A ‘solar superstorm’ approaching Earth could have devastating consequences for internet access, a new study found.
University of California predicts the worldwide web could be disrupted for extended periods, if a superstorm strikes. That is the dire outlook in the latest research report, “Solar superstorms: planning for an internet apocalypse.”
“[Storms could] create large-scale Internet outages covering the entire globe and lasting several months,” University of California, Irvine assistant professor Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi said in the report.
Jyothi predicts the storm would mainly affect submarine cables, which are vital telecommunication infrastructure components.
BL understands the outer-space phenomenon could breach Earth’s natural magnetic shield, also known as the ionosphere, which deflects harmful solar radiation. Magnetic particles bounce off the shield and travel to the poles where they produce the famous “northern lights” before dissipating.
In special circumstances solar flares can cause a coronal mass ejection (CME), which is an extremely strong solar storm. If a CME reaches Earth, it could penetrate the natural shield and cause an electromagnetic catastrophe.
Widespread blackouts, massive traffic jams, and global supply chain collapses are possible consequences. High-latitude climates are also at greatest risk of experiencing a solar storm.
Submarine cables are very vulnerable to CME impacts since they span hundreds of miles. Power grids, oil and gas pipelines and grid cables also vulnerable to a lesser degree due to their smaller size.
“Our internet infrastructure is not prepared for a large-scale solar event,” Jyothi said according to Wired.
“Internet infrastructure distribution is skewed with respect to the user population,” he added in the report.
The researcher revealed North America is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions for “extreme solar events.” Mainland China is also very vulnerable due to its arguably long submarine cables.
“The United States is highly susceptible to disconnection from Europe,” he said according to the publication. “Europe is in a vulnerable location but is more resilient due to the presence of a larger number of shorter cables.”
Although the chance of a solar storm reaching the Earth’s surface is low, it is not impossible. Jyothi hopes his findings will warn world leaders to prepare for a worst case scenario and minimize outages.