Met Office keeping a close eye on space weather

16 05 2013

The Met Office will be keeping a close eye on the Sun over the coming days after a recent surge in its activity.

It’s fairly common for eruptions from the Sun (often called “space weather”) to occur, and these are usually associated with sunspots – dark areas of intense activity on the surface of the star.

The eruptions from these spots come in several different forms, but if the events are of sufficient strength and directed towards the Earth, they can all cause impacts on our modern-day technology. Impacts range from minor interference to communication networks to temporary disruption to electricity supply, satellites and GPS navigation.

Over the past few days a sunspot, identified by the number 1748, has been the cause of many solar eruptions which have already caused some minor impacts.

NASA image showing a solar flare from sunspot 1748

NASA image showing one of the recent solar flares ejecting from sunspot 1748

Some of the eruptions have been in the form of Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), which are plumes of electromagnetically charged gas (plasma). These have been focused away from Earth so far, but, as the sun rotates, there is a chance the sunspot could emit a CME in our direction.

Mark Gibbs, Head of Space Weather at the Met Office, said: “If a strong CME were to be directed at Earth it could have some disruptive impacts, but at the moment the probability of this happening appears to be low.

“We’ll be keeping a close watch on the situation, particularly from Friday evening onwards, to advise on anything that could cause disruption to help the UK minimise any potential impacts. Hopefully this event will pass without the majority of people noticing, but it’s important we monitor the risk.”

Since February 2011, the Met Office has been working with a range of partners, including the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the UK Space Agency to develop a UK-based space weather forecasting service.

This monitors the Sun’s activity and then predicts how these changes are likely to affect the Earth’s environment. The Met Office Hazard Centre currently has forecasters trained in space weather forecasting, and awareness is being raised across different industry sectors to make them aware of their potential vulnerability and how we can help lessen the risks.

In the event of a CME, space weather monitoring can provide anything from 17 hours to 3 days advance warning – allowing vital time to prepare.

Solar activity is currently expected to be high as we are near the peak of an 11-year solar cycle, which sees the Sun’s activity increase and decrease over the period.

You can see more about space weather forecasting in our Youtube video.





Met Office to host NASA Space Apps Challenge

13 04 2012

The NASA Space Apps Challenge is now just over a week away and the Met Office is hosting the lead event for Europe over the weekend of the 21st and 22nd April.

The Met Office building

A number of challenges, presented by Met Office employees, have been accepted by the International Space Apps Challenge and are being followed by participants across the globe.

One of those accepted is the #HazardMap – Real time hazard mapping by scraping social media. This challenge was submitted by Jo Robbins, Weather Impact Research Scientist at the Met Office and Emma Bee, a Geographical Information Specialist who is on placement at the Met Office from the British Geological Survey.

Currently, gathering real-time, on the ground information of a hazard event such as a flood or earthquake as it happens is largely limited to the professional media. Even then it can take time for journalists to report the situation.

However, as was seen during the Japanese Earthquake in 2010, social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr etc) was used extensively to gain situational awareness. Social media was also used by individuals affected by the disaster as a medium to tell their friends and family that they were safe.

The challenge for this project is to see if real-time information about hazard events can be harvested from social media, or other public data, and presented in such a way that is useful to professionals working within an operational hazard centre environment and the general public.

As well as using open government data, Teams at the event will also be using our recently launched DataPoint web service. This gives access to operational UK weather data and observations as well as exploiting other open data sets available from the Met Office and other participating organisations.





The Met Office and space weather

29 03 2012

The Met Office is commonly associated with producing forecasts for Earth. However, since February 2011, we have been working in partnership with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the British Geological Survey (BGS) to develop a UK-based space weather forecasting service that will monitor the way the Sun’s matter and energy changes and then predicts how these changes are likely to affect the Earth’s environment.

The Sun is constantly moving and changing and often throws out large eruptions of plasma called Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) which can cause geomagnetic storms and send currents through power lines if they track towards and reach the Earth. These can then damage transformers and entire power grids. CMEs can also disrupt high frequency radio communications and GPS.

The last major geomagnetic storm affected Quebec, Canada on 13 March 1989 when six million people were plunged into darkness as their power grid failed.

The Met Office Hazard Centre currently has forecasters trained in space weather forecasting, and awareness is being raised across different industry sectors to make them aware of their potential vulnerability and how we can help lessen the risks.

