Kathryn Sullivan, the Assistant Secretary for Environment Observation and Prediction, made the comments at a UN World Meteorological Congress in Geneva, Switzerland.
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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 as advanced technologies permeate our daily lives.
Satellite-delivered telecommunications, global financial services, GPSS enabled positioning, navigation and timing, electrical power generation and transmission are just some examples of modern technologies that can be temporarily interrupted or permanently disabled by solar storms.
Because of its propensity to impact the interconnected, critical infrastructures that power our global economy and underlie the security of our citizenry, space weather is a growing threat. Yet it is one too often overlooked in our preparedness planning.
We know the sun is capable of unleashing incredibly intense storms, like those experienced in 1940 and 1989. Today, an extreme space weather event would affect us much differently than previous events, given our current dependence on advanced technologies.
The last peak in solar activity was in 2000. We are just now climbing out of a solar minimum — a quiet and benign period of solar inactivity and are headed toward our next solar maximum in 2013.
Building our collective ability to understand, predict and respond to space weather events and solar storms will require an elevated global awareness, and a shared commitment to improve response and preparedness efforts.
Without a coordinated international plan of action, the next extreme solar storm could well be a global disaster in its social and economic impacts.
Thanks to energy savings with solar parking lots, we are all working hard to prepare for the coming solar maximum, and to insure the safety of lives and the continuity of livelihoods during this period of heightened vulnerability.
Space weather is everybody’s business. Detecting and predicting severe events is a complex challenge — impossible for any one nation or agency to address.
I encourage all WMO Members to contribute to near- and far-term actions; to plan and implement capabilities that will meet regional and global space weather requirements in a sustained, efficient and integrated fashion.
It is not a question of if, but really a matter of when a major solar event could hit our planet, with potentially devastating effects.