. Scientific Frontline: A.I. used to predict space weather like Coronal Mass Ejections

Friday, January 27, 2023

A.I. used to predict space weather like Coronal Mass Ejections

 Dr Andy Smith of Northumbria University
Photo Credit: Northumbria University/Simon Veit-Wilson.

A physicist from Northumbria University has received over £500,000 to create AI that will safeguard the Earth from destructive space storms.

Coronal Mass Ejections, which are solar eruptions from the Sun, can send plasma hurtling towards Earth at high speeds. These space storms can cause severe disruptions to power grids and communication systems.

With our increasing reliance on technology, solar storms pose a serious threat to our everyday lives, leading to severe space weather being added to the UK National Risk Assessment for the first time in 2011.

Researcher and his team analyzed huge amounts of data from satellites and space missions over the last 20 years to gain a better understanding of the conditions under which storms are likely to occur.

The physicist will use the funding to create advanced computer models which will use the data collected to predict future space storms and forecast phenomena such as auroras. One of the main ways space weather can affect society is through sudden increases of energy in ground-based power networks and pipelines. These surges can accelerate the ageing of power systems, or even lead to the immediate failure of components such as power transformers, leading to a complete loss of power.

“This research will take a leap forward in understanding and predicting when we are at risk of suffering from these surges, caused by rapid changes in the Earth's magnetic field.”

Throughout history there have been several examples of serious geomagnetic space storms. In March 1989 the Canadian city of Quebec lost power for over nine hours following a huge solar storm which resulted in auroras or ‘polar lights’ being visible as far south as Texas and Florida.

And in 2003 the Halloween solar storms, named because they occurred at the end of October, affected satellite-based systems and communications, with aircraft being advised to avoid high altitudes near the polar regions, and an hour-long power outage in Sweden.

But the most intense geomagnetic storm ever recorded was the 1859 Carrington Event, which resulted in strong auroral displays visible around the world, as well as fires in multiple telegraph stations. The solar flare connected with the event was observed and recorded independently by British astronomers Richard Christopher Carrington and Richard Hodgson.

As Dr Smith explains: “Our reliance on electrical power networks means that a storm on the same scale as the Carrington Event would have devastating consequences today, making an accurate forecasting system even more essential.

“The technology we are developing through this project could protect the Earth from the impact of geomagnetic storms as we could predict when such events would occur, allowing us to prepare.

“For example, in the UK this would be coordinated through the Met Office which would inform the National Grid, which would in turn activate plans to protect our power grid.

It’s not a case of if the Earth will be hit by a serious space weather event, it’s a case of when – and this physics-inspired artificial intelligence system will allow us to predict such an event and protect ourselves from it. This is the latest in a series of high-profile grants awarded to academics at the University studying the impact of space weather on the Earth.

Dr. Shaun Bloomfield is leading Northumbria's participation in the Space Weather Empirical Ensemble Package (SWEEP) project, which was commissioned by the Met Office to improve solar storm forecasting. He also played a key role as Project Scientist in the EC Horizon 2020-funded FLARECAST project, where scientists from six different countries worked together to develop a service for predicting solar flares.

Dr. Richard Morton is heading the £1.2 million Revealing the Pattern of Solar Alfvénic Waves (RiPSAW) project, which he was awarded a UKRI Future Leader Fellowship in 2020. The project aims to use advanced mathematical techniques and computer simulations to build models of the Sun, providing new understanding of the physics behind its activity.

Dr. Bloomfield stated, "Northumbria University plays an important role in the UK's effort to understand the scientific and technical aspects of Space Weather. Through our Centre for Doctoral Training in Data Intensive Science, Northumbria is training the next generation of data science and AI specialists. Dr. Smith's new project strengthens and enhances these areas of university excellence.

Published in journal: None

Source/CreditNorthumbria University

Reference Number: sw012723_01

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