On a slightly different note, many universities are currently using the expertise from the Met Office by utilising our Unified Model of global weather to “forecast the weather” on planets outside of our Solar System, or “exoplanets”. This is not something that the Met Office is independently producing but we are working in partnership with academic and research groups to help them understand how atmospheres react on planets which have different gravitational fields and gases, for example. 

More information can be found about space weather in our online magazine, Barometer.





Space Weather brings potential geomagnetic storm to Earth

7 03 2012

There has been an increase in activity on the Sun over recent days with a number of Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) taking place. A high energy X Ray flare was released from the Sun early this morning, and this has sent a very fast CME towards the Earth at speeds up to 2000 km per second. At present this is expected to reach the Earth from Thursday morning.

Working with our partners at the British Geological Survey (BGS), through the Hazard Centre at the Met Office, we have provided advice on the nature of this event so that government and industry can take steps to mitigate the potential impacts a geomagnetic storm may bring, for example to the airline and power supply industries.

Solar Storm Eruption: Coronal Mass Ejection Headed for Earth (Animation courtesy of NOAA)

The impact of this will mainly be in terms of a geomagnetic storm on Earth and we understand some airlines may re-direct flights from polar routes and that the power supply industry may take routine mitigation steps.

This solar event may also increase the chances of seeing the aurora borealis or Northern Lights in the UK. Further information on Viewing Northern Lights in the UK can be obtained from the BGS.

At the governmental level UK Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama have welcomed the growing partnership between the Met Office and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service towards the delivery of space weather advice and alerts. A memorandum was signed between the Met Office and NOAA in February 2011.

The Met Office, as part of its Natural Hazards Partnership, is working with the BGS on developing a space weather capability. We have recently become a member of the International Space Innovation Centre (ISIC) where a major focus of our activities will be around the influence of solar events on the earth and its surroundings.





Northern Lights over the UK

24 01 2012
Aurora Borealis (231574247)

Guest blog: Sarah Reay, British Geological Survey

Many people in the UK were treated to a fine display of the northern lights (aurora borealis) on Sunday night. This was seen widely throughout Scotland and the north of England. There is a chance for further auroral displays tonight or tomorrow night if we are lucky.

The Northern Lights are a result of a geomagnetic storm. These storms are short-lived periods of high geomagnetic activity where the Earth’s magnetic field changes very quickly and strong electric currents flow high in the atmosphere.

The geomagnetic storm is a consequence of activity on the surface of the Sun. Occasionally there are large explosions on the Sun, and huge amounts of charged particles are thrown out into space. These particles sometimes travel towards Earth where they are captured by the Earth’s magnetic field and guided towards the geomagnetic polar regions. On their way down these particles are slowed down by Earth’s atmosphere, which acts as a shield. These charged particles collide with gas molecules in the atmosphere. The energy released in these collisions is given off as light.

Geomagnetic storms follow the 11-year solar cycle. As we are heading towards the next solar maximum, due in 2013, the chance of big magnetic storms is on the increase. On average you might expect to see aurora in the far north of Scotland every few months, but less often as you travel further south.

To view the Northern Lights you are best finding a dark place away from street lights. You will need a cloud-free sky. In general, look to the north although it could be overhead or elsewhere. For your best chance of sighting an aurora, try to look during the hours around local midnight (22:00-02:00). However geomagnetic activity can happen at any time!

You can sign-up to receive alerts from the British Geological Survey when there is a chance for aurora activity. Unfortunately cloud is predicted for most of the UK tonight, but there is a much better chance for Wednesday night onwards. Keep an eye on the Met Office forecasts for the latest information.

* Many thanks to Sarah Reay of the British Geological Survey for the above guest blog. As a side note, people may be interested to know that solar storms can have other impacts on our planet – such as affecting telecommunication systems. The Met Office is developing a space weather forecasting system to give early warnings of events. As part of this, we are working in collaboration with the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to develop the service.





Grímsvötn ash cloud – better news for the Bank Holiday

25 05 2011

Latest information received from the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) indicates that the Grímsvötn volcano is no longer emitting ash, and only minor steam plumes from the crater up to around 300 metres. According to the British Geological Survey (BGS), the volcano is still active with on-going low level seismic activity reported, even though this has decreased.

