Memorandum submitted by the British Antarctic
Survey (SAGE 21)
RICHARD B HORNE, MERVYN P FREEMAN AND ALAN
S RODGER BRITISH ANTARCTIC SURVEY, CAMBRIDGE UK
The response here is directed to case study
questions on solar storms where the British Antarctic Survey has
particular expertise. It is supplementary to the input from the
Research Councils UK.
1. What are the potential hazards and risks
and how were they identified? How prepared is/was the Government
for the emergency?
Solar storms are a source of Space Weather disturbances
that disrupt modern technology at the Earth. The term Space Weather
is more generally used, and will be referred to here. Space Weather
is described more fully in POSTNOTE 361 (July 2010) "Space
Over the last 30 years our society has become
much more reliant on technology that is susceptible to Space Weather,
particularly satellites, power networks and aviation on polar
routes. This trend is likely to increase, for example there has
been a 10 fold increase over the last 10 years in patents to exploit
the satellite-based global positioning system (GPS).
Large space weather events occurred in 1989,
which caused power blackouts across the North-Eastern Canada,
in 2003, which affected more than 30 satellites resulting in loss
of service and satellite capacity, and in 2005, which disrupted
trans-Atlantic aviation. The largest event on record occurred
in 1859. If a major event like this occurred today it is most
likely that there would be widespread disruption to the following
Satellites (including failures) and satellite
services caused by energetic particles and increased radiation.
Power generation and electrical distribution
grids as a result of geomagnetically-induced currents (GICs) in
GPS navigation signals as a result of
Aviation through disruption to communications
and increased radiation.
Secondary systems that depend on the
above, such as financial services.
In the past, large events have destroyed infrastructure
on the ground and in space. The time to replace infrastructure
following a major event, for example, to replace transformers
in the national power grid or satellite capacity, could be significant
and lead to knock-on effects. It takes about two years to order
and replace a power transformer and longer for satellites. If
several satellites and or transformers were lost in a major event
it would take years to replace the infrastructure. It is essential
that sufficient capacity is held in reserve for critical systems.
Space weather hazards have been identified as
a result of basic research into Solar Terrestrial Physics (STP).
For example, the British Antarctic Survey has shown that there
is a higher risk of satellite damage during geomagnetic storms
at the Earth, and that the risk varies with the 11 year solar
cycle. The risk will increase over the next few years as the sun
becomes more active.
Research shows that the hazards to ground based
systems and aviation peak at high latitude and over the polar
regions, whereas the hazards to spacecraft peak in the Van Allen
radiation belts. The UK has considerable experimental facilities
in the polar regions, access to satellite data, computer models
and scientific expertise that can be used to address Space Weather.
There is a need to provide strategic funding for these activities
otherwise they will come and go according to scientific priorities
rather than a national need for hazard assessment and mitigation.
The UK does not have a system of warnings or
alerts in place. It is totally reliant on warnings provided by
other countries such as the Space Weather Prediction Service provided
by NOAA in the USA which are not tailored to UK needs.
2. How does/did the Government use scientific
advice and evidence to identify, prepare for and react to an emergency?
The Government has only just started to recognise
the risks associated with Space Weather through the National Risk
3. What are the obstacles to obtaining reliable,
timely scientific advice and evidence to inform policy decisions
in emergencies? Has the Government sufficient powers and resources
to overcome the obstacles? For case studies (i) and (ii) was there
sufficient and timely scientific evidence to inform policy decisions?
The UK has a major investment in industries
that are affected by Space Weather including satellite construction
and satellite services, power distribution, aviation, and insurance.
For example, the UK space sector accounted for 9% ($11 billion)
of the global market in 2007.
The UK has the expertise and knowledge to help protect these assets,
but it is not organised and several areas need to be developed.
For example, more research is required, particularly on geomagnetic
storms, models to forecast risk and assess hazards are needed,
and a strategy to respond to extreme events is required. This
could be achieved through a UK Space Weather programme that works
in collaboration with other countries but which is tailored to
meet the national interest.
Space Weather affects a broad range of industries
and organisations such as the MoD, space agencies, funding agencies,
scientists and others. The UK lacks a body that could respond
to an emergency or that could provide a source of authoritative
advice. The UK Space Agency provides a new opportunity to bring
together these different areas to coordinate activities.
Research funding is split between the Natural
Environment Research Council (NERC), which funds Earth orientated
solar terrestrial physics, and the Science and Technology Facilities
Council (STFC) which funds space based activities. These Research
Councils have different research priorities. There is a need to
develop a research strategy for solar terrestrial physics in support
of Space Weather hazards and risks which could be part of a national
Space Weather programme.
Most measurements are done by instruments designed
and operated for scientific research which may not provide long-term
continuous monitoring tailored for hazard warning or assessment.
The NERC has a framework to support such long-term environmental
observation as part of a national capability which could be utilised
for Space Weather.
4. How effective is the strategic coordination
between Government departments, public bodies, private bodies,
sources of scientific advice and the research base in preparing
for and reacting to emergencies?
Strategic coordination for Space Weather emergencies
has yet to be put to the test, but without a recognised coordination
structure in place it is likely to be problematic.
5. How important is international coordination
and how could it be strengthened?
Space Weather is a global problem. International
collaboration is essential and cost-effective in providing access
to Space Weather measurements, expertise, and other resources
worldwide worth many times the national investment. However to
safeguard continued access it is important to contribute to this
international effort at an appropriate level.
The EU has recently allocated 22 million
to space hazards including Space Weather through the Framework
7 programme (FP7). The British Antarctic Survey is leading one
FP7 project to protect space assets and contributes to other projects
in Europe and the USA.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has a new Space
Situation Awareness programme (SSA). The UK could make the most
of its membership of the ESA by fully signing up to this programme
which would allow the UK to lead ESA-SSA projects. This would
bring a UK dimension that meets the needs of UK industry and give
them a competitive edge.
British Antarctic Survey
14 September 2010
6 http://www.parliament.uk/documents/post/postpn361-space-weather.pdf Back
News briefing, Nature, 466, 12 August 2010 Back
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, "The Space
Economy in the UK: An economic analysis of the sector and the
role of policy", Feb 2010. Back