Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Recent northern lights storm impacts University of Victoria’s deep sea observatories

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Woohoo, science!

Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), a University of Victoria initiative, has shared some interesting facts following the powerful solar storm we witnessed over Vancouver Island last week!

Not only did it drive the aurora borealis over global skies, it also triggered the movement of compasses deep in the ocean.

According to a recent media release, ONC’s instruments on both the east and west coasts of Canada recorded the temporary distortion of the Earth’s magnetic field as deep as 2.7 kilometres below the ocean surface—described as some of the most remote recordings ever captured. 

The most significant shift moved the compass within a range of +30 to -30 degrees, recorded at 25 metres deep at the Folger Passage subsea site—this is part of the ONC NEPTUNE observatory off the coast of Vancouver Island.

“The reach of these data recordings kilometres under the ocean surface highlight the magnitude of the solar flare over the past weekend and suggest that the data may be useful for better understanding the geographic extent and intensity of these storms,” said Kate Moran, ONC president and chief executive officer. 

Did you know that these geomagnetic disturbances can pose risks to power grids, satellite networks, and navigation systems as well as impact animals’ own navigational abilities?

These disturbances were discovered during daily quality control checks, where Alex Slonimer, a scientific data specialist at ONC, noticed an anomaly in the numbers. 

“I looked into whether it was potentially an earthquake, but that didn’t make a lot of sense because the changes in the data were lasting for too long and concurrently at different locations,” said Slonimer. 

“Then, I looked into whether it was a solar flare as the sun has been active recently.” 

 He then added that this past solar storm reinforced his observations, and the peaks in compass headings closely correlated to the peaks in aurora activity. 

Justin Albert, professor of physics with UVic’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, added that the next two years will be the peak of an 11-year solar cycle—meaning we’re likely to see an increase in aurora activity over these next couple of years!

How cool is that?

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