Google researchers have studied the damage a highly intense solar storm on Earth can do to the submarine cables that provide high-speed internet access across continents.
The year 2023 is causing dread for a number of astronomers and scientists who specialize in the study of the Sun. The upcoming year will mark the peak of the Solar Cycle 25, known as the solar maximum, which will cause multiple sunspots to appear on the Sun which will explode and send coronal mass ejections (CME) to Earth. And this would lead to intense periods of solar storms. While we all know about the dangers of solar storms, one particularly terrifying fear is that it can destroy the internet across the globe. And would result in not only financial and technological losses but also countless deaths. Read on to know more.
A study by Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi, an Indian scholar and assistant professor at University of California, reveals the horrific possibility. According to her, the submarine cables that stretch on the ocean floor and link continents are equipped with a device called a repeater every 100-150 kilometers apart. Repeaters boost the signals by repeating the incoming waves so that the connection does not get weak. These repeaters are vulnerable to the solar storms and they can take them out. If even one repeater is taken out, the entire global network will suffer immediate outage.
Google researchers find reassuring answer
Recently, the researchers at Google have delved into this issue. Google funds, either partially or fully, 22 submarine cables around the world and is a major stakeholder in internet affairs. In a recent blog post, Google revealed that it researched the possibility of a solar storm damaging the submarine cables and disrupting internet connectivity globally.
It turns out that there are special instruments built into these cables, which provide them with protection from such solar storms. And this is how it happens:
“On both sides of the ocean, a landing station contains the lasers as well as redundant high-voltage powering feed equipment (PFE) to provide power to the many repeaters along the path. The Earth’s ground completes the electrical circuit. For redundancy, the two PFEs maintain a design voltage between themselves. If one of the PFEs fails, the other is designed to double its voltage so the overall voltage across the cable remains the same,” Google stated.
For comparison, the strongest recorded solar storm, the 1859 Carrington event, increased the nominal voltage by 800 Volts. In comparison, these submarine cables are designed to absorb fluctuations as high as 6000 Volts.