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Sixteenth World Meteorological Congress

Summary of the Side event: Space Weather
Tuesday, 17 May2011

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Not an official record

Global preparedness for Space Weather Hazards

  solar graphic
Solar flare created HF radio communication outages over Africa on 8 March 2011

Satellite communications, air travel and electric power disruptions are occurring due to solar flares and other space weather hazards, experts told a side event today on Global Preparedness for Space Weather Hazards at the World Meteorological Congress. Vulnerability is growing as more countries adopt wireless technologies and as the next peak in solar activity approaches, which is expected in 2013.

Disruptions affect humanitarian operations, agriculture and mining and many other sectors, said participants.

Earlier today, Kathryn Sullivan, US Assistant Secretary for Environmental Observation and Prediction and Deputy Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, highlighted solar storms along with tsunamis and climate change as major challenges. “Severe space weather events are an emerging concern, due to their potential to affect the world’s technology-based infrastructure, which we’ve all become more dependent upon,” she said. “Without a coordinated international plan of action, the next extreme solar storm could well be a global disaster in its economic and social impacts," she told Congress.

Several National and Meteorological Hydrological Services around the world have research, observations and reports that are being used by the public and private sector. "In the USA, 13 000 subscribers, including airlines, are using such information already," noted Jack Hayes, Director of the US National Weather Service. "There is a growing international threat. All countries could feel the impact, and all can benefit from coordination of information about space weather hazards."

In the United Kingdom, information is available on a 24/7 basis as part of a multi-hazard centre. "Space weather risks are now listed on the UK National Risk Register,” noted John Hirst, Chief Executive Officer of the UK Met Office. “Some people consider this a distant threat. But if communications are disrupted, basic services are disrupted. This will affect all of us.” He added: “In the UK, the forthcoming Olympics gives us a way to talk about this issue in a way we would not do otherwise."

China, too, has an extensive observation network and is a strong information provider. Xianong Sheng, Deputy Administrator of the Chinese Meteorological Agency said, “We have a strong programme. But the nature of the threat is global, so international cooperation is a must. We support WMO space weather activities and wish to share our experiences."

Participants at the side event were unanimous in suggesting that such information could be shared, as it has an impact on all countries. They requested WMO to take a coordinating role in organizing information and making it accessible; training; and providing visibility about the threats posed by space hazards. This will be discussed by Congress in its session which lasts until 3 June.

Actions are already underway by industries and governments; a framework of ground and space-based observations is in place that could be extended; and a framework of service centres could be extended. This coordination would be at a minimal cost and allow knowledge to be shared more widely.

Other speakers at the event included Greg Brock of the International Civil Aviation Organization; Eva Robbrecht of the International Space Environment Service; Terry Onsager, Co-Chair, Inter-programme Coordination Team on Space Weather; and WMO Technical Commission Presidents C.M. Shun (Aeronautical Meteorology) and Fred Branski (Basic Systems).

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