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Non Space Systems Operation Services

The effects of Space Weather are not restricted to space-based systems. Diverse industries such as power distribution, resource exploitation and aviation can all be directly affected in various ways. All these industries have experienced Space Weather effects in the past. Singularly strong Space Weather conditions are beneficial to the tourism industry in the Northern region.

 ▶  Service to power systems operators Nowcast and forecast GIC in power systems based on local magnetometer networks and solar wind data (in case of forecasts).
 ▶  Service to pipeline operators Nowcast and forecast E field in vicinity of pipelines based on local magnetometer networks and solar wind data.
 ▶  Service to airlines Global provision of data relating to increased radiation levels at aircraft altitudes and degraded communications, in particular for high-latitude routes.
 ▶  Service to resource exploitation system operators Forecast and nowcast disturbed magnetic conditions in the vicinity of high latitude magnetometer stations, coupled with precise information on position (TIO services).
 ▶  Service to auroral tourism sector Regional auroral forecast coupled with meteorological forecast (cloud cover) geared towards tourism sector.

Non Space Systems Operation Background

Space weather can directly affect technical installations and operations at or near ground-level. In particular this is observed in the auroral and subauroral zone, but during intense storms disturbances can reach mid-latitudes.

Power Systems Operation and Pipelines

As a result of time-varying magnetic fields occurring during a geomagnetic storm, significant electric currents (GICs) may be induced in pipelines and long power transmission lines. Space weather data and products can be used to monitor and model the effects; forecasting severe magnetic storms, and providing retrospective geomagnetic data to diagnose anomalies in networks. GIC can cause effects such as increased corrosion of pipelines over time and, in severe cases, damage to high-voltage power transformers.

Resource Exploitation

The oil industry today makes extensive use of geomagnetic data in support of directional drilling and magnetic survey instruments are commonly used for navigation. The field direction should be known to 0.1 degrees in order to support drill operation. In the auroral and subauroral zone, natural disturbances of the magnetic field are significant on this scale. In the North sea the direction of the Earth's magnetic field may change by 0.2 degrees during a normal day and by much more during a geomagnetic storm. Reference monitoring of the magnetic field therefore provides crucial information to support these activities.
Geomagnetic surveying - from the air as well as the sea - in most cases requires very accurate time-dependent reference magnetic field data. Companies or organisations carrying out magnetic surveys may then benefit from the use of Space Weather information. Forecasts as well as real-time and archived reference data may all provide valuable information in support of both campaign planning and post-survey data analysis.

Aviation

The aviation sector may be affected by Space Weather in a variety of ways. Space weather can affect aviation causing degradation of radio/satellite communication, onboard avionics disturbance, increased radiation doses for air crew/passengers, and disturbance of GNSS signals.

The extent to which individual flights will be affected can depend on the route being flown. For example, flights routed above 82 degrees latitude cannot use satellite-based communication, but use HF radio communication as an alternative. In polar regions, HF communication can be disturbed or even blocked when high-energy particle precipitation ionises the lower layers of the ionosphere (so-called Polar Cap Absorption, PCA, events). In the case of a strong PCA event, this would further reduce the number of communication means available for a given aircraft. With the increasing number of flights taking place over the poles, Space Weather effects are an increasing concern for the aviation industry.

The radiation environment at aircraft altitude is slightly increased with respect to that at ground level, due to the reduced atmospheric shielding from the incident galactic cosmic rays, the flux of which varies with the solar cycle. In addition, during severe particle storms resulting from sporadic solar activity, aircraft in the polar regions or flying at high altitude may experience additionally increased radiation doses. Although well below dangerous levels in all cases, European legislation is in place identifying aircrew as radiation workers and their annual expected exposure is recorded. Individual airlines may also take action to modify their flight routes in case of a severe radiation storm or perceived impact of space weather on safety critical systems such as communications.

Auroral Tourism

The auroral tourism sector also benefits from timely and accurate auroral information. Real-time monitoring of the local magnetic field disturbance in the auroral region at individual sites together with real-time imaging and modelling, provides timely and accurate information on the occurrences of auroral disturbances for a given location. Accurate forecasts of major disturbances up to a day ahead are a major scientific challenge since they require understanding of how space weather events propagate from the Sun, to the Earth, through the magnetosphere and finally to the upper atmosphere for a given location.


Aurora borealis (© ESA)