A bad solar storm could lead to “Internet Apocalypse”


Scientists already know For decades, this has been an extreme Solar storm, or Coronal mass ejection, May damage the power grid and may Lead to a long power outage. From the global supply chain and transportation to the Internet and GPS access, the impact is felt everywhere. However, so far, few people have studied the impact of this type of solar radiation on the Internet infrastructure. New research shows that these failures can be catastrophic, especially for the submarine cables that support the global Internet.

exist SIGCOMM 2021 At the Data Communication Conference on Thursday, Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi of the University of California, Irvine, published “Solar Superstorm: Internet Apocalypse Project”, which studied the damage that a fast-moving magnetized solar particle cloud may cause to the global Internet.Abdu Jodi Research Pointed out another nuance of the solar storm that caused the power outage: even if the power is restored within a few hours or days, large-scale Internet outages still exist.

There is some good news ahead. Abdu Jyothi found that even in a huge solar storm, the risk of local and regional Internet infrastructure damage is low, because the optical fiber itself is not affected by geomagnetically induced currents. Short cable spans are also often grounded. But for long submarine cables connecting the mainland, the risk is much greater. A solar storm has damaged many of these cables around the world, and even if the local infrastructure is kept intact, it may cut off the links between countries at the source, leading to a large number of disconnections. This is like cutting off the flow of water to an apartment building due to an interruption in the water supply main.

“What really reminds me of this is that in the pandemic, we saw how unprepared the world is. There is no protocol to effectively deal with it, and so is the resilience of the Internet,” Abdu Jyothi told WIRED before the speech. “Our infrastructure is not ready for large-scale solar activities. We have very limited knowledge of the extent of the damage.”

This information gap mainly comes from lack of data. Severe solar storms are very rare, and there are only three main examples in recent history. Large-scale events in 1859 and 1921 showed that geomagnetic interference would destroy power infrastructure and communication lines such as telegraph lines.During the large-scale “Carrington Event” in 1859, the compass needle oscillated violently and unpredictably, and the northern lights could be seen Equator in ColombiaBut these geomagnetic disturbances occurred before the establishment of modern power grids. A medium-intensity solar storm in 1989 destroyed the Quebec Hydropower grid and caused a 9-hour blackout in northeastern Canada, but this also occurred before the rise of modern Internet infrastructure.

Abdu Jyothi said that although they do not happen frequently, coronal mass ejections are a real threat to the resilience of the Internet.After 30 years of low solar storm activity, she and Other researchers Point out that the possibility of another incident is rising.

For some reasons, submarine Internet cables may be susceptible to damage from solar storms. In order to completely transmit data across the ocean, depending on the cable, repeaters are installed at intervals of approximately 50 to 150 kilometers. These devices amplify the optical signal to ensure that nothing is lost during transmission, just like a relay race in baseball. Although the fiber optic cable will not be directly damaged by geomagnetically induced currents, the electronic internal structure of the repeater is easily damaged-and enough repeater failures will render the entire submarine cable unusable. In addition, submarine cables are only grounded at extended intervals of hundreds or thousands of kilometers apart, which makes vulnerable components such as repeaters more susceptible to geomagnetically induced currents. The composition of the seafloor is also different, which may make some grounding points more effective than others.



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