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back to article Now UK must look out for crappy SPACE weather - engineers

Britain needs immediate plans on how to defend itself against extreme solar superstorms, the Royal Academy of Engineering has warned. Solar superstorm effects In a rather doom-heavy missive (PDF, 2.8MB), the RAE has said that although Blighty is better prepared than some other countries when it comes to the off-chance of …

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I want the job

Space Weather Board, what a great idea, to keep an eye open for a 1 in 200 year event. Obviously this will require me to be employed on a generous "commercial equivalent" salary, and a pension scheme as gold plated as the principla civil service pension scheme. You lot won't be expecting 100% accuracy, given the experimental nature of space weather forecasting, so I could be the man for you.

I will, of course, also be available at extra cost as a "talking head" for TV and radio, to fill slow news days after a modest solar flare event.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I want the job

A 1/200yr event has a 30-50% chance of it occurring in a lifetime.

A 1/200yr event grossly inconveniencing 60m people has a an average inconvenience roughly comparable to 300,000 people a year

300k people could pay £1/year each to get £300k/yr, and fund some guys to coordinate space weather research and make recommendations quite easily.

I pay considerably more on house/contents insurance, and to fund the NHS/social services which I may or may not ever need to rely in very much.

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Re: I want the job

@ledswinger

According to the following report, there were about 45,000 fires in dwellings in the Britain in 2010/11. Given that there were something over 26m households in the country, that implies a chance of a fire in a dwelling in any one year of rather less than 1 in 550.

I assume on the basis you think a 1 in 200 chance per annum is not worth spending money on, that you have also forgone fire insurance on any property you might own.

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Re: I want the job - miised link

Oops - missed the relevant link

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/6762/568234.pdf

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Re: I want the job

Your analogy and logic are flawed. Every few hundred years the UK has suffered moderately damaging earthquakes, and there's chances of tsunami, or volcanic climate change, but we don't fund people to sit on their backsides pretending to forecast them.

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Re: I want the job

Untrue - our universities are stuffed full of academics looking at those subjects. We may have no active volcanos, but we were most certainly affected by a recent one in Iceland and a lot of work has gone into studying the effects on air traffic, forecasting clouds and under what conditions aircraft might still fly scheduled services.

As for Earthquakes, then you clearly missed the fuss over fracking and the rules that have been put in place regarding "artificial" quakes.

Also, potentially vulnerable infrastructure is assessed against these risks - including tsaunamis. Following Fukishama, coast nuclear power stations were further risk assessed against the danger of tsunami. Indeed, here is the official report.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/nuclear/fukushima/final-report.pdf

Whilst we don't have an early warning system for tsunami, there is are those campaigning for it.

http://www.tsunamiwatch.co.uk/

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Re: I want the job

It's not a 1 in 200 year event. After the 1859 Carrington event, there was another in 1882, 1921, 1960 and 1989.

Since 1859, less severe storms have occurred, notably in 1882, 1921 (May 1921 geomagnetic storm), with disruption of telegraph service and inititation of fires, and 1960, when widespread radio disruption was reported.

GOES-7 monitors the space weather conditions during the Great Geomagnetic storm of March 1989, the Moscow neutron monitor recorded the passage of a CME as a drop in levels known as a Forbush decrease.

On March 13, 1989 a severe geomagnetic storm caused the collapse of the Hydro-Québec power grid in a matter of seconds as equipment protection relays tripped in a cascading sequence of events. Six million people were left without power for nine hours, with significant economic loss. The storm even caused aurorae as far south as Texas. The geomagnetic storm causing this event was itself the result of a coronal mass ejection, ejected from the Sun on March 9, 1989.

But, hey, do what you want. Have your government not make plans or make any effort at mitigation. Then, when one finally does occur, your nation can sit in the dark for weeks to months.

Beside satellites, there are also power lines, power transformers, telephone switches, telephones, etc that are vulnerable. A Carrington event type geomagnetic storm would burn those systems completely out and it could potentially be years to replace it all.

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Facepalm

Tin foil hats

they block solar radiation, why not cover everything in tin foil?

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Re: Tin foil hats

the costings are prohibitive

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Facepalm

Re: Tin foil hats

Yes, I have had to sleep without one, now for many years (women and their follies, you know), but what about now, any chance of having a warning in advance night times. Worried.

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Alien

Re: Tin foil hats

In the A.C Clarke "A Time Odyssey" series, that's pretty much what solves the problem, most of London gets covered with an enormous dome to protect against the world ending solar event. Of course the rest of the world gets scorched and the Firstborn eventually end up sending Mars to oblivion, but London turns out OK.

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Re: Tin foil hats

Re Tin Foil Hats:

This is a classic, I first saw in Victor Lewis Smith's Private Eye series, though it would qualify for a near-Darwin Award. On the dangers of protecting your body with flexible materials:

Man Sues Tom Ridge Over Duct Tape Fears

Corona, CA - Tom Ridge's advice to Americans to stock up on duct tape and plastic has sparked a lawsuit which has been filed against him, the Department of Homeland Security and President George W. Bush.

