Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan


Dr. Dan Welling Launches New Space Weather Blog

Posted: February 27, 2017

Dr. Dan Welling Launches New Space Weather Blog

Research scientist Dr. Dan Welling studies space weather here at Climate & Space. As a researcher in the Center for Space Environment Modeling (CSEM), Dan was part of the team that developed the Space Weather Modeling Framework adopted last fall by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center.

Dan has recently launched a new blog dedicated to space weather and how it affects us here on Earth. We caught up with Dan to ask him a few questions:

Why start a blog about Space Weather?

The study of space weather is growing. As scientists, we’re making exciting advances in observing, modeling, and understanding space weather phenomena. As a society, we are increasingly reliant on technologies that can be disrupted and damaged by space weather effects, such as electric and magnetic fields that can interact with radio and satellite communications, power grids, and other vulnerable systems. 

What IS space weather anyway? 

Space weather is all about the relationship between the sun, the Earth, and the technology upon which we depend. When we think about the sun, we think about light and warmth. Or we see the Aurora Borealis or Australis (Northern and Southern Lights), which are beautiful manifestations of space weather, but there is so much more happening. And just as it is with conventional weather, space weather is all about understanding and forecasting these effects. 

There are many ways to classify space weather. We can start with events at the Sun, like the "solar wind," which refers to the flow of particles and magnetic fields from the solar surface out into space; explosive events, such as solar flares, which are flashes of light and radiation on the surface of the sun; and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are extremely large and powerful explosions of particles into space.

You can then characterize space weather by the conditions of the solar wind once it reaches Earth. Scientists use phrases such as "high speed stream" or "magnetic cloud" to describe common features in the solar wind flow, just as meteorologists might refer to "cold fronts" in terrestrial weather patterns.  

Finally, we can categorize by the effects of space weather here at home. Did it intensify the radiation environment around Earth? Did it affect the power grid? Did it interrupt GPS accuracy?  

[Here’s a link to space weather-related terms.] 

How can space weather forecasting help?  

Space weather is important because it represents a natural threat to our society, similar to earthquakes or extreme terrestrial weather. Space weather can disrupt our power and communication systems, and in severe cases, entire nations could be left without electricity, GPS, radio, or cellular communications for weeks or even months. As our society becomes progressively more dependent on these systems, we become more vulnerable to the effects of space weather.  

But it is possible to prepare for these negative effects given enough lead-time. If you know that GPS signals will be inaccurate, you might delay military or industry operations that depend on GPS (e.g., precise drilling operations, etc.). If you know that our national power grid will experience an unusually heavy load due to space weather effects, you can rebalance the load to compensate, or (in extreme cases) shut down portions of the grid to prevent long-term damage. 

At a national level, we need to continue to work to improve our understanding of space weather and the effects it has on us.  This will lead to a dependable forecast and response system that will minimize the effects of space weather. 

Read Dan’s space weather blog here.

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