Explosive eruptions of energy from the Sun that cause minor solar storms on Earth are relatively common events. Superstorms, by contrast, occur very occasionally – perhaps once every century or two. Most superstorms miss the Earth, travelling harmlessly into space. Of those that do travel towards the Earth, only half interact with the Earth’s environment and cause damage.
However, the consequential impact on the UK’s engineering infrastructure – which includes the electricity grid, satellite technology and air passenger safety – has not previously been critically assessed. A new report by the Royal Academy of Engineering brings together engineering and scientific experts from across many disciplines to identify and analyse those impacts. It highlights some legitimate concerns that need the attention of government, industry and engineers in order to be best prepared for this ‘high impact, low probability’ natural hazard.
The report has an emphasis on the UK, but many of the conclusions also apply to other countries. The authors came to the SMC to discuss their findings.
Prof Paul Cannon FREng, Qinetic/University of Birmingham (study chair)
Chris Train, Director of Market Operation, National Grid
Dr Jill Meara, Deputy Director/Public Health Consultant CRCE, Health Protection Agency
Keith Ryden, Reader in Space Engineering, University of Surrey Space Centre