Steven J. Bosell, the owner of B & B Construction in Corona, California, has filed a lawsuit claiming emotional distress, personal injury and sexual dysfunction after he wrapped his "privates" in duct tape to protect them from a biological attack.

"After watching Mr. Ridge on television advising us to stock up on duct tape and plastic, I went to the local Costco and bought $100 worth of duct tape to protect myself", Bosell said. "When I got home, I taped up my windows and doors. After I did that I realized if survivors like myself are going to reproduce and populate the Earth after a biological attack, we have to protect our privates as well."

Bosell claimed in his lawsuit he wrapped his "privates" in duct tape as test of "Homeland Security". When he tried to remove the tape, Bosell injured himself when the tape began peeling off skin and body hair. After calling an ambulance, Bosell was taken to the hospital where the doctors and nurses laughed at him.

"I told the doctors and nurses at the hospital if they laughed, I would file a lawsuit against them and the hospital. They laughed anyways and I now have another lawsuit pending" Bosell said with tears streaming down his face. "They went out their way to make me look like a fool. Once I saw the doctors scalpel go toward my privates, I totally lost it and blacked out".

Also named in the lawsuit is the President of the United States, George W. Bush. "President Bush is just as liable for injury to my reproductive future because he hired Mr. Ridge to run the Department of Homeland Security and Mr. Ridge gave the nation bad advice. They also make me look like a fool." Bosell sobbed.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Bush Administration have no comment on Mr. Bosell's lawsuit.

-http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/chat/858430/posts

unverified by Dave 126

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Re: Tin foil hats

"Man Sues Tom Ridge Over Duct Tape Fears"

Funny, but fake.

http://www.snopes.com/politics/satire/bosell.asp

Not to say there aren't any real Darwin Award candidates out there.

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Anonymous Coward

My impression was that it was mostly quite a positive "we're doing better than everyone else" report...

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How many others read this and went to look up the Carrington Event?

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Coat

The horror, the horror

of not being able to use twitter, facebook, ......

Oh, wait. I don't have accounts there.

but wait. No REG!!!!

AAAARGH, WE ARE DOOMED!!!!

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Re: The horror, the horror

What is actually the threat?

Huge EM fields wiping magnetic storage? Possible, but SSD's don't get hurt when intentonally trying with a deguasser (We didn't think so, but c'mon, had to be tried!) so I wouldn't imagine that a solar flare presents little threat to a SSD if we transitioned in that direction.

Power spikes? Is this more than a UPS can smooth out?

Communications down copper wires being scrambled? Use fibre.

This sounds like a threat that we have the ability to deal with already, to be honest.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The horror, the horror

"Power spikes? Is this more than a UPS can smooth out?"

Yes, by quite a bit. The Carrington event induced so much current into telegraph lines that the batteries exploded and caught fire, arcs were jumping out of keys, and some operators were able to disconnect the battery and operate solely on the induced current on the lines.

Were such an event to hit today, it would induce enough current on long distance transmission lines to fry the transformers. Without the transformers, you have NO power. If we had an event of that size today, the power companies would have to do one of:

A) Decide a day in advance to disconnect all the long feed lines, shut down the power plants (since there would be no load for them to feed), wait out the storm, then take days to bring the power plants back on line, re-stabilize the grid, and reconnect. During that time, everybody is blacked out, and $deity help your career if you guessed wrong about the storm's magnitude and shut down when you didn't need to.

B) Hope that nothing goes wrong, and if it does, watch the pretty sparklies as the grid Roman-Candles and spend months waiting for the factories that build transformers to catch up with the backlog (assuming they can: it takes electricity to make transformers, and if the transformers feeding the plants that make transformers go boom....)

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Re: The horror, the horror

Rather than disconnect everything, electricity companies actually connect as many lines as they can so that the induced power has many routes to dissipate through, rather than concentrating down a few and blowing them out.

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Re: The horror, the horror

from memory the connect everything approach is the plan in the UK, although part of the reason the uk is in a good position to weather an event like this is because the electricity supply is truly a national grid in that power fed in at any point can be consumed at any other point (in theory). also by having a large grid the odds are that where you have a large peak on one part of the grid you also have a large trough elsewhere and plenty of links between the two areas to allow them to equalise.

other countries with multiple smaller power networks would not do so well because they simply do not cover a large enough area to be able to dissipate the effects.

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Re: The horror, the horror

The humble water resistor.....

2 giant copper bars hanging into 2 rivers / estuaries / ports - about 20 - 200KM apart = instant power bleed / dump from the mains.

= pretty easy.

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Mushroom

Re: The horror, the horror

@David D. Hagood

"Were such an event to hit today, it would induce enough current on long distance transmission lines to fry the transformers."

