from the the-geomagnetic-storm-is-building-we-shouldn't-stay-long dept.
Scientists have known for decades that an extreme solar storm, or coronal mass ejection, could damage electrical grids and potentially cause prolonged blackouts. The repercussions would be felt everywhere from global supply chains and transportation to internet and GPS access. Less examined until now, though, is the impact such a solar emission could have on internet infrastructure specifically. New research shows that the failures could be catastrophic, particularly for the undersea cables that underpin the global internet.
At the SIGCOMM 2021 data communication conference on Thursday, Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi of the University of California, Irvine presented "Solar Superstorms: Planning for an Internet Apocalypse," an examination of the damage a fast-moving cloud of magnetized solar particles could cause the global internet. Abdu Jyothi's research points out an additional nuance to a blackout-causing solar storm: the scenario where even if power returns in hours or days, mass internet outages persist.
There's some good news up front. Abdu Jyothi found that local and regional internet infrastructure would be at low risk of damage even in a massive solar storm, because optical fiber itself isn't affected by geomagnetically induced currents. Short cable spans are also grounded very regularly. But for long undersea cables that connect continents, the risks are much greater. A solar storm that disrupted a number of these cables around the world could cause a massive loss of connectivity by cutting countries off at the source, even while leaving local infrastructure intact.
[...] On top of all of this, a major solar storm could also knock out any equipment that orbits the Earth that enables services like satellite internet and global positioning.
"There are no models currently available of how this could play out," Abdu Jyothi says. "We have more understanding of how these storms would impact power systems, but that's all on land. In the ocean it's even more difficult to predict."