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Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report (2008)

Chapter: 8 Facilitated Open Audience Discussion: The Way Forward

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Suggested Citation:"8 Facilitated Open Audience Discussion: The Way Forward." National Research Council. 2008. Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12507.
Page 86
Suggested Citation:"8 Facilitated Open Audience Discussion: The Way Forward." National Research Council. 2008. Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12507.
Page 87
Suggested Citation:"8 Facilitated Open Audience Discussion: The Way Forward." National Research Council. 2008. Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12507.
Page 88
Suggested Citation:"8 Facilitated Open Audience Discussion: The Way Forward." National Research Council. 2008. Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12507.
Page 89
Suggested Citation:"8 Facilitated Open Audience Discussion: The Way Forward." National Research Council. 2008. Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12507.
Page 90

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8 Facilitated Open Audience Discussion: The Way Forward In the workshop’s final session, participants were invited to synthesize connections between topics, as well as identify important issues that might have been overlooked previously. The goals for the discussion were to highlight potential needs in the U.S. system of space weather risk management and to identify potential needs and opportunities for further research and analysis. The session was organized as an open discussion structured around a prepared set of questions crafted to encourage a “big picture” perspective: • Which impacts of severe space weather events stand out as being the most important, in terms of their potential social and economic consequences? Concerning these potential impacts, are there any issues of first-order importance that have not been addressed in the workshop thus far? • Does the nation have at present a reasonably robust and effective system for managing space weather risks? If not, what necessary capacities are missing from the nation’s systems for space weather management? • Are there any areas—in infrastructure, programs, or research—that seem urgently in need of attention? If you could effect one change in current arrangements for managing the risks of severe space weather events, what would that be? In other words, what development in the current system of space weather risk management would yield the greatest benefit? • Which potential impacts of severe space weather events stand out as being the least understood? Which areas stand out as being promising targets for future research and analysis? Participants responded with a range of observations, impressions, and opinions about the current status and future direction of the nation’s systems for understanding, monitoring, predicting, and responding to severe space weather events. INSTRUMENTATION AND MONITORING: THE SPACE WEATHER OBSERVATION SYSTEM A number of participants offered comments on the current status and future prospects of the nation’s system for monitoring space weather. One of these comments was the observation that there in fact is no system specifi- cally dedicated to monitoring space weather. As noted by Daniel Baker (University of Colorado at Boulder), many of the measurements used by the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) for operations are actually taken from 86

