A severe solar storm can cause an internet apocalypse

New research suggests failures can be catastrophic.

Scientists have known for decades that an extreme solar storm or corona ejection can damage electrical networks and cause long-term power outages. The consequences would be felt everywhere, from global supply chains and transport to internet and GPS access. So far, however, less research has been done on the potential impact of such a solar flare specifically on Internet infrastructure. According to new research , failures can be catastrophic, especially for submarine cables, which form the basis of the global Internet.

At a SIGCOMM 2021 data communications conference, Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi, a researcher at the University of California, Irvine, explained the damage that a fast-moving cloud of magnetized solar particles can cause to the global Internet. Abdu Jyothi’s research has pointed to another downside to the solar storm that is causing the power outage, meaning even if power is restored within hours or days, the massive outage of the internet will continue.

The researcher also found that local and regional internet infrastructure is at low risk of damage even in the event of a major solar storm, as the optical fibers themselves are not affected by geomagnetic induced flows. In addition, short cable sections are earthed very regularly. However, the risk is much higher for long submarine cables connecting continents. A solar storm that could disrupt the operation of many of these cables could cause severe outages as it would cut countries at source, even if local infrastructure remained intact. It would be as if the water supply in a house had been cut off due to a broken main pressure pipe on the street.

“What really made me think was that during the pandemic we saw how unprepared the world was. There was no protocol for effective management, and so was the resilience of the Internet. Our infrastructure is not prepared for a large-scale solar flare. We have very limited ideas. about the extent of the damage, ”Abdu Jyothi told WIRED.