Understanding the effects of space weather on water sector infrastructure

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Mullard Space Science Laboratory

Abstract

Space Weather disruption of the near-Earth space- and ground-based systems is now accepted as having significant socio-economic impact , and is included in the UK National Risk Register for Civil Emergencies as a medium-high likelihood and medium impact civil emergency. Specifically, the UK National Risk Register identifies that "(c)urrent understanding is that a severe space weather event could have impacts upon a range of technologies and infrastructure, including power networks, satellite services, transport and digital control components" and that any industry relying on satellite services, that "(s)evere space weather can interrupt satellite services including Global Navigation Satellite Systems, communications, and Earth observation and imaging systems by damaging the space-based hardware, distorting the satellite signal or increasing the errors in ground-based receivers."

The potential impacts of space weather on technological infrastructures, including power grids, satellite and ground communications and navigation systems, have generated world-wide interest at government levels in developing both forecasting and mitigation techniques and strategies. Indeed, the UK government is now seeking to establish a centre for space weather forecasting within the Met Office, who represent the state-of-the-art in forecasting terrestrial weather and can apply their 150 year heritage in forecasting to the field of space weather. The effects of extreme space weather can only be estimated since we do not know it's full extent. However, the potential total cost of an extreme Space Weather event has been estimated as around $2 Trillion in year 1 in the U.S. alone, with a 4-10 year recovery period . Quantifying the effects of Space Weather in all its forms is therefore of paramount importance.

Less work has been undertaken in wider infrastructure sectors i.e. beyond those that coincide with technological infrastructures discussed above such as electricity distribution, communications and aviation. However, other infrastructure sectors exhibit important vulnerabilities to space weather, both being dependent on these technologies (e.g. GNSS, radio communication) through a disturbed ionosphere but also through sector-specific vulnerabilities. For example, Atkins has recently undertaken a study in relation to rail infrastructure, which has specific communication technologies and signal networks that are vulnerable to space weather.

Therefore there is a need to consider sector vulnerability in more detail and this is particularly important for critical national infrastructure. Whilst much of this infrastructure has been examined, water is an area which merits increased attention. The water sector has extensive metal pipeline networks and is increasingly dependent on remote information collection and real-time control. The last two years of drought and extensive inland and coastal flooding has demonstrated the importance of effectively managing water. Moreover, the water sector uses UHF radio communication as an integral part of their operations and infrastructure. Since space weather is able to influence the propagation of signals through the modification and disturbing of the Earth's ionosphere, this represents an indirect way by which space weather can adversely influence the water sector operations and infrastructure.

Atkins is the main stakeholder for this work, and Atkins is currently liaising with major water company clients on this issue. The wider stakeholder sphere will include the Environment Agency (as an asset manager and regulator), Ofwat, the Drinking Water Inspectorate, all water companies and water company supplies including consultants and the asset supply chain.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Developed a strong collaboration between industry and academia that should flourish with additional funding. Specifically, collaborated with Atkins Consultancies to develop mitigation strategies for space weather impact on ground-based infrastructure
Exploitation Route Given a greater understanding to Atkins and to Water sector stakeholders of what exactly space weather is and what might be required to assess its impact. This will be taken forward by Atkins to other business sectors and taken forward by Thames water to put to use in their risk assessment.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Electronics,Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport

 
Description public dialogue
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description Collaboration with Atkins 
Organisation Severn Trent Water
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Working with Atkins and partners, engaged with water sector to understand their level of preparedness for space weather
Collaborator Contribution Briefings and discussion with water and power companies
Impact No substantive outcomes were generated from this 6 month project
Start Year 2014
 
Description Collaboration with Atkins 
Organisation Thames Water Utilities Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Working with Atkins and partners, engaged with water sector to understand their level of preparedness for space weather
Collaborator Contribution Briefings and discussion with water and power companies
Impact No substantive outcomes were generated from this 6 month project
Start Year 2014
 
Description Collaboration with Atkins 
Organisation WS Atkins
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Working with Atkins and partners, engaged with water sector to understand their level of preparedness for space weather
Collaborator Contribution Briefings and discussion with water and power companies
Impact No substantive outcomes were generated from this 6 month project
Start Year 2014