New tool could predict large solar storms more than 24 hours in advance


On Jan. 7, 2014, the Sun’s surface erupted with an unusually large explosion, called coronal mass ejection (CME), with NOAA releasing a significant false alarm geomagnetic storm at Earth. Credit NASA

From Imperial College, London:

Large magnetic storms from the Sun, which affect technologies such as GPS and utility grids, could soon be predicted more than 24 hours in advance.

Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are eruptions of gas and magnetised material from the Sun that have the potential to wreak havoc on satellites and Earth-bound technologies, disrupting radio transmissions and causing transformer blowouts and blackouts.

These mass ejections can cause problems with GPS technology – used by all kinds of vehicles, from cars to oil tankers to tractors. For example, they can affect the ability of aircraft systems to judge precisely a plane’s distance from the ground for landing, leading to planes being unable to land for up to an hour.

However, not every mass ejection from the Sun that travels past the Earth causes this much disturbance; the power depends on the orientation of magnetic fields within the mass ejection. Currently, satellites can only tell the orientation of a mass ejection’s magnetic field with any certainty when it is relatively close to the Earth, giving just 30-60 minutes’ notice. This is not enough time to mitigate the impacts on utility grids and systems operating on GPS.

Video: On Jan. 7, 2014, the Sun’s surface erupted with an unusually large explosion, called coronal mass ejection (CME), with NOAA releasing a significant false alarm geomagnetic storm at Earth. This initial structure seen as magnetic loops just south of centre on the solar disc reached out above the solar surface.

These field loops are seen using 3 overlaid wavelength channels from the SDO spacecraft (171, 193, 211 AIA instrument). The loop structures can be seen to be anchored to concentrated magnetic structures on the solar surface (blue and green highlights seen using SDO’s HMI instrument). CreditDr Neel Savani, Imperial College London

Now, a new measurement and modelling tool could give more than 24 hours’ notice of mass ejections that could be harmful to systems on Earth. Details of the technique, developed by a team led by Dr Neel Savani, an alumnus and Visiting Researcher at Imperial College London and a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, were published today in a paper in Space Weather.

“As we become more entwined with technology, disruption from large space weather events affects our daily lives more and more,” said Dr Savani. “Breaking through that 24 hour barrier to prediction is crucial for dealing efficiently with any potential problems before they arise.”

The orientations of magnetic fields within coronal mass ejections depend on two things: their initial form as they are erupted from the Sun, and their evolution as they travel towards Earth. Mass ejections originate from two points on the Sun’s surface, forming a croissant-shaped cloud in between that discharges into space.

This cloud is full of twisted magnetic fields that shift as they travel. If one of these magnetic fields meets the Earth’s magnetic field at a certain orientation, the two will connect, ‘opening a door’ that allows material to enter and cause a geomagnetic storm.

Previously, predictions had relied on measuring the initial CME eruption, but were not efficient modelling what happened between this and the cloud’s arrival at Earth. The new technique takes a closer look at where mass ejections originate from on the Sun and makes use of a range of observatories to track and model the evolution of the cloud.

Dr Savani and colleagues have tested the model on eight previous mass ejections, with the results showing great promise at improving the current forecasting system for large Earth-directed Solar storms. If further testing at NASA supports these initial results, the system could soon be used by NOAA in the US and the Met Office in the UK for geomagnetic storm predictions.


108 thoughts on “New tool could predict large solar storms more than 24 hours in advance

  1. Now this is some real good news! Isn’t it nice to be able to talk about weather prediction without hearing all the voodoo about this or that little mouse causing it? The model has taken a stab at the internal workings of the Sun and its projection of flares through space and then its interaction with Earth’s magnetic field. This reminds me of the teleconnected responses between Earth’s oceans and Earth’s atmosphere.
    Cool post.

    • Have you heard of Piers Corbyn? He’s an English astrophysicist who uses information on Solar Weather to issue long term weather forecasts for up to 30 days ahead. You can find him on and a blog on There are a number of videos he has made about his work on You Tube (see for links to them)..
      You may find his work interesting.

