Monday, 12 January 2009: 1:30 PM
The economic and societal impacts of space weather
Room 126BC (Phoenix Convention Center)
The modern world's vulnerability to space weather effects is an issue of increasing concern. For example, long-line power networks connecting widely separated geographic areas may incur damaging electric currents induced by geomagnetic storms. Gradients and irregularities in ionospheric electron density affect trans-ionospheric UHF and L-band line-of-sight propagation (scintillation) and VHF/HF sky-wave and scatter propagation, leading to communication and navigation system outages. Changes in the density of the neutral atmosphere create variable satellite drag, adversely affecting missions like maneuver planning, re-entry prediction, collision avoidance, risk analysis, and identification and tracking of objects in space using narrow field-of-view sensors. Also, the miniaturization of electronic components that are used in spacecraft systems makes them potentially more susceptible to damage by energetic particles produced during space weather disturbances. The United States has a permanent human presence in space on the International Space Station, and the President and NASA have put into place a program to expand our activities as a space-faring nation with a future permanent settlement on the Moon and eventually a mission to Mars. However, despite all these potential space weather vulnerabilities, relatively few detailed studies of the socioeconomic impacts of severe space weather events have been carried out. A committee, operating under the auspices of the Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Academy of Sciences, was charged in 2007 to convene a public workshop. This was to feature invited presentations and discussion to assess the Nation's current and future ability to manage the effects of space weather events and their societal and economic impacts. Although cost/benefit analyses of terrestrial weather observing systems and mitigation strategies have a long history, similar studies for space weather are lacking. The Workshop was held in Washington, DC, on 22-23 May 2008. Workshop sessions included an analysis of the effects of historical space weather events, and used the record solar storms of October – November 2003 to focus the presentations and provide data to project future vulnerabilities. The inclusion of historic events and intervals was important in order to capture the breadth of space weather impacts (which can be different from event to event). A goal was also to assess impacts that occur during non-storm times. The Workshop had sessions on how space weather impacts might change with time as technologies evolve and new technologies appear. The meeting provided an initial forum for gathering information on specific space weather effects, as well as the status and unmet challenges of forecasting. The published results of the Workshop are summarized in this talk and future possible directions are also addressed.