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Severe Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report 6 Satisfying Space Weather User Needs The workshop session on satisfying space weather user needs was a continuation of the preceding session on user perspectives on space weather products and included the same panelists (Michael Stills from United Airlines, James McGovern from ISO New England, Inc., Lee Ott from OmniSTAR, Inc., David Chenette from Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center, and Kelly Hand from the U.S. Air Force). These panelists represented aviation, electric power, GPS services, spacecraft development and launch, and military interests, respectively. The focus of this session was on satisfying the ongoing needs of the space weather community. In the previous session the audience heard how various communities use the currently available space weather information. This session looked at plans for providing space weather prediction data over the next several years based on the needs of the various user communities and the resources available. The panel members from the previous session discussed, along with audience participants, whether these plans for the future will satisfy their needs and if not, what additional information is needed. The single presentation in this session was given by NOAA’s Thomas J. Bogdan, space weather program manager and director of the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). Bogdan as space weather program manager is responsible for space weather planning, understanding user needs and requirements, and putting into the budget cycle initiatives to satisfy those needs at appropriate future times. As director of the SWPC, the operational arm of NOAA and the single point of responsibility in the U.S. government for space weather forecasting and prediction for the civil and commercial communities, he works closely with the U.S. Air Force Weather Agency (AFWA), which has the same responsibility for the military community of the United States. In 2005, the space weather activities at NOAA were moved from the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, which is in NOAA’s research arm, into the National Weather Service, NOAA’s operational arm. With that move, space weather activities at NOAA were no longer a line item in the presidential budget but instead became part of the local warnings and forecast line item that is funded at about $850 million annually and includes support for all of the National Weather Service. In 2008 the name of the space weather operation center was changed from Space Environment Center to the Space Weather Prediction Center to emphasize user needs for prediction capability in the space environment. Bogdan noted that the positive side of these moves is that NOAA has incorporated the SWPC within the overall NOAA Weather and Water Goal organization, showing recognition that “weather” includes not only traditional terrestrial weather parameters but also the effects of solar activity (x-rays, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), radio noise, proton and electron fluxes, plasma streams). However, the space weather prediction and reporting efforts continue to be supported by a very small and unpredictable annual budget
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Severe Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report (roughly US$5 million to $6 million) that is more reflective of a research and development (R&D) enterprise than an operational enterprise with real-time national space weather prediction responsibility. Despite the small and unstable funding that limits capabilities, the SWPC has experienced a steady growth in its customer base, even during the years of solar minimum when disturbance activity is lower. ORGANIZATION OF THE NATIONAL SPACE WEATHER PROGRAM Bogdan pointed out that the U.S. federal government has chosen to coordinate space weather activities through the National Space Weather Program (NSWP), participated in by eight agencies including NASA, the Department of Commerce (NOAA), the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, the Department of State, and the Department of Transportation. The NSWP operates under the auspices of the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology. The federal government has designated the SWPC as the single point of responsibility for space weather forecasting and prediction for the civil and commercial communities. As background, a search shows that a strategic plan for the NSWP was developed in 1995 by the National Space Weather Program Council (FCM-P30-1995, August 1995) and was followed in 1997 by an implementation plan (FCM-P31-1997, January 1997) that identified specific objectives and recommended activities necessary for improving space weather predictive capabilities. The 2000 Implementation Plan (FCM-P31-2000, July 2000) identified some 70 targeted space weather research proposals funded by the agencies involved in the NSWP to improve understanding of the space weather environment. Despite the progress made up to that time, the 2000 Implementation Plan reported that capabilities fell short of the requirements for warning, now-casting, forecasting, and post-event analysis, and that in many areas significant shortfalls remained and much work needed to be done. One reason is that agencies involved in the NSWP fund their own activities but do not contribute funding directly to the SWPC for meeting identified user needs. NASA funds at several hundreds of million dollars annually the development of science satellites and provides extensive and essential real-time data on space weather to the SWPC that are used in its predictions and forecasts. NASA also funds extensive