Press release archive: 2011

A new project to study the impact of space weather storms on European power transmission networks

28.3.2011 14:38

The European Union has selected the Finnish Meteorological Institute to lead an international space weather project to study geomagnetically induced currents that can damage power networks during space weather storms.

Photo: Heikki Ketola

Photo: Heikki Ketola

At their worst, geomagnetically induced currents (GIC) arising from space weather storms can cause power cuts and damage transformers. This happened in North America in March 1989, when a power cut lasting several hours was experienced in Quebec Province, Canada. A number of other disturbances resulting from the space weather storm were also observed in the United States, including the destruction of a high-voltage transformer.

A forecast service as the objective

The EURISGIC project (European Risk from Geomagnetically Induced Currents) has two main objectives. The first is to be able to estimate the GIC risk by making use of extensive European archives on geomagnetic observations. Statistical estimation is based on model calculations covering the previous sunspot cycle (1996–2006). In addition, some earlier, extremely violent space storms are analysed separately. If repeated in the present circumstances, these storms would possibly cause a major GIC risk.

The second objective is to develop a prototype service that would suit the European power networks and would produce GIC forecasts. A model of such a service is already in use in the United States. The forecasts start from real-time solar wind measurements made by the American ACE satellite. The Finnish Meteorological Institute’s own code developed for magnetospheric simulations is also made to perform faster for producing forecasts. American simulation results are used as comparative data.

Apart from Finland, five other countries – Sweden, the UK, Hungary, Russia and the USA – participate in the project. Geographically wide participation is natural because, contrary to ordinary storms in the lower atmosphere, strong space storms have a global impact. The project started in March 2011 and will continue for three years. The European Union has granted about one million euros for the project.

Additional information:

Ari Viljanen, Research Scientist, tel. +358 9 1929 4668, ari.viljanen@fmi.fi