SUMMARY

Space weather clearly affects our technological systems and society. This workshop session presented four diverse examples of industries that manage or support technological systems that are directly affected by space weather: electrical power grid operators; precision geo-locations services; satellite manufacturing, launching, and operations, and the U.S. Air Force. In an effort to mitigate the impacts of space weather, each has responded by monitoring and reacting to current conditions, utilizing existing space weather data sources and services, and adding its own industry-unique assessment.

Space weather data are collected by satellites or ground-based observatories (e.g., ground-based magnetometer stations that study geomagnetic fields or riometers that monitor the state of the ionosphere). Some government services, such as NOAA’s SWPC, have been established that provide some data collection, interpretation, and dissemination services that are utilized by industry (e.g., solar proton event intensity is used by spacecraft operators when making launch decisions, and by airlines in deciding on polar route diversion). Some rudimentary forecasting and alerts have been established and are utilized by industry to prevent imminent problems (e.g., power grid operators use ACE satellite data to secure the grid against an imminent geomagnetic storm). These services have allowed industries to minimize the disruptions caused by space weather, to the benefit of their millions of customers and society as a whole. The existing systems in place were deemed extremely beneficial (10 on a scale of 1 to 10) by the session’s speakers.

The session’s speakers indicated, however, that more could be done. First, a plan is needed to transition from scientific research platforms to continuously operating platforms in order to maintain the current data streams and alerts with continuous and redundant systems. Some of the research assets that industry currently depends on (e.g., ACE) are nearing the end of their life, and no plan is in place for a replacement. Second, each industry representative indicated that a reliable 24-hour forecast would be of significant value to reducing risks and disruptions, typically ranking it between 8 and 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. Currently available warnings are of little value to some industries, such as precision geo-location, because of the large number of false alarms and missed alarms.

In short, workshop participants learned that many industries have found a use for space weather data and have come to depend on current sources for that data to safeguard their technological systems and the services they provide to society. The industries represented in this session want to continue to have access to the near-real-time data they currently get, and they would eagerly adopt credible 24-hour forecasts when available.

NOTES

  

1. A description of polar cap absorption triggered by solar proton events can be found at http://www.windows.ucar.edu/spaceweather/polar_com.html. A more technical source is J.D. Patterson, T.P. Armstrong, C.M. Laird, D.L. Detrick, and A.T. Weatherwax, Correlation of solar energetic protons and polar cap absorption, J. Geophys. Res. 106(A1), 149-163, 2001.

  

2. The high-frequency (HF) radio blackouts covered by the R scales occur on the sunlit side of Earth, primarily at lower latitudes, and are a type of disturbance different from than the polar cap absorption (PCA) events affecting polar aircraft HF communications. PCAs are caused by solar protons and not by x-rays. The SWPC monitors the solar energetic particle flux in real time and issues alerts when the proton flux exceeds a specified threshold. The solar proton flux is categorized by a different set of levels, called the S scale (see http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/NOAAscales/index.html#SolarRadiation Storms). So the S scale, and not the x-ray intensity categorized by the R scale, is the proper scale to describe the intensity of the solar radiation storm and associated PCA. However, the coronal mass ejection (CME) that causes the PCA, if it is Earth directed, is often associated with a strong solar x-ray flare. The x-rays reach Earth in minutes, while the slower protons typically require many tens of minutes to hours to reach Earth, so x-rays provide an early warning that is not provided by the real-time proton monitors. Alerts tied to x-ray flares and described by the R scales are therefore useful to airlines, even though the x-rays have no direct connection to PCAs. Confirmation that a CME has occurred, is Earth directed, and will trigger solar energetic particle and PCA events can be given by satellites. This was done using IMP8 and is now being done by the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) and Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).IMP8, launched in 1973 and operated for 28 years, was the last of the Interplanetary Monitoring Platform spacecraft. It carried 12 instruments designed to monitor the interplanetary plasma, electric and magnetic fields, and high-energy cosmic-ray environments near Earth. See http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraftDisplay.do?id=1973-078A and J.D. Patterson, T.P.



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