efforts to model the space environment but is not responsible for funding or contributing to the SWPC’s data preparation and alert-reporting capabilities. The National Science Foundation funds the development of models of the space environment but does not provide funding support for SWPC data analysis or operations. The USAF funds the development and operations of space weather sensors in the Defense Meteorological Satellites Program and provides the data to the SWPC. It supplies rather modest funding for data preparation and reporting capabilities through the AFWA and also does provide some modest support to the SWPC for selected operations of interest involving the ACE satellite. NOAA funds at an annual level of US$45 million to $65 million the development of space weather instrumentation flown on weather satellites, such as those in the GOES series, and those data are provided as part of SWPC forecasts. The other agencies in the NSWP, the Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior, do not provide any funding to the SWPC toward satisfying direct user needs. CORE MISSION AND CURRENT CAPABILITIES OF THE SPACE WEATHER PREDICTION CENTER The core mission of the SWPC as stated by Bogdan is to: Assess, survey, analyze, and evaluate the best available data on solar weather; Evaluate what the needs are, what the research community can bring forward in the way of models and theory, and what real-time data NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and Russian satellites can provide now and in the future on the solar wind, solar particles, and x-rays; Design, fabricate, test, validate, and install new products and services that meet the needs of the user community; and
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Severe Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report Provide critical, actionable information at the right time to the right people including forecasts of upcoming events and impact. The SWPC critically depends on data received primarily from science satellites funded and operated by NASA and its international partners. These currently include STEREO, SOHO, and ACE.1 Bogdan stated that there are no backups or replacements for these satellites, and in the event of their failure the ability of the SWPC to provide essential data, forecasts, and predictions would be severely affected. Bogdan indicated that the modest SWPC budget is currently allocated to (1) processing and quality control of space weather data obtained from the NOAA-funded GOES 10, 11, and 12 satellites; (2) postlaunch testing for the GOES 13 satellite; and (3) risk reduction and algorithm development on data from the GOES-R satellite. As a result of these priorities, planned R&D activities are not possible within the current budget. Activities are focused on the core mission “to provide space weather products and services that meet the evolving needs of the nation,” Bogdan stated. Included in this core mission is the duty to organize critical space weather data in a format that users can readily access and to archive the data for future use and analysis. Without this data management effort, studies of past solar events by users and long-term studies of solar weather climatology by users would not be possible. Observational problems that sometimes arise with the NOAA instruments on the GOES satellites must be resolved within the very limited SWPC budget with the result, Bogdan reported, that “almost no R&D efforts can be supported.” Bogdan emphasized that “to fulfill this mission with such limited resources it is vital that data from the assets of many other national and international organizations continue to be available.” As stated above, the SWPC currently acquires real-time data from the NASA-funded STEREO, SOHO, and ACE satellites and will need similar real-time data from the Radiation Belt Storm Probe satellites under development by NASA and expected to be launched in 2011, as reported on NASA websites. Bogdan indicated that a number of DOD groups are interested in space weather and that “the SWPC is partnering with them in every way possible.” As reported on its website, the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), a part of the U.S. Strategic Command, is charged with protecting U.S. space systems. An aspect of producing such protection is maintaining situational awareness, the ability to know everything in the environment that can affect the operations of U.S. military and surveillance satellites, which in turn requires a continual, real-time awareness of space weather. The JSpOC relies on the AFWA, which partners with the SWPC in providing predictions, forecasts, alerts, and archived data to military users to satisfy this situational awareness responsibility but does not fund the SWPC in this endeavor. Bogdan mentioned an international component to the partnering in that there are some 12 regional space weather centers around the globe, in Australia, Canada, Russia, Poland, India, and elsewhere. The SWPC must also leverage results from the research community and fledging commercial businesses since they cannot satisfy all user needs with the current very modest budgets. For example, the SWPC analyzes and selects the best space environment models developed by many scientists in the research community. Another example is the modeling of Earth’s crust in North America around key electrical power transformer locations including the currents induced by past major solar storms. John Kappenman of Metatech Corporation reported from the audience that his company will soon offer this capability as a service. The SWPC welcomes these commercial services, although it must be especially diligent in evaluating and adopting new models and services to ensure applicability, reliability, and