The Next Digital Disruption: Solar Flares

Posted on 19/05/2021 by Jonathan Ellins

After COVID-19 it seems that we should be more prepared for drastic global changes that may happen in the future - even solar flares.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the first major digital disruption since the internet rose to fame.

With lockdowns forcing people to shop and interact online, the virus has undoubtedly been a catalyst for digital uptake across all demographics.

Without even showing any numbers or percentages, it’s clear to see how the restrictions have boosted our eCommerce clients, whilst at the same time harming our hospitality clients.

eCommerce clients

eCommerce client #1
eCommerce client #2

 

Hospitality clients

Hospitality Client #1
Hospitality Client #2

 

How solar flares will cause a major shakeup

Way back in 1859, the Sun emitted a solar flare towards Earth so bright the white spot could be seen with the naked eye. Observed by British astronomers Richard Carrington and Richard Hodgson, it was later known as The Carrington Event.

Our Sun has an 11-year solar cycle. Just before its solar maximum in 1859, the Earth was hit by a solar flare so big that it caused Aurora Borealis across the globe, even near the equator, fooling some gold miners into thinking it was sun-rise during the night.

Northern Lights

The few electrical systems at the time had a wild ride, with sparks flying, telegraph systems failing and even a report from some operators that they could send and receive communications without even connecting their battery power supplies!

Current estimates of when the next major solar flare will hit Earth give a relatively high 12% chance of it occurring every solar cycle. That means that Earth is overdue for a next Carrington-level event and it could well be the next thing to impact our digital lives.

Power grids will be the biggest cost to our modern lifestyle as they will have to be turned off before the flare hits (we have between a 2-24 hour warning on this) and they could take days, weeks or even months to get back online. In fact, even a close miss solar flare could have a domino effect taking down large grid networks such as in Europe or North America, with an estimate of around a Trillion dollar loss in the US if this happened.

In 1989 Quebec in Canada suffered from a localised flare that took out the power grid for nine hours which damaged the stock market, businesses, and even the military.

What can we do about solar flares?

Not much can be done to prevent solar flares, they are as natural as any other weather phenomenon and are just as unpredictable and unstoppable.

storm

When it comes to our digital lives as an individual or as a business online, people should look to reduce risk by not being 100% reliant on technology:

  • Store some offline supplies (cash, food, etc.)
  • Automatically backup important information onto a private computer (contact details, documents, repositories etc.)
  • Unplug all technology during the storm
  • Keep an AM radio handy for updates
  • Help those in need

Ultimately, forecasting, technology and international diplomacy are the answers to this problem, so let’s hope we all get ready before the next big flare is on our way!

As COVID-19 has shown us, any big disruption on the world stage ultimately leads the human race to innovate faster and to learn lessons fast, let’s see if technological advances help fuel our technological dependencies.

If you have any questions about this phenomenon, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.


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The Next Digital Disruption: Solar Flares

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