      • You shouldn’t mention Piers Corbyn here. Even though he gets it right 85% of the time, there are some folks who seem to get annoyed when you mention his name….go figure that one!

  2. The threat from the sun in this point in time going forward is probably more climate oriented then space weather oriented. Then again climate science is clueless and really in the dark ages from not being able to agree on the data to so many different sources being used to evaluate the data to so many theories being put forth as to why the climate may change.

    • Quite right! And even when good data is presented, nobody seems to be interested in it. Time will tell……..

  3. Better a new tool that can predict solar weather than an old fool who can’t because everything is already known.
    Dr Savani and his shortcomings ( I don’t know of any) will be abundantly expressed in 3…2…1…

  4. It is not a matter of not agreeing on the climate data; it is that some of the data handlers alter the data or cherry-pick the data to fit their political agenda. If we discounted the dishonest scientists and only consider those who use unaltered or honestly, legitimately adjusted data, they would be in agreement with each other.
    You have to remember that the idea that a trace gas can drive the climate is junk science, as the region of the atmosphere, the upper tropical troposphere (at -17 deg C), that is supposed to be warming Earth’s surface at 15 deg C, simply cannot warm the surface. Any downward directed IR radiation from the troposphere would be rejected/reflected by the much warmer surface as the energy levels equivalent to the upper troposphere are already full in the surface. The bottom line is that a cold body cannot warm a hot body; simply, rock solid thermodynamics.
    So, the “scientists” supporting junk science that simply cannot do what they claim need also be discounted. When a proper Knowledge (aka, BS) filter is applied, the remaining climate science is not bad and in general agreement. Now, if we could just decide how to determine if we are in for a Dalton Minimum, Maunder Minimum, or a new glacial period.

  5. CME’s take hours to arrive while magnetic field orientation takes minutes to reach us. CME’s and magnetic field disruption may or may not accompany one and other. So, I am confused as to what the new tool will prepare us for as varying effects are the result of each and or the combination of the two.

        • There is confusion [and some people exploit that] about the difference between an electromagnetic wave [light] and a magnetic field in a plasma. The latter cannot move relative to the matter and must follow the solar wind as it moves from the Sun to the Earth, which takes from 1 to 4 days [depending on the storm]. The reason for this is that the solar wind plasma is an almost perfect conductor: if you try to change the magnetic field you induce an electric field whose own magnetic field opposes that of the change, so the original magnetic field change takes a long time to propagate at a speed much less than c as the field is bound to the slow-moving plasma. We can see this very simply by observing a change of the magnetic field at the sun and see when we observe the change at the earth.

      • Leif,
        Thanks. Makes sense to me. Let nasa know. Were they also incorrect regarding the cme and electromagnetic disruptions not necessarily accompanying one and other as a result of a flare?

        • NASA knows and all physicists know. Hannes Alfven got the Nobel prize telling us. It is you that are using the word ‘electromagnetic’ in the wrong context.
          A flare is not always the cause of a CME, rather both flares and CME are consequences of rapid changes in the magnetic field on the Sun.

      • Read the info on the site link again. I will excuse your condescension if you will excuse my “context”. I assume your response indicates that cme’s and magnetic field disruption do not necessarily accompany one and other, as in one may be produced without the other as indicated on the site.

        • The underlying cause is that a magnetic configuration on the Sun may become unstable and explode. This can cause a CME and/or a flare. Your link simply states that light is an electromagnetic phenomenon, which is correct, but also says that the magnetic field is carried with the solar wind and takes several days to get here. As for ‘condescension’ how about you saying “Let nasa know”…

      • Leif,
        Point well made. However, as you once told me, just because I am being a jerk does not mean you need to be one as well, or words to that effect.

  6. Dr Savani and colleagues have tested the model on eight previous mass ejections, with the results showing great promise at improving the current forecasting system for large Earth-directed Solar storms.

