 11-16-2012 06:39 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Nostradamus (Post 7020651)
That is correct. Caltech has proven that most of our extreme weather is due to our own abuse of our planet. Global warming is manmade, not space made.

So, in your opinion, solar activity has no tangible impact on our climate?

rtruesdell 11-16-2012 06:53 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by SoBad (Post 7020657)
So, in your opinion, solar activity has no tangible impact on our climate?

PMFJI... but solar activity has a definite impact on climate. It's a question of time/scale.

Isolated solar storms such as discussed early in this thread likely do not have much impact. But there is a known correlation between the amount of solar energy reaching Earth and its climate. The Sun goes through periods of higher and lower energy output. I think you mentioned some of that above in the thread regarding sunspot cycles. When the Sun is putting out more or less radiation, it naturally affects the climate accordingly. These changes are often fairly short-term changes (e.g. it was cooler in year X, warmer in year Y). But there is evidence that longer-term solar activity changes coupled with Earth's own changes in its orbit, which affects how much solar radiation actually impacts the planet (aka Milankovitch cycles), contribute to larger scale changes in climate.


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