Tag Archives: solar

Emergency Tent Living, Part 3 of 4

(Survival Manual/ 4. Shelter Issues/ Emergency Tent Living, Part 3 of 4)

Living off-grid in a tent

A.  Why we’re living in a tent – in winter
10 February 2012, The Guardian, by Patrick Barkham
Pasted from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/11/family-living-in-tent

tent2 cookingWhy on earth would Matt and Lily Gibson give up their house and take their baby daughter to live in a tent in the countryside? Patrick Barkham finds out…

The stove has to be topped up with logs every two hours to keep the tent warm.
A white frost clings to the fields and the mud on the farm is frozen hard. In a secluded paddock behind the stone farmhouse stands a small bell tent, a curl of smoke rising from the metal flue poking out of the canvas. The temperature dropped to -7C the previous evening but inside the tent it is surprisingly warm, which is just as well because since the middle of January this octagonal dwelling, 5m wide and mounted on old pallets above the mud, has been the home of Lily and Matt Gibson and their nine-month-old daughter, Louise.

As unpaid bills mounted, and the couple struggled to pay £625-a-month rent for a dilapidated house, they made a drastic decision: they believed they would be better off, and happier, trying to survive in a tent. When their tenancy agreement expired on 15 January, they pitched a tent they had bought for £370, borrowed from Lily’s mother, on a farm in the west country.

“The mud and rain may be depressing, but the cold is scary,” admits Lily. “But we’re glad we’ve done this, even though it is frightening sometimes thinking about our responsibility for Louise and how we must keep her warm.”

The wood burning stove inside the tent is their life. Everything is focused on keeping the fire burning. Every two hours at night, Matt must get up to feed it more logs. So far, it is working. It may be freezing outside but under a single layer of canvas, the couple have created a snug and idyllic-looking – if minuscule – home. The tent smells of wood smoke and a delicious beef and vegetable broth is bubbling on the stove.

Matt was working in retail, spending wages on an expensive commute to a nearby city, and Lily, a freelance graphic designer, had stopped work when Louise was born. “Matt wasn’t getting home until 7pm and we still couldn’t afford to live properly,” says Lily. “We paid all our rent but we weren’t ever going out. We weren’t buying new clothes. We didn’t even get our hair cut. We’d occasionally get a coffee with friends in the town, but we were living very frugally. There was no way we could save at all and we wanted to do something for Louise’s future. We tried to be positive and we wanted her to have a happy home, but it was really quite depressing.”

Then they chanced on a press cutting about Simon Dale, who built his own eco-home for £3,000. This inspired them to take the first steps in their dream of buying a plot of land and building a low-impact home on it. “For me it was also inspired by the Occupy movements across the world,” adds Lily. “I don’t know what they might achieve but they have shifted consciousness in some way.” Previously, she assumed that “if we could not afford our rent it was because we were not budgeting properly. The Occupy movement made me see it wasn’t my fault – that it was the system that was not working.”

Matt and Lily began by finding a farmer, a friend of a friend, who generously allowed them to pitch the tent on his land. Matt has quit his job but the couple are not claiming unemployment or housing benefit – Matt does farm work between cutting wood for their stove. It may sound romantic but the challenges of living simply under canvas are daunting.

“A lot of people would go mad in a tent at this time of year. People could find a million and one things to burst into tears about,” says Lily. This morning, she hung her one warm jumper on the stove flue to warm up for a minute, got distracted by Louise and singed the jumper. “You definitely need a sense of humour and you can’t be vain – you’re just going to get upset by the mud or lack of running water.”

Inside the tent are nice rugs, plants and homely trinkets the couple have picked up on their travels. “It’s got that nomad feel to it, which I love,” says Matt. It has been a steep learning curve, however. Because the sides slope inwards there is far less space than they anticipated – no furniture can be allowed to touch the canvas or the rain will come in. They have been flooded already, and after they failed to secure the stove flue, it blew down in a gale. It is now firmly screwed in place.

To begin with, they lived off tinned food heated on the stove top. “We were sat there for three hours wondering why things wouldn’t come to the boil,” says Lily. Since then, she has mastered slow cooking – Turkish meatballs with rice, pot-roasted chicken with roast potatoes and even omelet’s in tin foil – while Matt has learned how the type and size of log can radically alter the stove’s heating power. Although he is doing less paid labor now, he says his days seems fuller. “There are not enough hours in the day now.”

Washing is done with a Wonderwash, a hand-cranked machine Lily imported from the US for £80. Clothes are cleaned with six jugs of hot water and two minutes of vigorous cranking, followed by 30 seconds of cranking in cold water to rinse. As the tent is a temporary measure, they borrow the downstairs loo at the farm and pay to have an occasional shower and charge their phone. “There is more drudgery, like hand-sweeping the floor, but it is more liberating and empowering as well,” says Lily. “The simpler things are, the less alienated you feel from your own life – the more in control you are.”

They have had to learn to prioritize certain jobs in the precious daylight hours. After dark, they light the tent with candles. There is no television, although Lily gets the internet on her phone. “We like talking, we sit around the fire and I sing to Louise a lot,” she says. “We haven’t felt bored, not for a moment. We don’t miss having loads of TV channels showing things we don’t want to watch anyway.”

As they explain how they are coping with living in a tent, Lily and Matt are clear that their priority is Louise. They are meticulous about sterilizing her bottles and ensuring that she is never cold. She and Matt may exchange nervous glances when the wind howls outside, but Louise loves it. For her, it seems that the tent is a secure home, where she can be physically and emotionally close to her parents. “So far she seems to be flourishing health-wise,” smiles Lily. “She is very happy, alert and engaged with what’s going on.” Their concerns about Louise are assuaged by the knowledge that, in the worst-case scenario, they can seek a warm refuge in the farmhouse, as they were forced to on the night a storm destroyed their stove flue.