    If the results of 8 tests show great promise, why not provide some numbers to “wow” us with? Otherwise, it sounds a little like hyperbole. GK

      • Leif was working at his day-job. But here he is:
        That southward fields are an important ingredient in strong solar storms has been known for half a century, during which many hundreds of CMEs have hit the Earth, so basing the result on a study of only 8 of them, sounds to me like just the usual hype. I would not attach much significance to the study. Were the 8 cases predictions or hindcastings? I’m too tired [and uninterested] to check myself.

  7. Wait, we’ve just had about 25 people tell us that chaotic systems cannot be modeled, that predictions are impossible. If they were intellectually honest, they would now come and condemn all this as propaganda.
    Me thinks that only applies to climate chaos.
    Commence: Two minutes of hate…

    • The article says “a new measurement and modelling tool COULD give more than 24 HOURS’ notice of mass ejections….If further testing at NASA supports these initial results, the system COULD soon be used” on a strictly VOLUNTARY basis by individuals and institutions.
      By contrast, climatologists claims that their models absolutely DO give 100 YEARS of advance notice of global temperature changes and their predictions MUST be used immediately to radically disrupt peoples’ lives and seize their money at GUNPOINT.
      Do you happen to notice any important qualitative differences between these two types of claims? I know the differences might seem subtle to you, but if you struggle with the problem I think you might eventually recognize them.

      • Actually, as Leif has pointed out, that’s the politicians. If you all had directed your anger towards them, I would either have agreed or said nothing.
        I never said one positive word about the current climate models.
        I have only stood up for science itself.
        However, your reply reveals that the response is due to the political ramifications, not the models themselves. Therefore, its an example of intellectual dishonesty.

      • Actually, as Leif has pointed out, that’s the politicians.” – VikingExplorer
        In case you forgot – quote:
        According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”.
        “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” he said.
        David Parker, at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Berkshire, says ultimately, British children could have only virtual experience of snow. Via the internet, they might wonder at polar scenes – or eventually “feel” virtual cold.
        Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past, Independent UK, March 2000

      • Khwarizmi, I’m totally anti-AGW (far more than the pretenders around here), so I’m specifically not defending existing climatologists, and the climate models referenced by the political organization IPCC. However, if you would pretty please read very carefully, you would see that we’re talking about “seize their money at GUNPOINT”. Scientists can’t do that.
        I think we could produce crazy scientists that will say just about anything for a price. I think that climateGate proved that the CRU are a bunch of these crazies.

    • The new technique takes a closer look at where mass ejections originate from on the Sun and makes use of a range of observatories to track and model the evolution of the cloud.

      How can you track the weather in 20 years time?
      Where’s your observatory with a time machine?
      It’s not the same issue, is it?

      • If this is directed at me, who said anything about predicting the weather in 20 years time?

    • I notice you ignored my observation that this solar prediction tool involves a time period of 24 hours, whereas climate models attempt to deal with centuries.
      Your complaint is that people assert “chaotic systems cannot be modeled.” Do you think the time periods involved are irrelevant?
      I just looked out the window 10 seconds ago and noticed that the sun was shining, with no clouds in sight. Although I believe the weather is a chaotic system, I confidently predict that the sun will still be shining 10 seconds in the future. Let’s wait and find out…
      YES! My prediction came true! Does this disprove the assertion that chaotic systems cannot be modeled over a period of decades and centuries?