Our advice for today is that the ash has now moved away from the UK toward the continent. Further ahead, Met Office latest volcanic ash cloud advice is that we continue to be in an improving situation and it seems likely that there will only be minimal ash over the UK and Europeas we enter the Bank Holiday weekend. CAA and NATS together with the individual airlines can advise how this improving picture will affect flights.

The movement of the ash cloud will depend on whether we see any further volcanic eruptions and how weather patterns develop. The Met Office London VAAC continues to provide forecast guidance up to 24 hours ahead to support decision-making.

Met Office volcanic ash cloud advice is based on a combination of model output, satellite data and other information from radar, lidar and aircraft. Model information is validated using this observational data and is routinely modified to provide the best advice possible.





Grimsvötn Volcano Latest

25 05 2011

Latest information received from the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) indicates that the Grimsvötn volcano is no longer emitting ash, only minor steam plumes from the crater up to 300 meters.

According to the British Geological Survey (BGS), the volcano is still active with on-going low level seismic activity reported, even though this has decreased. This means it is still possible that further ash emissions may occur at anytime.

As a result, the UK Met Office will continue to receive information from the IMO and BGS on whether the eruption may – or may not – continue.





‘Significant eruption’ of Grimsvotn likely to bring ash to UK

23 05 2011

The British Geological Survey (BGS) have described the eruption of Grimsvötn that began over the weekend as ‘a significant eruption’ and the IMO have reported ash continuing to be ejected to a height of 10km.

As the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre for the northwest Europe region the Met Office is receiving information from colleagues in the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) and the British Geological Survey (BGS) to monitor the eruption. The Met Office uses this to provide guidance on the movement of the ash plume.

The movement of the ash plume will depend on how long the volcano continues to erupt and how weather patterns develop.  The Met Office London Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) continues to provide forecast guidance up to 24 hours ahead to support decision making.  This guidance is provided to the CAA as the lead agency, NATS, airport and airline operators in order to support them in decisions on whether aircraft can fly safely.

Currently the Met Office forecasts that ash is likely to reach parts of northern and western Scotland overnight tonight and into tomorrow morning. How this affects flight routing decisions would be determined by CAA and NATS together with the individual airlines.

Further ahead, the outlook is very changeable with areas of low pressure likely to track across parts of northern Britain during the remainder of the week.  The means that wind direction is likely to be quite variable and you should stay up to date with the latest advice from the Met Office.

The Met Office London VAAC uses a range of technologies to predict the movement of volcanic ash including computer models, satellite imagery and observations from Radar, Lidar and aircraft.

The Met Office dispersion model forecasts are routinely validated and verified against all available observations, such as from Satellite, Radar, Lidar and aircraft. For example, a weather balloon that can sample ash concentrations will be launched in western Scotland in the next 24 hours and we are working with airlines and others to undertake airborne measurements.

The Met Office is not responsible for decisions relating to UK airspace. Any enquiries relating to this shoul dbe passed to NATS or CAA.

The Met Office website has more information on where ash is predicted to be in the next 24 hours, recent observations and other Q&A.





Japan earthquake and the UK Met Office role

17 03 2011

Following the earthquake in Japan on Friday 11 March 2011, here is summary to clarify the roles and responsibilities of organisations around the world:

  • The Japan Meteorological Agency has responsibility for Japanese earthquakes, tsunami, nuclear and volcanic ash warnings.
  • The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) maintains a system of Regional Specialised Meteorological Centres (RSMCs) which, when requested, run their dispersion models in accordance with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and WMO Procedures. Under this system the IAEA http://www.iaea.org/ is the lead authority in declaring the current activity as a radioactive release incident. Tokyo RSMC (Japan Meteorological Agency http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/indexe.html), Beijing RSMC (China) and  Obninsk RSMC (Russia) are the joint leads and authoritative sources for this event.
  • The Met Office both as an RSMC (Exeter RSMC) and as a World Area Forecast Centre has not issued any warnings regarding the incident in Japan although it does have ICAO responsibilities to keep the aviation industry informed that an incident is occurring.





Japan Earthquake

11 03 2011

An earthquake with a magnitude of 8.9 struck 250 miles (400km) from Tokyo on 11 March.  Following the earthquake there continues to be a risk of aftershocks and tsunamis throughout Japan. Tsunami warnings have been put in place around the Pacific Ocean

Further information is available from the Japanese Meteorological Agency, the British Geological Survey and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre. If you are concerned about a friend or relative that may have been affected by the earthquake, please refer to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.

 

 








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