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Human society is far more reliant on electricity today than it was 156 years ago. Berger pointed out that today we have pipelines, electrical transmission grids, and a lot more ground-based electrical conduction technology. So, what would happen if a Carrington-sized event struck us now? Pretty much ever aspect of the modern world would take a hit, according to a report by the National Academies of Sciences.
The ground currents induced by large geomagnetic storms can melt the copper windings of transformers that lie at the heart of power distribution systems. If this happens, it can ;ead tp massive power outages. And because our power grid has grown much more interconnected over time, the effects of such an outage today could be spread far and wide.
A map showing the at-risk transformer capacity by state for a 4800 nT/min geomagnetic field disturbance. Regions with high percentages of at-risk capacity could experience long-duration outages extending for several years. Image Credit: J. Keppenman, Metatech Corp
It’s hard to overstate just how much this would uproot our lives. The lights would of course go out, as would the internet, and any device that draws current from the wall. In places with electronically-controlled municipal water supplies — like most modern cities — toilets and sewage treatment systems would stop working. Heating and air conditioning would fail. Perishable food and medication would be lost. ATMs would be useless. Gas pumps would go offline. And so forth.
GPS technology would also be knocked out. Said Grunman, “The GPS system depends on the very precise timing of a course of signals between two points, like a spacecraft and your phone. If you dump a bunch of energetic particles into the atmosphere, that effects your GPS. Which is sobering when you consider the replacement of old aircraft landing technology with GPS.”
Some of these effects could last years, and they’d be felt globally. “The entire magnetic field of the Earth is changing, so the entire Earth feels it,” said Berger.