Solar Storm in 2012 Could Create Blackouts, Affect GPS Systems

March 7, 2006

The next 11-year solar storm cycle is expected to be 30 to 50 percent stronger than the current one, and could slow satellite orbits, disrupt communications, bring down power systems, and force airplanes to take alternate routes to avoid the poles, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

According to NCAR, the sun goes through approximately 11-year cycles, from peak storm activity to quiet and back again. Forecasting the cycle can help society anticipate storms, that are linked to twisted magnetic fields in the sun that suddenly snap and release tremendous amounts of energy. The forecasts track subsurface movements of the sunspot remanents, and have been 89 percent accurate in the previous two solar cycles.

The last cycle peaked in 2001. A storm in 1989 caused power grids to collapse, causing a five-hour blackout in Quebec, the scientists said.

NCAR scientists predict the next upcoming storm cycle to begin in late 2007 or early 2008, and reach its peak in 2012.

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