STEREO as well as a number of ground-based facilities. Despite a small and unstable budget (roughly $6 million to $7 million U.S. dollars annually) that limits capabilities, the SWPC has experienced a steady growth in customer base, even during the solar minimum years, when disturbance activity is lower. The focus of the USAF’s space weather effort is on providing situational knowledge of the real-time space weather environment and assessments of the impacts of space weather on different Department of Defense missions. The Air Force uses NOAA data combined with data from its own assets such as the Defense Meteorological Satellites Program satellites, the Communications/Navigation Outage Forecasting System, the Solar Electro-Optical Network, the Digital Ionospheric Sounding System, and the GPS network.

NASA is the third major element in the nation’s space weather infrastructure. Although NASA’s role is scientific rather than operational, NASA science missions such as ACE provide critical space weather information, and NASA’s Living with a Star program targets research and technologies that are relevant to operations. NASA-developed products that are candidates for eventual transfer from research to operations include sensor technology and physics-based space weather models that can be transitioned into operational tools for forecasting and situational awareness.

Other key elements of the nation’s space weather infrastructure are the solar and space physics research community and the emerging commercial space weather businesses. Of particular importance are the efforts of these sectors in the area of model development.

Space Weather Forecasting: Capabilities and Limitations

One of the important functions of a nation’s space weather infrastructure is to provide reliable long-term forecasts, although the importance of forecasts varies according to industry.2 With long-term (1- to 3-day) forecasts and minimal false alarms,3 the various user communities can take actions to mitigate the effects of impending solar disturbances and to minimize their economic impact. Currently, NOAA’s SWPC can make probability forecasts of space weather events with varying degrees of success. For example, the SWPC can, with moderate confidence, predict the occurrence probability of a geomagnetic storm or an X-class flare 1 to 3 days in advance, whereas its capability to provide even short-term (less than 1 day) or long-term forecasts of ionospheric disturbances—information important for GPS users—is poor. The SWPC has identified a number of critical steps needed to improve its forecasting capability, enabling it, for example, to provide high-confidence long- and short-term forecasts of geomagnetic storms and ionospheric disturbances. These steps include securing an operational solar wind monitor at L1; transitioning research models (e.g., of coronal mass ejection propagation, the geospace radiation environment, and the coupled magnetosphere/ionosphere/atmosphere system) into operations, and developing precision GPS forecast and correction tools. The requirement for a solar wind monitor at L1 is particularly important because ACE, the SWPC’s sole source of real-time upstream solar wind and interplanetary magnetic field data, is well beyond its planned operational life, and provisions to replace it have not been made.


The title of the workshop on which this report is based, “The Societal and Economic Impacts of Severe Space Weather,” perhaps promised more than this subsequent report can fully deliver. What emerged from the presentations and discussions at the workshop is that the invited experts understand well the effects of at least moderately severe space weather on specific technologies, and in many cases know what is required to mitigate them, whether enhanced forecasting and monitoring capabilities, new technologies (new GPS signals and codes, new-generation radiation-hardened electronics), or improved operational procedures. Limited information was also provided—and captured in this report—on the costs of space weather-induced outages (e.g., $50 million to $70 million to restore the $290 million Anik E2 to operational status) as well as of non-space-weather-related events that can serve as proxies for disruptions caused by severe space storms (e.g., $4 billion to $10 billion for the power blackout of August 2003), and an estimate of $1 trillion to $2 trillion during the first year alone was given for the societal and economic costs of a “severe geomagnetic storm scenario” with recovery times of 4 to 10 years.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement