Undersea cables have a high risk of failure from solar storms, research says

A solar storm is a directional ejection of a large mass of highly magnetised particles from the sun   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Powerful solar superstorms can destroy undersea cables leading to massive Internet disruption lasting for several months. They can also damage satellites, power grids, oil and gas pipelines, research says.

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A solar storm is a directional ejection of a large mass of highly magnetised particles from the sun. When the earth is in the direct path of such solar storms, these magnetised and charged solar particles will interact with the earth’s magnetic field and induce strong electric currents on the earth’s surface that can damage long-distance cables which form the backbone of the Internet, Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi, Assistant Professor at University of California, said in a statement.

Her research notes that undersea cables have a higher risk of failure compared to land cables due to their large lengths as current is proportional to the area of the loop formed by the two grounds and the cable. Hence, power grids, oil and gas pipelines, and networking cables are the most vulnerable.

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Communication satellites could also be among the severely affected systems due to direct exposure to highly charged particles in the storms.

Solar storms can also create an extra drag on the satellite, particularly in low-earth orbit (LEO) systems such as Starlink causing orbital decay and uncontrolled re-entry to earth.

The scale of impact is different for different regions. Chinese cities are more prone to lose connectivity than Indian cities because the former connects to longer cables.

The U.S. is one of the most vulnerable locations with a high risk of disconnection from Europe during extreme solar events. The estimated economic impact of an Internet disruption for a day in the U.S. could be over $7 billion.

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Europe is at a lower risk due to the presence of shorter land and undersea cables interconnecting the continent. A cable between Brazil and Europe will be less impacted compared to cables connecting the U.S. and Europe.

Cables along eastern and western coasts of Africa are less prone to failures, according to Jyothi.

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2021 2:55:56 AM |

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