durability for the users. Bogdan outlined the FY 2008 capability levels of the SWPC in providing long-term forecasts (1 to 3 days), short-term forecasts and warnings (less than 1 day), and now-casts and alerts (Figure 6.1). Only 1 of the 14 capabilities shown in Figure 6.1—that of providing now-casts and alerts of global and regional solar x-ray flux—is considered satisfactory (color-coded green). Three prediction capabilities are considered poor (color-coded red). In the critical area of long-term forecasts (1 to 3 days), the ability to predict ionospheric disturbance probabilities is regarded as poor (color-coded red). Capabilities for long-term forecasts of M-flare and X-flare probabilities, solar energetic particle probabilities, geomagnetic storm probabilities, and solar-irradiance flux levels are considered less than satisfactory, with much more work needed (color-coded yellow). As discussed in the “Panel and Audience Feedback” section below, reliable long-term forecasts were identified by the panel members as the most impor-
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Severe Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report tant need of the user communities. With reliable (minimal false alarms) long-term forecasts of a day or more, the various user communities could take actions to mitigate the effects of impending solar disturbances and minimize the resulting economic impact. Even in the short-term forecasts and warnings category, two areas—M-flare and X-flare probabilities and global and regional ionospheric disturbance probabilities—are coded red. No capabilities in the short-term forecasts and warnings category are considered satisfactory. Given that users at this workshop identified reliable, long-term forecasts as their most important need, the current absence of satisfactory short-term and long-term forecast capabilities is a serious shortfall in the National Space Weather Program. FUTURE DIRECTIONS OF THE SPACE WEATHER PREDICTION CENTER Bogdan indicated that new directions for the SWPC would include the following if the available budgets permit: Secure an operational L1 solar wind monitor. Transition a numerical CME/solar wind model into operations. Secure backup capability for GOES-10 XRS (X Ray Spectrometer) data stream. Complete compliance measures necessary for the SWPC to become a partner in the National Climate Service to help guide future solar observations, research, modeling, and forecast development activities. Transition the whole-atmosphere model into operations. Develop forecast capabilities based on STEREO data streams. Revamp the concept of operations of the Space Weather Forecast Office. Transition a coupled magnetosphere/whole-atmosphere model into operations. Develop precision GPS forecast and correction tools. Develop operational radiation environment models. With these objectives in mind and if funding issues can be resolved, Bogdan indicated that the capabilities of the SWPC in FY 2014 could be improved as indicated in Figure 6.2. If these capabilities are achieved, the SWPC in 2014 could provide high-confidence 1- to 3-day forecasts of geomagnetic storms and ionospheric disturbances, whereas such forecasts do not exist today. This capability would go a long way toward satisfying user needs for space weather forecasting. PANEL AND AUDIENCE FEEDBACK Following Bogdan’s presentation, Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado asked the panelists to define quantitatively the benefits of receiving high-quality forecasts several hours to 1 day to several days in advance and conversely the cost of receiving less than accurate or inaccurate (false-alarm) space weather alerts. The audience was also invited to participate with questions for the speaker and panel members. Stills of United Airlines noted that polar flights are vulnerable to space weather effects on communications. Although space weather events are infrequent, the number of polar flights is increasing rapidly and these flights are critical for a number of reasons, including the large aircraft and passenger loads affected, the long (approximately 15-hour) flight duration, and the small margin for error in terms of fuel for such long flights. A 24-hour alert would allow time to plan a different route that would require a refueling stop along the way. A much shorter alert time also would be useful, but operational costs increase when there is less advance warning. It is evident that false alarms are disruptive and expensive. McGovern of ISO New England, Inc., said that a space weather warning would allow power companies to prepare by canceling planned maintenance work, providing additional personnel to deal with adverse effects, and reducing power transfers between adjacent systems in the grid. If false alarms occurred and planned maintenance was canceled, the cost of large cranes, huge equipment, and a lot of material and manpower sitting idle would be very high. Bogdan stated in response, “If phenomena are not observed, they can’t be predicted. The SWPC ability to
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Severe Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report FIGURE 6.1 Fiscal year 2008 capability levels of the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center. Green, satisfactory; yellow, less than satisfactory; red, poor. SOURCE: Thomas J.Bogdan, Space Weather Prediction Center, NOAA, presentation to the space weather workshop, May 22, 2008. FIGURE 6.2 Potential capability levels of the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center in FY 2014. Green, satisfactory; yellow, less than satisfactory; red, poor. SOURCE: Thomas J. Bogdan, Space Weather Prediction Center, NOAA, presentation to the space weather workshop, May 22, 2008.
