Be prepared for some major power failure, degradation of oil pipelines and disrupted telecommunication in next three to four months due to the reversing of the polarity of Sun’s magnetic field, said Dr BN Dwivedi, professor, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT),Banaras Hindu University (BHU).
Dr. Dwivedi is also an associate scientist of Solar Ultraviolet Measurements of Emitted Radiation (SUMER). He is the only scientist from non-European countries on the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft (a major ESA/NASA project of international cooperation). According to Dwivedi, when the Sun’s polarity will change, which has been predicted to occur in next three to four months, the entire solar system will experience its effect. However, the magnitude of these changes might not be very high as the strength of this change is very weak.
It may be noted here that Sun’s magnetic field changes its polarity after every 11 years after which the north of the Sun’s magnetic field becomes south and the south becomes north. The Sun completes its magnetic cycle in 22 years.
A member of the science team of ‘Enhanced Visible Emission Line Coronagraph (VELC)’ and ‘Solar Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (SUIT)’ for the ISRO’s ADITYA-L1 MISSION, scheduled to be launched by ISRO in 2018, Dr Dwivedi said, “Today’s technology depends on space weather. Solar activity, such as coronal mass ejection during solar maximum will create more active space weather around Earth and other planets. This change in the magnetic field can also cause damage to the power grids and disrupt telecommunication to a great extent. There are chances that mobile phones, internet connection and other satellite communication, which are not enveloped by the thick atmosphere of Earth, might get hampered during this period.”
He further added, “It is important to know that Sun has been changing its polarity since the conception of the solar system, however, it has not affected the general life on Earth as till now the life and human activities were confined within the limits of the Earth. Now we have gone beyond the Earth and it has made us vulnerable to the affects of the magnetic field reversal of the Sun. Our day to day communication is based on the satellites in space which will be affected by this reversal. The space communication, astronauts, satellite electronics will also get affected apart from space projects for other planets of the solar system.”
According to Dwivedi, the domain of the Sun’s magnetic influence stretches billions of kilometres in the solar system.
“Every body present in the universe has a magnetic field. The Sun’s magnetic field dominates the heliosphere, the bubble of ionized gas (plasma) formed by the solar wind. It envelops the entire solar system out to more than 100-times the Sun-Earth distance. The pole shift might also ionize the Earth’s upper atmosphere by allowing fewer cosmic rays to hit the Earth,” he said
U.S., Canada and Mexico will hold major drill in November to ‘simulate blow from EMP pulse ‘
The electric grid, as government and private experts describe it, is the glass jaw of American industry. If an adversary lands a knockout blow, they fear, it could black out vast areas of the continent for weeks; interrupt supplies of water, gasoline, diesel fuel and fresh food; shut down communications; and create disruptions of a scale that was only hinted at by Hurricane Sandy and the attacks of Sept. 11.
This is why thousands of utility workers, business executives, National Guard officers, F.B.I. antiterrorism experts and officials from government agencies in the United States, Canada and Mexico are preparing for an emergency drill in November that will simulate physical attacks and cyberattacks that could take down large sections of the power grid.
“This is different from a hurricane that hits X, Y and Z counties in the Southeast and they have a loss of power for three or four days,” said the official in charge of the drill, Brian M. Harrell of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, known as NERC. “We really want to go beyond that.”
One goal of the drill, called GridEx II, is to explore how governments would react as the loss of the grid crippled the supply chain for everyday necessities.
“If we fail at electricity, we’re going to fail miserably,” Curt Hébert, a former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said at a recent conference held by the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Mr. Harrell said that previous exercises were based on the expectation that electricity “would be up and running relatively quick” after an attack.
Now, he said, the goal is to “educate the federal government on what their expectations should or shouldn’t be.” The industry held a smaller exercise two years ago in which 75 utilities, companies and agencies participated, but this one will be vastly expanded and will be carried out in a more anxious mood.
Most of the participants will join the exercise from their workplaces, with NERC, in Washington, announcing successive failures. One example, organizers say, is a substation break-in that officials initially think is an attempt to steal copper. But instead, the intruder uses a USB drive to upload a virus into a computer network.
The drill is part of a give-and-take in the past few years between the government and utilities that has exposed the difficulties of securing the electric system.
The grid is essential for almost everything, but it is mostly controlled by investor-owned companies or municipal or regional agencies. Ninety-nine percent of military facilities rely on commercial power, according to the White House.
The utilities play down their abilities, in comparison with the government’s. “They have the intelligence operation, the standing army, the three-letter agencies,” said Scott Aaronson, senior director of national security policy at the Edison Electric Institute, the trade association of investor-owned utilities. “We have the grid operations expertise.”
That expertise involves running 5,800 major power plants and 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines, monitored and controlled by a staggering mix of devices installed over decades. Some utilities use their own antique computer protocols and are probably safe from hacking – what the industry calls “security through obscurity.”
But others rely on Windows-based control systems that are common to many industries. Some of them run on in-house networks, but computer security experts say they are not confident that all the connections to the public Internet have been discovered and secured. Many may be vulnerable to software – known as malware – that can disable the systems or destroy their ability to communicate, leaving their human operators blind about the positions of switches, the flows of current and other critical parameters. Experts say a sophisticated hacker could also damage hard-to-replace equipment.