According to the BBC take on this story, the UK power network is a lattice structure and so quite resilient to one of these events whereas the Canadian system is point to point and so quite vulnerable. The UK network would likely have some smaller, localised power failures but not a large scale cascade type failure.

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Mushroom

Best Form of Defence...

...is to ATTACK. Therefore, we must destroy the Sun to prevent any further acts of terror from this death star.

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Re: Best Form of Defence...

pray to Apep

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All Hail Telstar 1 !

<letters>

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200 to one?

Whereas the chances of anything coming from Mars are...

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Re: 200 to one?

1,000,000:1 Which makes it guaranteed to happen.

200:1 is much less likely.

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TRT
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Does this mean we need to build more...

Space Hardened Information Technology to put into orbit?

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Unhappy

Re: Does this mean we need to build more...

"Space Hardened Information Technology to put into orbit?"

No. Sadly there's plenty of that already in orbit.

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Why would a mobile network depend on satnav anyway? The base stations are somewhat fixed in place, and you don't need 1cm positional accuracy in order to fart out radio waves.

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They don't want it for the position, they want it for the accurate clock signal to ensure all parts of the network are in sync.

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Boffin

Time not position

Navsats provide base stations with a very accurate/precise time signal. If you know where you are the system will tell you what time it is to within a few nanoseconds.

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I'm pretty sure that the GPS constellation isn't the only accurate time source out there, even if it is a handy one. Hell, you can buy your own 1-second-in-1,000-years atomic clock for about $6k USD. Not cheap, but you don't need many.

In fact, I have to wonder why the mobile operators haven't got into positioning systems? They know where the masts are, and radio navigation can be accurate enough even with the transmitters on the floor. Note, actual radio navigation, not the "you're somewhere within a mile or so of the mast" Google Maps thing. Make it work a bit like LORAN and offer it as a "get an extra-quick position fix" service to customers, who might be individual consumers who have it bundled onto a plan with a phone that can use it, or who might be TomTom, Garmin, etc.

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mobile networks getting into positioning?

they already have: it's called Assisted GPS

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"Hell, you can buy your own 1-second-in-1,000-years atomic clock for about $6k USD. Not cheap, but you don't need many"

Errrr you would need one for every cell tower so that's roughly 23,000 atomic clocks needed for the uk alone (and that's assuming the 23000 towers figure is current) or a $638,000,000 investment compared to a $230,000 investment using off the shelf gps based time receivers.

given the situation where there is enough em radiation around to knock out gps time (which only needs a single sat in view) it's likely that the radio side of the cell tower is likely to be swamped with RF anyway, so the loss of timing is unlikely to be an issue because the tower would probably be unable to receive a phone anyway.

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Go

Maybe these should be in Base Stations

Chip-Scale Atomic Clocks

That article is Dated May 2011, and quotes $1500, so they should be cheaper now.

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Re: Maybe these should be in Base Stations

I will admit that I didn't look into the costs of atomic clocks (I just used the previous comments costing) but even if you allow for the cost having dropped by a third from the price you quoted to $1000 it's still hard to weigh that cost against a $10 part that gives the same accuracy under most conditions

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Coat

Re: Maybe these should be in Base Stations

And I thought the clock has been kept in Paris all these years.

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Pint

What's the problem??

In the event of a solar superstorm, I'll just do when it normally rains i.e duck into the nearest pub and wait till it passes.

Cheers

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Re: What's the problem??

there won't be any beer once the power goes out

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Re: What's the problem??

That's why I live in the countryside.

The local has beer straight from the barrel, and we have enough raw materials to make our own when it runs out, plenty of wood for fire, and lots of sheep, cows, chicken (and horses for the burgers) to throw on the BBQ.

You townies will be eating each other 20 minutes after you lose your mobile signal.

Now Get ORF my land!!

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why do I get the feeling, when they say that the uk is better prepared in theevent of a storm, they are blowing smoke out of their arse? half the time they cannot get the basic tv/mobile/cable/internet services to work without the space storm, imagine how blissfully quiet life would be for a while if mobiles and such did not work for a time, people might even drive a bit better with no distractions...

and we would not have to listen to all the politicians waffle on about what they are (not) doing during the time of crisis

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UK prepared

Today a solar superstorm disrupted rail transport, caused several mobile phone networks to fail, disconnected whatever-NTL-is-called-today and led to increased rainfall.

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Alien

What is that thing in the top left? THAT'S NO MOON!

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M7S
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nice to see the National Grid are prepared for this

but a bit of wind and snow still foxes the system up.

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Alert

Update required

Somebody needs to inform the Royal Academy of Engineering that the Space Shuttle is very unlikely to be affected these days ;-)

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Happy

Re: Update required

I think TELSTAR is out of commission at the moment too...

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It's been the wrong kind of Sun for a while!

The post is required, and must contain letters.

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Devil

...and conceivably mobile communications

"What?... Sorry... I'm in the middle of a solar superstorm here. Call me back..."

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Backup for GPS

That would be a map, compass, and window, right?

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