Government advisor warns of solar storm disaster


Solar storms could cause catastrophic damage to the world's economy, the Government's chief scientific advisor has warned.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC, Professor Sir John Beddington said it was essential governments worked to minimise the threat, according to reports.

Experts believe losses caused by a so-called "global Katrina" could amount to $2 trillion (1.2 trillion).

Various technologies could be made redundant and in the worst case scenario, almost anything electronic will be hit.

"The issue of space weather has got to be taken seriously," Beddington said.

He explained the past few years have been relatively quiet, but this is not likely to last.

"The potential vulnerability of our systems has increased dramatically. Whether it's the smart grid in our electricity systems or the ubiquitous use of GPS," the professor added.

As previously reported by IT PRO, scientists fear that in 2013 magnetic energy from solar flares will hit high levels, which could take down key services such as electronics and communications.

Last year, NASA warned this could happen when significant levels of radiation are produced when the sun's magnetic energy cycle hits its peak and the number of sun spots reaches a maximum.

These sun spots are regions of intense magnetic activity, which prevent hot material from the sun's interior to rise to the surface.

Sun spots appear and disappear in a cycle that lasts about 11 years. During this cycle, the amount of energy from the sun irradiated towards the Earth changes by a small percentage (about 0.1 per cent), with the maximum of activity coinciding with the maximum number of sun spots.

The intense magnetic activity can produce large flares and it is these which could hit satellite operations and cause widespread damage.

Scientists have known about the cycle of suns spots for some time, and it seems Beddington has simply reiterated the same concerns raised in 2010.

The main issue is that as the world has become more reliant on technology, the more it has opened itself up for a big hit.

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.