HomeScience & TechSolar Storm Impacts Ocean Depths: Unveiling the Power of Solar Activity

Solar Storm Impacts Ocean Depths: Unveiling the Power of Solar Activity

In May 2024, a powerful solar storm not only illuminated Earth’s skies with breathtaking auroras but also extended its influence deep into the ocean. The effects were detected by Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), whose magnetic compasses, used to monitor the ocean off Canada’s coast, recorded significant distortions in Earth’s magnetic field due to an influx of solar particles.

These measurements demonstrate the extraordinary power of the solar storm. The data collected provides valuable insights for future solar storm events and enhances our understanding of how these solar activities impact Earth.

“The next two years will be the peak of the 11-year solar cycle. After a decade of relative inactivity, aurora events like this past weekend are likely to become more frequent over the next couple of years, although solar variability makes precise prediction of such events impossible,” says physicist Justin Albert from the University of Victoria, Canada. “ONC’s network might provide a very helpful additional window into the effects of solar activity on the Earth’s terrestrial magnetism.”

Solar storms, or geomagnetic storms, are significant events caused by the Sun. These occur when the Sun ejects billions of tons of material, tangled with magnetic fields, at high speed into the Solar System. When these coronal mass ejections (CMEs) reach Earth, they interact with our magnetic field, causing particles to accelerate and eventually enter our atmosphere, creating auroras. However, the impact of these storms is far-reaching, affecting electrical currents, power grids, navigation, communication, and satellites.

ONC operates subsea observatories off Canada’s East and West coasts at depths of up to 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles). These observatories use magnetic compasses to orient their Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCP), which monitor ocean currents. Data from these compasses, checked daily for quality control, revealed unusual patterns during the recent solar storms.

ONC data specialist Alex Slonimer first noticed anomalies in compass data in March, during a series of geomagnetic storms. Initially considering an earthquake as the cause, Slonimer found that the prolonged and simultaneous disturbances across different locations did not fit this theory. The possibility of solar flares emerged as the Sun had been particularly active, which seemed to align with the data.

During the solar storm around May 10, the anomalies reappeared. The most significant effect was observed on a compass located 25 meters below sea level off the coast of Vancouver Island in the Folger Passage, where the compass needle deviated by as much as +30 and -30 degrees. This unexpected discovery has the potential to provide a new method for understanding the effects of solar outbursts on Earth.

“The reach of these data recordings kilometers under the ocean surface,” says ONC president Kate Moran, “highlight the magnitude of the solar flare over the past weekend and suggest that the data may be useful for better understanding the geographic extent and intensity of these storms.”

This incident underscores the profound impact solar activity can have on our planet, even reaching the depths of the ocean, and highlights the importance of continued monitoring and research to better predict and understand these powerful natural events.

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