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posted by requerdanos on Tuesday August 31, @01:04AM   Printer-friendly
from the the-geomagnetic-storm-is-building-we-shouldn't-stay-long dept.

A Bad Solar Storm Could Cause an 'Internet Apocalypse':

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."

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Beryllium Sphere (r) on Tuesday August 31, @03:34AM (5 children)

    by Beryllium Sphere (r) (5062) on Tuesday August 31, @03:34AM (#1172660)

    I thought that what's running undersea now is optical fiber. It's an insulator.

    Is the issue that there's maybe electric power in the cable to run repeaters?

    If so, how does a solar flare affect something at the bottom of the ocean? We can't use radio with submerged submarines. The salt water should short out the effects of the flare.

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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 31, @03:44AM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 31, @03:44AM (#1172662)

    It's dependent on frequency. Radio is absorbed quickly, but a large enough surge in the magnetic field would induce currents even in wires on the bottom of the ocean. Those optical cables have repeaters every 20 ~ 50 km. I don't know if they are powered by batteries or wires (I think there are some of each). If the repeaters are powered by wire they would be susceptible.

    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 31, @03:34PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 31, @03:34PM (#1172858)

      The repeaters are powered by high voltage DC lines that run the full length of the cable.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 01, @12:42AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 01, @12:42AM (#1173061)

        I meant some of each on different cables. I thought some of the shallow ones ran batteries, I didn't mean mixed on the one cable.
        DDGing around, it looks like the short ones are unrepeatered and the long ones all run wires.

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by janrinok on Tuesday August 31, @01:07PM (1 child)

    by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday August 31, @01:07PM (#1172793) Journal

    Magnetism can travel through water. We detect submarines using magnetic anomaly detection [] which is essentially detecting the disturbance to the earths magnetic field caused by the large metal body of the submarine.

    The field will be quickly weakened but without knowing the strength of magnetic flux associated with solar storm and the depth of the electronic devices it is impossible to say how much of a threat this will pose. Nevertheless, above water there could be so many problems that the cable connections will not be the most important issue.

    It's always my fault...