NASA has issued a series of statements this year regarding the frequency of solar flares and how they are expected to affect the planet in 2013. This year marks the peak of an 11-year cycle for solar activity (Solar Cycle 24) including flares of magnetic radiation called Coronal Mass Ejections or CME.
CME particles collide with the earth’s magnetosphere and cause disturbances to the magnetic shield surrounding the earth, known as geomagnetic storms. Geomagnetic storm phenomenon can create a number of problems with human technology, including potential damage to satellites, telecommunications, and the electric grid.
NASA scientists think that the likelihood of a large CME occurring in 2013 is quite small, less than a 1% chance of an X-class CME occurring this year. That level of electromagnetic radiation could potentially cause catastrophic damage to the grid, although no direct injury to human or other life is predicted.
If such a large CME did occur at the peak of this cycle, the more disturbing potential is with the loss of the electric and telecommunications grids there could be mass hysteria and civil unrest. It is estimated that it would take as few as 3 days for supermarket shelves to be empty, but anywhere from weeks to months to repair the grid, which could lead to significant loss of life, especially in cities.
Scientists don’t all agree on the potential severity of solar flares in 2013, but it is evident when viewing satellite footage of the sun that there are several large sunspots directed at the earth with the potential for CME in the coming months. The largest of these sunspots is known as AR1654 and produced an M-class solar flare in January. Scientists at NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory are keeping an eye on solar weather activity say that “AR1654 is getting bigger as it turns toward Earth. Not only is the chance of flares increasing, but also the chance of an Earth-directed eruption,” according to the website.
Solar flare activity has the potential to disrupt our technology, communications, and commodities infrastructure, which could mean that a significant CME event in 2013 would be more costly than Super Storm Sandy or other events related to Global Warming.
It is important during these times of extreme weather phenomena, whether caused earthside by carbon emissions, or by weather patterns from our Sun, that people take basic steps to prepare for outages of power and food shortages. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say, and it’s never a bad idea to be overly prepared for natural disasters.