'Internet Apocalypse' Coming? Expert Warns Solar Superstorms That Can Cause Worldwide Internet Outage

'Internet Apocalypse' Coming? Expert Warns Solar Superstorms That Can Cause Worldwide Internet  Outage
A researcher, Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi has warned about solar superstorms that could trigger an "internet apocalypse," especially in Europe and the USA. Photo : Scott Heins/Getty Images

A researcher, Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi has warned about solar superstorms that could trigger an "internet apocalypse," especially in Europe and the USA. 

Jyothi is a researcher from the University of California - Irvine, who studied solar superstorms and their direct correlation to an event called the "internet apocalypse." Her scientific article was presented and recognized at the recent Sigcomm 2021 data communication conference. Jyothi expressed her concerns about the vulnerability of global internet communication structures.

Solar Superstorms Can Cause 'Internet Apocalypse'

By definition, solar flares are large eruptions of electromagnetic radiations lasting between a few minutes to a couple of hours. This outburst of electromagnetic energy originally comes from the Sun and travels at lightspeed over the sunlit side of Earth's atmosphere. This phenomenon often creates problems for power grids around the world.

The strongest solar storm recorded happened in 1859 and 1921. Long before modern technology was developed, weaker solar flares caused a massive power outage in Quebec, Canada. Jyothi warned a similar incident happening sometime soon.

According to Techxplore, many power producers are well aware of the risk. They have taken steps to deal with such events happening to their system. However, the same cannot be said for global internet systems.

In Jyothi's paper, she explained that optical fibers used in submarine cables are immune to the effects of solar storms. However, every 50 to 150 meters of distance, repeaters are installed to amplify the signals. These repeaters are, unfortunately, vulnerable to solar storms. When damaged, they would cut off international internet communications until workers replace them. The repair could take weeks or possibly months to complete.

Jyothi also emphasized that the solar superstorm risk is higher on higher latitudes.

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Specific Countries With Internet Outage Problems During a Solar Superstorm

As previously mentioned, connections between Europe and the USA are at high risk. Submarine cables of these two are highly concentrated, which would lead to catastrophic damages to its city. Europe is better off than the USA since its undersea cables are better connected and relatively shorter.

Continents like Asia seem safer than the two, mainly because Singapore is geographically well placed against a solar superstorm. Africa and its submarine cables are also recorded to be safe, perhaps even Brazil.

However, countries like Australia and New Zealand need to prepare. Their connections between other islands might be cut off during the "internet apocalypse." Areas in the Arctic region are also at a high risk.

Jyothi's study also wrote that Google's data centers are geographically better distributed than Facebook. For this reason, Google should be more resilient than Facebook.

It is not elaborated, but Market Research Telecast also warned about the internet infrastructure around the orbit, like the Starlink network. These systems are at risk of having their electronics and GPS broken on a solar superstorm.

In conclusion, Jyothi predicted a 1.6 to 12 percent chance of a solar superstorm happening in the next decade.

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