      • I figured no one would be stupid enough to compare 24 hours for one problem to decades or centuries for another. The solar system is chaotic, but the time scales are longer.
        For all we know, being able to predict the sun’s turbulence 24 hours in advance is a bigger accomplishment than predicting the weather 5 days out, or the climate 5 decades out.
        However, the real reason I didn’t respond is that I NEVER defended existing climate models and their supposed claim to predict 100 years out. If people had been attacking that claim, I would have said NOTHING.
        Instead, people were saying that NO prediction was possible with chaotic systems, that climate models were inherently impossible, and even more offensive, attacking models AND Science itself. I kept giving people the chance to back off of these ridiculous and offensive claims, but no one ever did. Leif also heroically defended science against a whole slew of attackers.
        I simply cannot stand by and let these kind of attacks go unchallenged, because they play right into the hands of people calling skeptics “deniers”.
        Anyways, the fact that the same people did not agree that this effort must be a hoax indicates that the whole attack on science and models was intellectually dishonest. I think Leif said (but I can’t find it right now) that if the climate models showed no warming, they would be hailed by this group as God’s gift to humanity.

  8. Intellectual honesty on your part would allow for the possibility of a vastly smaller number of variables.

    • Fewer variables? The sun is much larger and is far more turbulent. It’s the whole volume of chaotic extreme weather, whereas we only worry about earths outer skin.
      Apparently, in your self constucted world view, every problem in the universe is easier than our incomprehensible climate.

    • VikingExplorer
      You say

      Fewer variables? The sun is much larger and is far more turbulent. It’s the whole volume of chaotic extreme weather, whereas we only worry about earths outer skin.
      Apparently, in your self constucted world view, every problem in the universe is easier than our incomprehensible climate.

      Please try to be sensible.
      Nobody says “every problem in the universe is easier than our incomprehensible climate”. But anybody who is not an idiot knows some things are too difficult for us to now model.
      It isl extremely improbable that – within the foreseeable future – climate models could be developed to a state whereby they could provide reliable predictions. This is because the climate system is extremely complex. Indeed, the climate system is more complex than the human brain (the climate system has more interacting components – e.g. biological organisms – than the human brain has interacting components – e.g. neurones), and nobody claims to be able to construct a reliable predictive model of the human brain.
      It is pure hubris to assume the climate models are sufficient emulations for them to be used as reliable predictors of future climate when they have no demonstrated forecasting skill.

      • they have no demonstrated forecasting skill
        Dr Ball’s article the other day pointed out that the Canadian models at least had negative skill. They were worse than a pair of dice at predicting future climate. This is actually quite valuable, because you could use the Canadian models to then predict with some certainty where Climate is unlikely to end up.

      • I’ve got a rule against replying to you Richard, because you are crazy, but this is too funny.
        Nobody says “every problem in the universe is easier than our incomprehensible climate” … but the “climate system is more complex than the human brain”. That just pegged the irony meter.
        What, you’re counting the number of molecules? LOL. By your complete lack of logic, a tiny droplet of water has more complexity than the human brain.
        The average human brain has about 100 billion neurons. A very tiny drop of water, say 1 microliter, which would have a mass of 0.001 grams. The number of molecules of water = NA * (0.001/18) = 3.35*10^19. Therefore, the tiny drop of water is 335 million times more complex than the brain??
        Actually, some people say that the human brain is the most complex structure in the universe. We really have no idea what causes consciousness.
        The average human brain has about 86 billion neurons. Each neuron may be connected to up to 10,000 other neurons, passing signals to each other via as many as 1,000 trillion synaptic connections, equivalent by some estimates to a computer with a 1 trillion bit per second processor. Estimates of the human brain’s memory capacity vary wildly from 1 to 1,000 terabytes (for comparison, the 19 million volumes in the US Library of Congress represents about 10 terabytes of data).
        In contrast, the factors that actually affect the climate are not so complex: Solar variation, solar system orbital variations, ocean circulation, tilt variations, geophysics, etc. The climate is not significantly affected by the atmosphere, which is only .01% of the thermal mass of land/sea/air system.
        Just like when you look up close at the sun, it’s pure chaos, but from the short distance away on the earth, it’s called a constant. Solar weather is extremely difficult to predict, but solar climate, according to Leif, but also experience, is very easy to predict. The same is true for Earth’s climate.
        For the record, I’ve never said anything good about the current climate models.

