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Alert: Severe Geomagnetic Storm Could Lead to Nationwide Blackouts

Sep 14, 2016 04:19 AM EDT

The United States Geological Survey has recently published a study revealing a potential of severe geomagnetic storms to disrupt the power grids in the U.S. for months.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that the temporary disturbance in the Earth's magnetic fields caused by the wind of electrically charged particles emitted by the sun could lead to nationwide blackouts, which could take months and more than $1 trillion to repair.

Geomagnetic storm is a major disturbance in the Earth's magnetosphere that occurs when there is a very efficient exchange of energy from the solar wind into the space environment surrounding Earth. Intense geomagnetic storms are often produced by solar coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and high-speed solar wind stream (HSS).

When intense geomagnetic storms occur, it could generate geoelectric fields in the Earth's surface. The amplitude of these geoelectric fields are influenced by intensity of the magnetic storms and the electrical conductivity structure of the Earth's crust. Severe geoelectric fields could disrupt the operation of the electric power-grids, potentially damaging high-voltage storms and causing blackouts.

Due to the potential danger and damage of such events, USGS, in collaboration with scientists from NASA, NOAA, the Institute for Defense Analyses, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and NSF, will be developing nation-wide maps of "induction hazards" to help quantify the risk of geomagnetic storms to the power grids.

According to a press release from USGS, the new maps are based on survey data collected by the National Science Foundation's (NSF) EarthScope Program and the USGS, and observatory data collected by the USGS and the INTERMAGNET consortium.

These maps will be used to help the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation to make inform decisions. Additionally, the maps will also be used as guidelines to help utility companies design, deploy, and operate electric-power grids in a way that could prevent potential impacts of geomagnetic storms to the power-grid systems.

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