Internet Apocalypse? Researcher claims solar ‘superstorm’ could cause global internet outage

Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi presented her observations in her paper named ‘Solar Superstorms: Planning for an Internet Apocalypse.”

The internet cements our very existence on earth. Something as materialistic as this helps us in our daily lives in so many ways.

However, there is some bad news. An assistant professor from the University of California, Irvine, presented a paper recently which points towards a possible ‘internet apocalypse’ that will be caused due to a massive solar superstorm approaching the earth.

During a data communication conference called ‘SIGCOMM 2021’, Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi’s paper “Solar Superstorms: Planning for an Internet Apocalypse” talked about the possible storm that can cause a blackout throughout the world. Its duration could be hours or even a few days.

While the power may return, the internet outage will persist for some time that can really hamper productivity in several ways. In her research, Abdu Jyothi also found a greater risk for long undersea cables carrying the internet across continents to be affected by this.

The undersea cables consist of repeaters at frequent intervals as they amplify the optical signal. Unfortunately, this leaves the repeaters’ internal systems vulnerable and can be damaged by solar storms.

However, the local and regional connections that have fiber optic cable will be able to withstand this.

Speaking to WIRED, she talked about the lack of preparation to tackle this. “What really got me thinking about this is that with the pandemic, we saw how unprepared the world was. There was no protocol to deal with it effectively, and it is the same with internet resilience. Our infrastructure is not prepared for a large-scale solar event,” Abdu Jyothi said.

Further, she explains how rare such storms are. The last time they occurred was back in 1859 and 1921. A solar storm of moderate nature happened in 1989 as well. However, what is common is the absence of modern electrical grids and the internet to really determine the extent of the damage.

Her research also includes the regions with high latitude will suffer more. Asia will suffer less as Singapore is the main hub for many undersea cables, which lies on the Equator. However, the cables that cross the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans will suffer more damage.

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