  9. You want a challenge ?
    Try to pick a horse race.
    You’ve got the “experts” making their guesses that play with your mind.
    You try to not let any of the biases built-up over the last 30 years and maybe 10,000 races affect your choice in any certain race, cus you know the horses (themselves) are unpredictable.
    Talk about chaos 🙂

  10. Well hell. Leave it to Salvator to start talking about mice.
    This particular model seems to be one centered on magnetism and attraction. Reminds me of the child’s game of bringing two magnets together. They soon learn to orient the magnets correctly so that attraction occurs and will play with these two magnets endlessly just to feel the attraction (I know because I did that for hours). That these researchers discovered their childhood is precious.

  11. What’s the lead time in predicting an EMP induced by an high-altitude nuclear device detonation? Did you know both N. Korea and Iran have missile launching submarines? Let’s concentrate on the malevolent existential threats.

      • that slow? I thought EM in near vacuum was 2.9989E+08 m/sec? The protons ans electrons spinning around the field lines towards the poles however at maybe 0.8C. Nice aurorae as a result.

  12. I love hot fresh croissants. Not the solar kind though. The French patisserie kind.
    Seriously though we should be spending our tax dollars on better solar observing robotic satellites at L1 or closer than throwing it away on climate model supercomputer garbage runs.

    • Precisely.
      AGW, if it even truly exists and is not a noise floor artifact or sham to begin with, can at worst inconvenience us in a few decades; it won’t put us all into the stone age in a day.
      A real bad CME can.
      We need a few hours early warning to land planes, decentralize/disconnect/disassemble grids, put critical systems OFF GRID and hunker down till it’s over, then re-connect.
      THAT is adaptable tech.
      Then we need to do something with those large space rocks that get too close every now and then…
      The rest? Small potatoes by comparison.

  13. Dangers from the extra-powerful CMEs are probably somewhat exaggerated, but hopefully some lessons have been learned from Quebec-Hydro 1989 black-out.
    These are very rare, short lasting events, the Carrington event was in 1859, many utilities would not consider investments required to be cost-effective.
    Another long term process which needs to be understood is occurrence of strong tectonic pulses which appear to be synchronised with even sunspot cycles and coinciding with the natural trend reversal and rise in global temperatures
    (see HERE ).
    The above shows that the intensity of such pulses (with an average period of 60 years) followed rise in the intensity in the solar activity (currently as yet unsuccessfully challenged) as it moved from the Maunder Minimum towards recent Grand Maximum.
    As it is likely that sun is heading towards new (Eddy) Grand Minimum with another Grand Maximum being few centuries away, if the intensity of such pulses follows solar activity on the way down, and falls away, than the serious global cooling is likely.
    Thorough understanding of the above described events is necessary, regardless of their cause: solar, Geo-dynamic or external to both of the two.

  14. What gives, Earth is presently in the middle of the mag field and missed the flare by a long shot. Mars is just touching the the edge and might have had a temporary communication disruption with the Rover.
    I activate the CME alert on my phone a day before the IMF polar angel shows the Earth entering inside the mag field. I find this a very good tool to catch a good show of Northern lights.
    I’m not sure why an alert was given when It should have been well known that Earth was in a safe zone when the CME occurred and had no chance of being hit by the flare.

  15. It’s very easy to predict when CME’s are going to occur, when the suns polar fields are reversing and their polarities begin interacting.. so yeah, statistically somewhere during this period. lol

  16. We already have 8 hours notice, how will this help? What we need to do is control the Sun’s climate, or there will be even more intense solar climate disruption. I suggest we build a pyramid in central America and sacrifice a few … ooh, I don’t know … climate deniers maybe, to make sure the Sun comes up each morning and isn’t too hot.