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Severe Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report observe is going to make the difference between what we can predict and what we can’t.” He further stated that “prediction is the key to the future and is the answer to helping customers make good business decisions and maintain their continuity of operations.” He was hopeful that modeling of CMEs from the Sun to Earth would be the most beneficial in this regard since the transit time ranges from 20 hours to 3 days. He further stated that the capability of modeling CMEs is very mature and could be implemented in the near future. From an economic and societal perspective, the benefits could be substantial, given that CMEs have a demonstrated potential to cause large adverse impacts. Bogdan was not hopeful about modeling of solar flares in the near future. St. Cyr of NASA asked where in each of the panel member organizations space weather data would be used and whether it would be used in terrestrial weather offices. Stills said that space weather was handled by United’s terrestrial weather desk in order to have a single point of contact. McGovern described his organization’s reliance on an industry group known as NERC, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which was established to ensure the reliability of the bulk power system in North America. NERC receives its space weather data from the NOAA SWPC. Ott said that space weather warnings are handled separately at OmniSTAR since terrestrial weather does not affect differential GPS corrections. He raised a further question about ionospheric storms and “bubbles” in the ionosphere that affect GPS signals and asked how we know when such bubbles have dissipated. Bogdan responded that ionospheric modeling is sophisticated and could, he believed, be used to predict when such dissipation would occur. Joseph Fennel of the Aerospace Corporation pointed out that half of the anomalies observed on spacecraft occur when there is no large storm activity on the Sun, but rather when energy is transferred within the magnetosphere, a process defined as a substorm, and that modeling of these events will be much more difficult. Ott also said that for about 10,000 subscribers in the United States and double that worldwide, in applications ranging from agriculture to offshore oil exploration, engineering, and production, if GPS or the OmniSTAR correction service becomes unavailable long enough to disrupt an operation, it can cost up to “tens of millions of dollars.” For example, a seismic survey costs about $60,000 per day, and it takes hours to repeat a lost survey line. If positioning control for offshore drill rigs is lost, it can take 2 days to re-position the rig and re-fit the pipe, with an operating cost of about $2 million per day. Loss of the positioning reference also could risk dragging a 50-ton anchor over an oil pipeline. Tom Stansell of Stansell Consulting said that whereas these interruptions can be and have been caused by the effects of a highly disturbed ionosphere on dual-frequency GPS measurements with “semi-codeless” receivers, such problems will be all but eliminated (with rare exceptions) as the GPS constellation becomes fully populated by “modernized” satellites carrying the second civil signal, L2C, and beyond that the third civil signal, L5. OmniSTAR uses NOAA SWPC products to warn users of potential space weather effects, but Ott noted that so many warnings have been false alarms that customers stop paying attention and are upset when a loss of service does occur. New signals to be provided by the GPS III satellites are expected to greatly mitigate these problems by about 2014. Louis Leffler, retired from NERC, pointed out that, historically, space weather has affected new technologies differently from previously used technologies. He cited the shift from the telegraph to the radio for long-range communications and the unexpected effects that solar weather had on the ionosphere and on radio signal propagation. As technologies become more sophisticated, the sophistication of the underlying physics and chemistry needs to improve, because we are going to be surprised in the future, just as we have been in the past. Todd La Porte of George Mason Univesity