Saturday, December 16, 2017

Report Highlights Social and Economic Impacts of Space Weather

Some experts in the emergency management community believe that the first "trillion-dollar storm" won't come in the form of a tornado, hurricane, or flood, but rather will come from the sun. A new report funded by NOAA's National Weather Service begins to quantify impacts from space weather on the United States economy.

Space weather broadly refers to time-variable conditions in the near-Earth space environment including the sun, solar wind, magnetosphere, ionosphere, and thermosphere. It represents a natural hazard that is known to interrupt and damage technologies critical to modern society such as electric power grids, airlines, trains, pipelines, and Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) [National Research Council, 2008; Baker and Lanzerotti, 2016].

This 2017 report on the “Social and Economic Impacts of Space Weather in the United States” was commissioned in response to the 2015 National Space Weather Strategy and the 2015 National Space Weather Action Plan, calling for the Department of Commerce to support research into the social and economic impacts of space-weather effects.

The report describes studies of the impacts of space weather on four segments of the economy: satellites and satellite communications, electric power distribution, the airline industry, and users of the Global Navigation Satellite Systems (e.g., precision agriculture, construction, surveying, transportation --including air, rail, maritime, and road - timing, and consumer location-based services).

The study considers five broad classes of impacts: defensive investments and mitigating actions taken before or during a space weather event and the asset damages, service interruptions, and human health impacts that result from an event. Two storm magnitudes were considered: moderate storms (to identify thresholds above which notable impacts are expected) and an extreme event (to identify the upper limits of damages).

Significant achievements of this study include:
  • Developing an analytical framework for assessing impacts that spans from heliophysics to engineering and economics
  • Identifying data requirements, sources, and gaps that can inform future research efforts
  • Providing an approach for systematic analysis of the tradeoffs between defensive investments/mitigating actions on the one hand and asset damages, service interruptions, and human health impacts on the other
  • Providing a basis for consistency in future research efforts that build on the analytical framework developed for this study.

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