    • Robert of Ottawa sez:
      “We already have 8 hours notice, how will this help?”
      Well, you’ve got an extra 16 hours to cruise on down to your local $tarbuck$, slowly work on a Grande latte and enjoy surfing the interwebs and maybe a little online gaming before your Wi-Fi, smart phone, and your car’s electric door locks are completely fried by a 5XCarrington event.
      It seems useful to me…. or we could go with your idea. I’m rather flexible on this subject ;o)

  17. The solar data complied by Bob Weber, showing how active solar activity was last century and how it is now dropping.
    Completely agree Joe. Solar activity was at the highest in about 1,000 years during the late 1950’s – the ‘happy’ days – when solar F10.7cm flux averaged 139 sfu/day, as compared to the 1960’s during SC#20, when flux averaged 113 per day. Cycle 21 was 135, #22 was 123, #23 was 122, and this cycle so far is at 104, the lowest in 100 years, and by the time it reaches the next minimum, the daily average solar flux for SC#24 will be in mid 90’s.
    Since the next cycle is looking to be even lower, we will definitely be seeing temps drop as they did in the 1960’s and early 70’s, and probably lower – a monster drop indeed. Some of us solar researchers have good reason to think the AMO and PDO are solar-controlled overall, which fits in with your commentary.
    Which is why I say The cause of the ‘pause’ was the cause before the ‘pause’. The Sun.

  18. What the data shows is the sun has had distinct quiet periods over the last three centuries those being namely the Maunder Minimum, and Dalton Minimum , and it looks like another one is in the process of evolving. These periods being times of much less solar activity in contrast to other times.
    For example solar flux avg. in 1950’s was 139 ,during this current cycle only 104 which is 25% off. I also believe this number will be lower going forward. Ap index also much lower post 2005.

  19. Who said TSI is the only factor that governs the climate via the sun? I am not of that mind. TSI being but a small part of it.
    The data shows clearly that solar activity is falling off from where it was prior to 2005 just like it has done in the recent past. You can not argue with the data as you have pointed out Viking Explorer no matter how you want to try to twist it.
    In addition the temperature trend correlates quite nicely to sunspots and phase of PDO/AMO.

    • Unlike others, I’m not ready to put PDO/AMO in the category of “stuff that just happens.” What is the external cause for these phenomena?

    • >> Who said TSI is the only factor
      TSI is Energy input, so it must be the main factor. You can’t just have mysterious unexplained factors. You need a coherent hypothesis. I can think of several possible ways the sun might affect our climate:
      1) TSI (for sure)
      2) Orbital fluctuations (speculative)
      3) Solar wind (speculative)
      4) Solar UV radiation, part of TSI (speculative)
      What is your hypothesis Sal regarding sunspots? Correlation does not imply causality. Sun spots are cool spots. This is an interesting article about TSI, UV & Magnetic Flux during the Last Solar Cycle Minimum.
      >> solar activity is falling off
      I never said that solar activity wasn’t dropping, but from Leif’s data, TSI is still consistent. If you think sunspots affect the earth based on correlation alone, you or someone needs to back that up with a causality mechanism.
      From the link, it’s listed as an open issue. I find it interesting that the Sun is 99.8% of the total mass of the Solar System, with Jupiter having most of the rest.

    • Speak for yourself. I know perfectly well what I’m talking about. To quote Wittgenstein “what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence”, something for you to ponder [in silence…]

  20. By that I meant Joe D’ Aleo and myself , not you.
    Nevertheless when it comes to the climate and the solar relationships I disagree with your opinion 100%.
    Still when it comes to the sun itself your opinions are valuable.

    • You must make a distinction between ‘opinion’ and a well-founded and considered conclusion drawn from the best data available by a knowledgeable researcher.

      • Let us see what happens going forward. There is just to much ambiguity in this field to draw any definitive conclusions. Even the sources for the data are not in agreement and on top of that they are always adjusted. Then add to that theories about climate change are a dime a dozen and I think it leaves us in a wait and see mode. That is the only way to go and with that said having a theory in play makes it much more interesting going forward.
        With that said to be honest the best approach is to rule everything in and nothing out, even AGW theory which I strongly oppose, but I can not say 100 % it is wrong. I do not really know to be truthfully honest although I strongly doubt the theory..

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