supported these points and reminded the audience that even though the nuclear power industry had operated highly reliably for some time and still does, the single Three Mile Island incident in March 1979 was followed by essentially a 100 percent cessation of new nuclear reactor construction in the United States because of a loss of confidence by the public. He posited that it is a fact that we will experience large solar weather storms in the future, albeit infrequently, and we should be open-minded to the fact that surprises will occur. But the public does not necessarily respond to such surprises in a rational manner, and there are often unintended consequences. SUMMARY The U.S. federal government has chosen to coordinate space weather responsibilities through the NSWP, which includes NASA, the Department of Commerce (NOAA), the Department of Defense, the National Science Foun-
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Severe Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report dation, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, the Department of State, and the Department of Transportation. The NSWP operates under the auspices of the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology. The SWPC, an operational arm of NOAA and the single point of responsibility in the government for space weather forecasting and prediction for the civil and commercial communities, operates on a very small and unpredictable annual budget (roughly US$5 million to $6 million) that limits capabilities. Nevertheless, the SWPC’s customer base has grown steadily, even during the years of solar minimum when solar disturbance activity is lower. Thomas Bogdan showed the FY 2008 capability levels of the SWPC to provide long-term forecasts (1 to 3 days), short-term forecasts and warnings (less than 1 day), and now-casts and alerts. In only 1 of 14 areas was the capability considered satisfactory (see Figure 6.1). In three areas the prediction capability was shown as poor, including in the critical area of long-term forecasts (1 to 3 days) of ionospheric disturbance probabilities. The FY 2008 capabilities for long-term forecasts of M-flare and X-flare probabilities, solar energetic particle probabilities, geomagnetic storm probabilities, and solar-irradiance flux levels were shown as less than satisfactory, with much more work to be done. Bogdan also showed projected future capabilities for the SWPC if funding issues can be resolved (see Figure 6.2). If several new objectives are achieved, Bogdan stated that the SWPC in FY 2014 would have the capability of high-confidence 1- to 3-day forecasts of geomagnetic storms and ionospheric disturbances, forecasts that do not exist today. Following Bogdan’s presentation on the NOAA SWPC, panelists discussed the benefits of receiving high-quality space weather forecasts, as well as the cost of receiving less than accurate or inaccurate (false-alarms) alerts, for operations such as airline polar flights, power company maintenance work and transfers of power between adjacent systems in the grid, and seismic surveys for offshore oil exploration, engineering, and production. Panelists, along with members of the audience, clearly indicated the economic and societal benefits of having, at a minimum, a reliable 24-hour alert of impending severe space weather and were concerned that such a capability does not exist today. NOTE 1. The two STEREO (Solar-Terrestrial Relations Observatory) satellites were launched by NASA in 2006 into Earth’s orbit around the Sun to obtain stereo pictures of the Sun’s surface and to measure the magnetic fields and ion fluxes associated with solar explosions. The STEREO satellites trace the flow of energy and matter from the Sun to Earth. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), launched on December 2, 1995, is an international collaboration between ESA and NASA to study the Sun from its deep core to the outer corona and the solar wind. The Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), launched by NASA on August 25, 1997, orbits the L1 Lagrangian point where the gravitational pull of Earth and the Sun and centripetal force balance in such a way as to give an orbit of exactly 1 Earth year. For more information on ACE and SOHO, see note 2 in Chapter 5.