FACILITATED OPEN AUDIENCE DISCUSSION: THE WAY FORWARD 87 instruments designed and tasked for scientific missions. Baker raised the question: Should our operational capac- ity for space weather monitoring be dependent on scientific instruments and satellites? Is it prudent to rely in this way on “the kindness of strangers”? Pursuing this theme, several participants commented on a perceived fragility, or lack of robustness, in the nation’s capacity for space weather monitoring. John Kappenman (Metatech Corporation) observed that many key parts of the system have no backups: single points of failure, he argued, could substantially degrade or even halt operations. A critical weakness in the present system, noted by a number of participants, is the reliance on the aging Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft as virtually the nation’s sole upstream solar wind monitor. ACE, positioned at L1,1 is now 11 years old, well beyond its planned operational life, and the detector heads are losing gain. “There could be an electronic failure,” Charles Holmes (NASA Headquarters) pointed out. “So it is a vulnerable system.” As Baker noted, the loss of L1 solar wind measurements such as are provided by ACE “would be a devas- tating loss to the national space weather capability.” In a presentation given the previous day, Thomas Bodgan of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center listed as one of NOAA’s “critical new directions” to “secure [an] operational L1 monitor.” It was clear from the comments of the participants, however, that no clear replacement for ACE is coming on line soon. Devrie Intriligator (Carmel Research Center, Inc.) noted that the possibility of an L1 monitor supplied by private industry had been discussed at other workshops. Although the Chinese are planning an L1 monitor as part of the KuaFu space weather project, it will not be launched for several years. Moreover, as William Murtagh (NOAA) cautioned, national security concerns must be taken into account when decisions about the follow-on to ACE are being made. On an encouraging note, Murtagh reported that the NASA Authorization Act (House Rule 6063, Section 1101) charges the Office of Science and Technology Policy to work with NOAA, NASA, other federal agencies, and industry to develop a plan for sustaining solar wind measurements from an L1-based spacecraft. OUR CAPACITY FOR UNDERSTANDING AND PREDICTING SPACE WEATHER Observations have limited value, of course, if not paired with a capacity for converting raw data into useful information. Several participants addressed the perceived adequacy or shortcomings of the models, data series, and other assets needed to convert observations into useful predictions. What kinds of predictions would be useful? One workshop participant asserted that the chief desire of indus- try is for 24-hour advance warnings of severe space weather events. Another participant highlighted the utility of “all-clear” windows, i.e., predictions indicating periods during which the probabilities of severe space weather events are deemed very low. The conversation turned to consider the resources and breakthroughs that would be required to offer such forecasts, as distinct from information on present space weather conditions. A few participants argued that advances in the capacity for prediction will require breakthroughs in basic understanding of solar processes. There is, it was suggested, a need for better structural models of space weather informed, for example, by space physics. Another participant noted the lack of a well-organized system for collecting and archiving historical data on space weather conditions. A good data archive was held to be essential for calibrating any models used for prediction. Still another participant noted the importance of systems for transferring technology from research to operations. Much of the discussion appeared to support, explicitly or implicitly, the proposition that the nation does in fact need a strong capacity for producing predictions and warnings about space weather events. One participant, though, offered a contrarian view. Thomas Stansell (Stansell Consulting) argued that attention should focus first not on prediction, but on mitigation—on construction of hardened infrastructure able to continue operations without interruptions straight through severe space weather events. For electric power delivery, satellite operations, and other core systems, he claimed, extended service interruptions are unacceptable: hardened systems are essential. Better mitigation would in turn make prediction less valuable. Advances in mitigation, Stansell argued, would undermine the rationale for allocating resources toward monitoring space weather conditions, or predicting severe space weather events. A strategy based on mitigation would also imply different priorities for research.

88 SEVERE SPACE WEATHER EVENTS—UNDERSTANDING SOCIETAL AND ECONOMIC IMPACTS A NATION AT RISK? ASSESSING THE POTENTIAL DISRUPTION TO INFRASTRUCTURE FROM SEVERE SPACE WEATHER EVENTS Deficiencies in the system for space weather monitoring, prediction, and communication do not by themselves imply that the nation is vulnerable to severe space weather events. Stansell’s thesis raises natural questions: What parts of the nation’s infrastructure, if any, are at risk of serious disruption from severe space weather events? When would impacts most likely be seen? Recalling presentations delivered over the previous day and a half, several participants focused on the electric power system as an area of particular concern.2 Turning to issues that had not received attention previously in the workshop, Kappenman noted the potential impact of severe space weather on submarine communication cables, which, he noted, are still an important part of the world’s communications infrastructure. These cables are highly geographically concentrated at six or seven nodes around the world. As one example of how this concentration creates potential vulnerability, Michael Bodeau (Northrop Grumman) recalled the effects of an earthquake centered near Taiwan in 2006. The quake set off undersea landslides that in turn caused the failure of a concentrated node of submarine cables carrying Internet traffic. In that case, recovery took approximately a month. 3 The case of the submarine cables illustrates how, in a tightly connected system, a single point of failure can set off widespread disruption. To understand the full potential impacts of a severe space weather event requires understanding not just direct impacts—e.g., disruption to electric power grids—but also the indirect impacts—e.g., how loss of electric power may affect delivery of other services, in computing, transportation, health care, and so on. Several audi- ence members touched on the theme of dependencies and interdependencies between systems. 4 As the loss of core systems leads to failure in other, dependent systems, a cascade of system failure can result. It was noted that the potential for a severe space weather event to set off a cascade of failures in critical system has implications for national security. In this context, the question of system robustness becomes central. Todd La Porte (George Mason University) raised the question of how to design institutional systems that are robust to disruptions from extreme space weather events. RISK ANALYSIS AND RISK MANAGEMENT The identification of potential impacts from severe space weather events led to questions about how to quantify and manage the associated risks. A widely accepted approach to risk analysis involves estimating event probabilities and then making estimates of event consequences. It was noted, though, that in complex systems characterized by strong interdependencies, it is very difficult to identify all impacts from a large-scale disruption, let alone to quantify their physical and financial consequences. A fair amount of time was spent in discussing how the insurance industry handles the challenges of estimating risks posed by severe space weather events. Louis Lanzerotti (NJIT) and Michael Hapgood (CCLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) noted a report by Swiss Re that addressed the challenges of analyzing space weather risks for a number of industries.5 Workshop attendee Arthur Small (Pennsylvania State University) raised a question about whether the actuarial methods generally used by the insurance industry to quantify risks are adequate to analyze risks associated with severe space weather events. Actuarial methods, he noted, draw on historical data and incorporate an implicit assumption that past experience is a reasonable guide to the future. For severe space weather, the few available historic incidents offer only a very sparse record upon which to base estimates of event probabilities. As with hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and other rare catastrophic events, severe space weather events raise unusual challenges for the insurance and risk management industries. (For example, do insurance companies consider dependencies?) One participant offered the view that risks are to some extent being transferred to customers.

