New Zealand physicists say the sun may be corroding energy pipelines

Engineer checking pipelinesNew Zealand’s pipelines may be more susceptible to corrosion due to geomagnetic storms, according to Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Otago physicists.

Geomagnetic storms occur when solar wind and Earth magnetic field come into contact. It causes a temporary disturbance in the magnetosphere surrounding the planet, which could have contributed to the recent energy crisis in Auckland.

Solar Impact

University of Otago Professor Craig Rodger said that the broader use of electronics might contribute to the occurrence of geomagnetic storms, while Victoria University of Wellington Professor Malcolm Ingham believes that the storm’s impact should be considered when investigation the causes for a corroded pipeline.

Both physicists have worked together to find out how to mitigate magnetic storms’ damages to electrical networks on Earth. Aside from pipelines, these storms have a negative impact on power lines and satellite communications.

Rodger said that pipelines Auckland and Northland are more vulnerable to pipeline damages due to their proximity to coastlines and narrow land compositions. He said that changes in the geomagnetic field would corrodes pipes over time if a hole already exists in the pipeline cladding. In other cases, abrasive blast cleaning serves as a preventive step against corrosion.

More Research

While the physicists are not ruling out other factors, they said that more research is required to determine any conclusive data on reducing pipeline corrosions due to variations in the geomagnetic field.

These changes take places when solar flares emit a tremendous amount of energy into space that reaches Earth’s magnetic field within 24 to 36 hours. This scenario can be harmful to technology such as GPS satellites and may cause transformer blowouts, power blackouts and radio signal disruptions.

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As we rely on technology more than ever, more thorough research is necessary for risk mitigation from solar disturbances.