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Could Future Solar Storms Impact the Economy?

March 14, 2012 14:17 by Bran

Luckily, the solar storm that hit Earth at extraordinary speeds last week had only a limited impact; our satellites and power systems remained intact.  But that may not be the case with future solar storms, which are expected to increase in intensity through 2013.

As previously discussed, the fear surrounding solar flares heading toward Earth is that our satellites and power grids could be negatively impacted.  Why's that a bad thing?  Aside from the obvious potential for widespread blackouts, according to researchers, interruption of our advanced technologies could threaten the global economy.

According to international business and politics expert Igor Purlantov, the last peak in solar activity for Earth was over a decade ago. In 2013, we expect to hit the next "solar maximum."  It's not that we haven't experienced intense solar storms before -- extreme activity was unleashed in both 1940 and 1989 -- but there's a catch:  According to Purlantov, "the exact affect today is unknown and believed to be much greater given the increased dependence on advanced technologies."

NASA has a few guesses about what powerful solar storms could do to the U.S. today:

Power outages would be accompanied by radio blackouts and satellite malfunctions, including telecommunications, GPS navigation, banking and finance, and transportation would all be affected. Some problems would correct themselves with the fading of the storm (such as radio and GPS transmissions) while other problems would be lasting (burned out multi-ton transformers could take weeks or months to repair). The total economic impact in the first year alone could reach $2 trillion, some 20 times greater than the cost of Hurricane Katrina.

It's clear that being "thrown 100 years into the past," as astrophysicist Dr. Michio Kaku put it, could have a devastating effect on the world economy.  That's why Purlantov supports continued research into space weather events.  "The increased reliability in forecasting these solar storms can provide utility and satellite operators a chance to take measures to reduce damage by disconnecting wires, shielding vulnerable electronics, and powering down critical hardware."