FACILITATED OPEN AUDIENCE DISCUSSION: THE WAY FORWARD 89 WHO IS RESPONSIBLE? MANAGEMENT OF THE SPACE WEATHER MONITORING AND RESPONSE SYSTEM As the conversation turned to issues of policy, several observers commented on the fragmentation of respon- sibility that characterizes the space weather monitoring and response system. There is, it was noted, no single agency responsible for handling matters related to space weather, no “Space Weather Tsar.” Instead, responsibility is scattered throughout different agencies across the U.S. federal government, which in turn relies in various ways on foreign governments, international agencies, and the private sector. Within the public sector, one participant claimed to discern an “evolving mind-set” within the government that all such issues are the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). But DHS, it was argued, is vastly understaffed and does not necessarily have the technical capacity required to assess the risks of severe space weather events, or to respond to those events that do occur. Joseph Reagan observed that the present fragmented system lacks a robust system for accountability and analysis in matters related to space weather. Lanzerotti countered that the National Space Weather Program is sup- posed to fill that role. Lanzerotti went on to recommend the creation of a stronger, high-profile presence for space weather issues at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) or in OSTP. He noted that that the assessment report of the NSWP recommended stronger oversight of the program in OMB and OSTP, “similar to what is done for weather and climate now.” Murtagh noted the recent introduction in Congress of legislation that would require that OSTP develop a plan for sustaining operational measurements of solar winds. Lanzerotti lamented the chal- lenge of maintaining continuity of interest and effort on the topic, especially across changes in administration. Space weather is, of course, a global phenomenon: space weather monitoring naturally embraces an array of international issues. Several comments touched on the sensitivity of relying on satellite assets controlled by foreign governments, including China as well as various European entities. As noted above, particular concern was raised about the national security implications of relying on China to maintain key infrastructure for monitoring at L1, a capacity needed, it was claimed, for national security. The private sector has, of course, a stake in the effectiveness of the nation’s space weather monitoring system, as well as much of the capacity to carry out monitoring activities. One participant noted that the lightning detec- tion network in the United States is essentially entirely private and asked whether this privatized system could serve as a model for a system for managing space weather risks. Another participant wondered whether com- mercial providers could be relied on to provide detectors at L1. Lanzerotti observed that commercial provision of services always involves a tension between cost-competitiveness and robustness. Markets, he argued, can provide an efficient mechanism for the delivery of low-cost solutions. The costs of overdesign will put private firms at a competitive disadvantage, however—even when these extra costs make sense from the viewpoint of maintaining the overall robustness of the system. How do the contributions from all these players—U.S. civilian government, U.S. military, foreign, and private sector—fit together? How should they be coordinated? Which parts of the system require centralized coordina- tion and governance? Which parts can be decentralized? Part of the discussion addressed these big-picture themes concerning the overall design architecture for the entire space weather system. One participant noted ruefully that there is no overall design architecture, one that would embrace space weather monitoring, modeling, analysis, data archiving, prediction, risk estimation, and communications. The creation of such an architecture remains an outstanding challenge. Ronald Polidan (Northrop Grumman) argued that a successful process to design and develop such an architecture must involve multiple stakeholders, including industry. EDUCATION, TRAINING, AND PUBLIC AWARENESS Many workshop audience members noted that progress on all these fronts has been hampered by a profound lack of public awareness about space weather and about the risks posed by severe space weather. The need for public education about the importance of space weather was touched on by Paul Kintner (Cornell University), Howard Singer (NOAA), and Vladimir Papitashvili (National Science Foundation), among others. One participant

