Scientists at Oxford University, have produced the first economic risk model that details the next big solar storm could leave Britain with £16 billion ($20.3 billion) worth of damage.
A geomagnetic storm triggered by a burst of solar energy from the sun could overwhelm the nation’s power grid, air travel, and disrupt satellite communications.
The largest ever known space weather event - known as ‘the Carrington Event’ - occurred in 1859, knocked out telegraph circuits around the world, starting fires and causing massive auroras as far south as Hawaii.
In 1989, a solar storm caused a voltage collapse of Canada’s Hydro-Québec power grid, knocking out power for six million residents for nine hours and in 2005, another storm blew out GPS communication for about ten minutes.
The Daily Telegraph said more recently, a coronal mass ejection (CME), which is a blast of plasma from the sun, narrowly missed Earth during London’s 2012 Olympic Games, which at the time, the London region was Earth-facing - could have crippled communication networks and caused mass panic.
Earth’s magnetic field protects the plant from the sun's harmful blasts of energy, but sometimes the sun overpowers the planet’s defenses.
In April 2017, we reported that San Fransisco, New York, and Los Angeles, simultaneously experienced a power grid failure.
It was convenient at the time for many to blame the Russians; however, our report showed readers how the broad power outage was likely caused by a geomagnetic storm.
"The inability to forecast and prepare for events could be catastrophic for the economy," Oxford University warned, adding that a powerful geomagnetic storm could cost Britain billions, due to damaging effects on critical infrastructure, business, and homes.
Their economic model details blackouts across the northeast and northwest of England, East Anglia and Wales, where power grids are not properly protected against solar radiation and where transformers in 1989 melted down from a solar storm.
Dr. Edward Oughton, of the Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium, at Oxford, said: “If the Earth were to experience a Carrington-sized event without upgrading our current forecasting capability, it could cost the UK up to £16bn in the most severe scenario."
“The ‘do nothing’ scenario where the UK fails to invest or invests minimally in replacing satellite monitoring capabilities means existing forecasting skill levels will decline," Oughton warned.
“This increases the risk of critical national infrastructure failure because there may be little early warning that an event is taking place. There would be less time for infrastructure operators to implement mitigation plans," he added.
The Daily Telegraph warns of a solar storm equivalent to the Carrington Event is estimated to happen every 100 years, the event is already long overdue.
If it happened today, researchers would calculate a 71% probability the British power grid would collapse.
The authors, which include experts from Oxford and The Met Office, are demanding the government to fund a new program that would launch new spacecraft equipped with Heliospheric Imagers and Solar Coronagraphs, to monitor coronal mass ejections from the sun.
"Such a system would increase the current early warning system from a maximum of four days to up to a week ahead and would be more exact in predicting when the storm would hit Earth, narrowing the current window of six hours to four," said The Daily Telegraph.
Catherine Burnett of The Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre, said: “Our forecasting ability is very dependent on a small number of satellite observations.
“This research assesses the UK’s risk in terms of different levels of space weather forecasting capability, which is especially important given existing monitoring satellites are nearing the end of their lives," Burnett said.
As for the next big solar storm to cripple entire countries, well, it appears experts in Britain think that day could be soon.