In an effort to draw utilities and the government closer, the industry recently established the Electricity Sub-Sector Coordinating Council, made up of high-level executives, to meet with federal officials. The first session is next month.
Preparation for the November drill comes as Congress is debating laws that could impose new standards to protect the grid from cyberattacks, but many in the industry, some of whom would like such rules, doubt that they can pass.
The drill is also being planned as conferences, studies and even works of fiction are raising near-apocalyptic visions of catastrophes involving the grid.
A National Academy of Sciences report last year said that terrorists could cause broad hardship for months with physical attacks on hard-to-replace components. An emerging effort led in part by R. James Woolsey, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is gearing up to pressure state legislatures to force utilities to protect equipment against an electromagnetic pulse, which could come from solar activity or be caused by small nuclear weapons exploded at low altitude, frying crucial components.
An attack using an electromagnetic pulse is laid out in extensive detail in the novel “One Second After,” published in 2009 and endorsed by Newt Gingrich. In another novel, “Gridlock,” published this summer and co-written by Byron L. Dorgan, the former senator from North Dakota, a rogue Russian agent working for Venezuela and Iran helps hackers threaten the grid. In the preface, Mr. Dorgan says such an attack could cause 10,000 times as much devastation as the terrorists’ strikes on Sept. 11, 2001.
Despite the growing anxiety, the government and the private sector have had trouble coordinating their grid protection efforts. The utility industry argues that the government has extensive information on threats but keeps it classified. Government officials concede the problem, and they have suggested that some utility executives get security clearances. But with hundreds of utilities and thousands of executives, it cannot issue such clearances fast enough. And the industry would like to be instantly warned when the government identifies Internet servers that are known to be sources of malware.
Another problem is that the electric system is so tightly integrated that a collapse in one spot, whether by error or intent, can set off a cascade, as happened in August 2003, when a power failure took a few moments to spread from Detroit to New York.
Sometimes utility engineers and law enforcement officials also seem to speak different languages. In his book “Protecting Industrial Control Systems From Electronic Threats,” Joseph Weiss, an engineer and cybersecurity expert, recounted a meeting between electrical engineers and the F.B.I. in 2008. When an F.B.I. official spoke at length about I.E.D.’s, he was referring to improvised explosive devices, but to the engineers the abbreviation meant intelligent electronic devices.
And experts fear government-sponsored hacking. Michael V. Hayden, another former C.I.A. director, speaking at the Bipartisan Policy Center conference, said that the Stuxnet virus, which disabled some of Iran’s centrifuges for enriching uranium, might invite retaliation.
“In a time of peace, someone just used a cyberweapon to destroy another nation’s critical infrastructure,” he said. “Ouch.”
Silence before the storm or just mini Ice Age ?
The Sun is almost completely blank, all but devoid of sunspots. This is odd considering we are meant to be at the solar maximum this summer. NASA has released a chart showing the downturn in activity.
The maximum could be double peaked which would see a further surge in activity over the next couple of months, but scientists are split on this. Scientific opinions vary not least because observations indicate that the Sun’s magnetic field is about to flip. This only happens at the solar maximum.
Todays sunspot number is 12. That figure is the Boulder number which is about 35% higher than the International sunspot number used by some other countries. The difference comes from the way the sunspots are counted.
There are worries that the very low activity during the current cycle, Cycle 24, could lead to decades of cold weather due to the knock on effect going into Cycle 25.
Sunspots need a minimum amount of magnetic energy in order to form in the first place. The Gauss laws of physics determine the levels at which sunspots form, and this is acknowledged to be 1500 Gauss. Each solar cycle is affected by the length and strength of the one before it. Cycle 24 has been long and weak, indicating from past records that Cycle 25 could be even longer and even weaker than this one.
The worry with that is that the historical record shows that long weak sunspot cycles lead to much colder weather heading towards the cycle minimum. In this case the next 11 years, and then for a decade or so after the end of the cycle. Data from Cycle 24 has indicated to scientists that Cycle 25 may be so weak that few, if any sunspots form. This could give us 30-40 years of colder weather. These were the conditions at the time of the Dalton minimum and the better known Maunder minimum when the weather changed giving cool summers and bitterly cold winters.
There were many other periods of cold weather that back up the work that was primarily carried out by Livingston and Penn. The Wolf and Sporer minimums both saw low sunspot activity followed by extremely cold weather.
Those scientists looking at long term weather trends are already saying that the climate is cooling. More and more people are ‘coming out’ and stating that AGW (anthropogenic global warming) has ceased. Some question if it even existed in the first place.
The trends show that there has been no warming since 1998 and that cooling has actually started. Thankfully it is gradual rather than the globe being plunged into a new ice age overnight. There is currently no evidence that we are closer to an ice age today than we were 15 years ago, but ice ages come and go, and we are ‘overdue’.
Ice ages are interspersed with interglacials, we are in an interglacial right now. There are periods where the ice retreats and a warmer more hospitable climate prevails. How long the current interglacial lasts is anybody’s guess, sadly, that’s something the Sun can’t tell us.