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Space weather, EarthScope, and protecting the national electrical grid

It’s not often geology and national security wind up in the same sentence. Most people don’t think about electrical power in connection to either the ground under their feet or solar flares overhead, but Dr. Adam Schultz of Oregon State University, and EarthScope Magnetotelluric Program Lead Scientist, says that connection presents a clear and present risk that power utilities need to consider. “A big induced current in power-transmission lines that takes down high-voltage transformers would be a major disaster,” Schultz said. “EarthScope is materially helping the U.S. build resilience against space weather on critical infrastructure such as power grids.” The EarthScope Magnetotelluric Transportable Array, part of the USArray, is an observatory of instruments that measures Earth’s naturally occurring electric and magnetic fields. Space weather is the flow of electromagnetic radiation given off by the sun, including extreme events such as coronal mass ejections that can intersect Earth’s orbit, impacting electric fields on Earth. Schultz underscores threats from possible attacks as well. “There is a similar risk from man-made geomagnetic disturbances caused by electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons that resemble natural space weather events, although with even greater intensity and more concentrated local impacts,” he said. At the 2017 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, Schultz will present recent research that examines a real-world example of 3D mapping of the crust and mantle of the contiguous U.S. from EarthScope data. The project looks at ground electric fields in the northwestern U.S. arising from space weather events, and shows data for reactive power loss… [Read full story]