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Severe Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report
Provide critical, actionable information at the right time to the right people including forecasts of upcoming events and impact.
The SWPC critically depends on data received primarily from science satellites funded and operated by NASA and its international partners. These currently include STEREO, SOHO, and ACE.1 Bogdan stated that there are no backups or replacements for these satellites, and in the event of their failure the ability of the SWPC to provide essential data, forecasts, and predictions would be severely affected.
Bogdan indicated that the modest SWPC budget is currently allocated to (1) processing and quality control of space weather data obtained from the NOAA-funded GOES 10, 11, and 12 satellites; (2) postlaunch testing for the GOES 13 satellite; and (3) risk reduction and algorithm development on data from the GOES-R satellite. As a result of these priorities, planned R&D activities are not possible within the current budget. Activities are focused on the core mission “to provide space weather products and services that meet the evolving needs of the nation,” Bogdan stated. Included in this core mission is the duty to organize critical space weather data in a format that users can readily access and to archive the data for future use and analysis. Without this data management effort, studies of past solar events by users and long-term studies of solar weather climatology by users would not be possible. Observational problems that sometimes arise with the NOAA instruments on the GOES satellites must be resolved within the very limited SWPC budget with the result, Bogdan reported, that “almost no R&D efforts can be supported.”
Bogdan emphasized that “to fulfill this mission with such limited resources it is vital that data from the assets of many other national and international organizations continue to be available.” As stated above, the SWPC currently acquires real-time data from the NASA-funded STEREO, SOHO, and ACE satellites and will need similar real-time data from the Radiation Belt Storm Probe satellites under development by NASA and expected to be launched in 2011, as reported on NASA websites.
Bogdan indicated that a number of DOD groups are interested in space weather and that “the SWPC is partnering with them in every way possible.” As reported on its website, the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), a part of the U.S. Strategic Command, is charged with protecting U.S. space systems. An aspect of producing such protection is maintaining situational awareness, the ability to know everything in the environment that can affect the operations of U.S. military and surveillance satellites, which in turn requires a continual, real-time awareness of space weather. The JSpOC relies on the AFWA, which partners with the SWPC in providing predictions, forecasts, alerts, and archived data to military users to satisfy this situational awareness responsibility but does not fund the SWPC in this endeavor.
Bogdan mentioned an international component to the partnering in that there are some 12 regional space weather centers around the globe, in Australia, Canada, Russia, Poland, India, and elsewhere. The SWPC must also leverage results from the research community and fledging commercial businesses since they cannot satisfy all user needs with the current very modest budgets. For example, the SWPC analyzes and selects the best space environment models developed by many scientists in the research community. Another example is the modeling of Earth’s crust in North America around key electrical power transformer locations including the currents induced by past major solar storms. John Kappenman of Metatech Corporation reported from the audience that his company will soon offer this capability as a service. The SWPC welcomes these commercial services, although it must be especially diligent in evaluating and adopting new models and services to ensure applicability, reliability, and durability for the users.
Bogdan outlined the FY 2008 capability levels of the SWPC in providing long-term forecasts (1 to 3 days), short-term forecasts and warnings (less than 1 day), and now-casts and alerts (Figure 6.1). Only 1 of the 14 capabilities shown in Figure 6.1—that of providing now-casts and alerts of global and regional solar x-ray flux—is considered satisfactory (color-coded green). Three prediction capabilities are considered poor (color-coded red). In the critical area of long-term forecasts (1 to 3 days), the ability to predict ionospheric disturbance probabilities is regarded as poor (color-coded red). Capabilities for long-term forecasts of M-flare and X-flare probabilities, solar energetic particle probabilities, geomagnetic storm probabilities, and solar-irradiance flux levels are considered less than satisfactory, with much more work needed (color-coded yellow). As discussed in the “Panel and Audience Feedback” section below, reliable long-term forecasts were identified by the panel members as the most impor-