90 SEVERE SPACE WEATHER EVENTS—UNDERSTANDING SOCIETAL AND ECONOMIC IMPACTS noted the possibility of including space weather as a regular topic on the Weather Channel, an outlet identified as the premier vehicle for public education about weather. Closely linked with public awareness is the problem of awareness in the policy community. Policy makers, it was noted, generally attend to matters that the public is worried about: when the general public does not perceive a problem, the attention of the policy community will be scant at best. Another audience member noted a problem of translation: the policy community doesn’t speak “weather.” It was lamented that, in the eyes of the public and policy communities, severe space weather lacks salience as a problem: it is very difficult to inspire non-specialists to prepare for a potential crisis that has never happened before, and may not happen for decades to come. Attention inevitably is drawn toward higher-frequency risks and immediate problems. To counteract this tendency, Roberta Balstad (CIESIN) cited the importance of crafting well-articulated scenarios of what could happen and how it could affect the public in the case of a severe space weather event. Balstad and others also noted the need for opportunities for specialists to have access to education and advanced training in space weather. Bodeau noted at one point that it is very rare, even in the commercial satellite industry, to encounter specialists who understand both the physics of space weather and the engineering requirements necessary to harden satellites against space weather events. One participant raised the possibility of creating specialized M.S. programs in space weather. Paul Kintner noted that he teaches a small amount on space weather in a single course at Cornell University but that his students respond with deep indifference. THE WAY FORWARD What developments in the current system of space weather risk management would yield the greatest benefit? In synthesizing the ideas and discussion offered in this session and in the entire workshop, audience members offered several perspectives and suggestions about current needs: • Improved physical understanding of solar processes to enable forecasting (Chenette). • Effective means of transitioning from models to operations (Singer). • The addition of space weather coverage to the Weather Channel. • The codification of risk assessment standards for space weather events, including space weather analogs to 100-year risks (Hapgood). • Analysis of cascading effects on complex, coupled systems (La Porte). • The articulation of scenarios that illustrate the effects of space weather, as a means to educate the public and policy community about the importance of space weather (Balstad). In a spirit of concern mixed with optimism, the conference adjourned. NOTES 1. L1 is the point between Earth and the Sun at which the gravitational pull of these two bodies is evenly balanced. The significance of L1 is that a satellite placed at this node will tend to stay there, with only minor positional adjustments. 2. The potential impacts of space weather events on electric power grids are discussed extensively in other chapters of this report. 3. International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC), Subsea landslide is likely cause of SE Asian communications failure, press release, March 21, 2007; see 4. A dependency was characterized as a relationship in which one system relies for its operation on functions provided by another system: a subway transport system depends on the power grid for delivery of electricity. An interdependency was characterized as a relationship in which two systems rely on each other for their smooth operation. If an electric power grid requires operational support from a computing system that is itself powered by that same power grid, then the grid and the computing system are interdependent. 5. Jansen, F., R. Pirjola, and R. Favre, Space Weather: Hazard to Earth?, Swiss Reinsurance Co., Zürich, 2000, available at

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The adverse effects of extreme space weather on modern technology--power grid outages, high-frequency communication blackouts, spacecraft anomalies--are well known and well documented, and the physical processes underlying space weather are also generally well understood. Less well documented and understood, however, are the potential economic and societal impacts of the disruption of critical technological systems by severe space weather.

As a first step toward determining the socioeconomic impacts of extreme space weather events and addressing the questions of space weather risk assessment and management, a public workshop was held in May 2008. The workshop brought together representatives of industry, the government, and academia to consider both direct and collateral effects of severe space weather events, the current state of the space weather services infrastructure in the United States, the needs of users of space weather data and services, and the ramifications of future technological developments for contemporary society's vulnerability to space weather. The workshop concluded with a discussion of un- or underexplored topics that would yield the greatest benefits in space weather risk management.

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