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Earth

An Exercise To Model a "Solar Radiation Katrina" 225

Hugh Pickens writes in with an update on the warnings we discussed a year back about the dangers of a "solar Katrina." Now NPR is reporting on a tabletop exercise mounted in Boulder, Colorado by government workers attempting to model the effects of a worst-case solar electromagnetic storm. "...an exercise held in Boulder, Colorado, has investigated what might happen if the Earth were struck by a solar storm as intense as the huge storms that occurred in 1921 and 1859 — a sort of solar Katrina — and researchers found that the impact is likely to be far worse than in previous solar storms because of our growing dependence on satellites and other electronic devices that are vulnerable to electromagnetic radiation. 'In many ways, the impact of a major solar storm resembles that of a hurricane or an earthquake,' says FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, except that a solar Katrina would cause damage in a much larger area — power could be knocked out almost simultaneously in countries from Sweden to Canada and the US. In the exercise, the first sign of trouble came when radiation began disrupting radio signals and GPS devices, says Tom Bogdan, who directs the Space Weather Prediction Center. Ten or 20 minutes later electrically charged particles 'basically took out' most of the commercial satellites that transmit telephone conversations, TV shows, and huge amounts of data we depend on in our daily lives. But the worst damage came nearly a day later, when the solar storm began to induce electrical currents in high voltage power lines strong enough to destroy transformers around the globe, leaving millions of people in northern latitudes without power."

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