Their parents have been very supportive – “They get concerned when it’s cold and ring to check we are OK,” says Lily. What would they say to people who would see them as reckless for living with a small child in a tent in midwinter? “What we’re doing might seem irresponsible,” says Lily, “but if we stayed where we were with unaffordable rent we would have ended up in so much debt that we wouldn’t have been able to feed Louise properly or get her warm clothes. It was terrifying. We would have been very depressed and therefore not able to produce a positive home environment for her and we would have ended up more dependent on benefits as well. We’re trying to stand on our own two feet.”

Living in a tent places them at the mercy of the elements, but Matt and Lily feel they have taken control of their own lives. By staying temporarily in the tent, they hope to save up to buy a piece of land on which they can build their own eco-home, a roundhouse with straw bale insulation. They are not just surviving: they are learning off-grid living skills they hope to teach to other families who want to live in a simpler, more sustainable way. Ideally they want to build their eco-home this summer but so far have been too busy keeping warm to find land. They admit their hope of buying a secluded half-acre on a south-facing slope, with a stream, for a few thousand pounds is probably unrealistic.

They may have chosen to live like this but, like other hard-pressed families, Matt and Lily have found that economic pressures made their old way of life intolerable. They believe more working families will be forced to live like they do, as rents and bills rise and first-time buyers are permanently priced out of the housing market. The government, however, seems unwilling to help people like Matt and Lily to help themselves. To get planning permission for a low-impact house on rural land requires navigating an impenetrable planning maze.

Lily would like to see reforms to encourage more self-built, low-impact housing. “There should be assistance to help people do this, not obstacles,” she says.

The reality of life in a tent in the middle of a British winter is far from bucolic but there are unimagined benefits. Sustained by their dreams of a self-built home, Matt and Lily are determined to accentuate the positives. Lily has noticed how well Louise sleeps at night in the tent. In fact, they all sleep much better than they did. On clear nights, the moonlight shines through the canvas and they hear the hoot of owls and the barking of foxes. Are they woken by the cockerel in the morning? “There are about 15 of them, which Louise loves,” says Matt.

“I love the sound of rain on the canvas, the candle light and the wood smoke. I like everything being simplified,” adds Lily. “It might be a cliché to talk about being in harmony with or close to nature but an element of that is very true.”

[Note: How do you heat the tents during a cold winter?
Answer: We recommend using space heaters, propane heaters, or a centrally ventilated heating system (easily run in through a deck vent). We DO NOT recommend using open flame to heat the tent. Canvas is a fabric material, and even though we do have customers who do use open flame in their tents and we’ve never encountered a problem, you are more prone to fire accidents if you use fire.
(Pasted from: http://www.exclusivetents.com/faq.htm#platform) Mr. Larry]
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B.  Living Off-Grid in a Tent
March 2011, By Bob Wells
Pasted from: http://cheapgreenrvliving.com/Tent_Living.html

[The following example of tent living is provided just to show what one can do, its not the life style I would suggest for long term tent living, being way too Spartan for my comfort. Kudos to “Desert Rat” for setting up a generator-deep cycle battery-inverter- power system. On a higher initial budget this operation would have been better with a larger tent, more amenities and solar power. There is a lesson to learn in the life stories people tell, this story speaks to the possibilities of Internet connectivity while in a remote or possibly, regional “grid down” situation. Mr. Larry]
tent2 eureka cu canyon 12

[Looks like the Eureka Copper Canyon 12 (12′ x 14′) Mr. Larry]

No matter how small a house or apartment you live in, it is hard on the environment. First, the huge amount of material required to build a house has to be produced, at an enormous price to the planet. The raw materials (ores, minerals, wood and oil) have to be extracted from the earth, transported to  be processed, be processed, then transported again to wholesalers, then transported to retailers, then transported to the job site. You read that last sentence really quickly, but it represents a great deal of damage and pollution to the planet. Once the house is built and you move in, you must buy furniture and lots of “stuff ” to fill it.
All of those things do more damage to the earth. The house has to be heated and cooled to make it comfortable. You can’t sit in the dark, so the house needs lots of lights to keep it bright. For cooking you need a stove/oven refrigerator and dishwasher. You can’t possibly stay clean without hot water, so you need a 50 gallon hot water heater. The lawn and landscaping has to be watered, mowed and tended to. All of those utilities require huge amounts of pollution to produce electricity, bring you water, and process your sewage. One more way houses damage the earth: a long commute to and from work. Nearly all of us have to work, and the majority of us work in cities. So five days a week you drive to and from work in your car, often crawling along in miserable  traffic.

Contrast all of that to a friend of mine I will call Desert Rat. I met Desert Rat in the desert of the Southwest where he was busy working from his tent. He was sick of the rat race so he decided to chuck it all and move to the desert. He was fortunate that he could work from home via the Internet. He didn’t know for sure where he was going, he just knew he wasn’t going to be living in a city any longer. He had heard about dispersed camping on BLM desert land and National Forests, so he decided to give that a try. He had a plan, in the winter he would live in the warm desert and in the summer he would move up to the cool National Forests. Since nearly all BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and National Forest land has a 14 day stay limit, he knew that all he had to do was carry 14 days worth of supplies, and then he had to move anyway.

He got a Verizon data card and cell phone so he could work from anywhere. His pattern is that he goes out to a place where he gets a good Verizon signal (which is an amazing number of places) sits up camp and stays there for 14 days without starting his car again until the 14 days are up and he is out of supplies, then he breaks camp, gets supplies and moves on to the next camp spot. He gets the seclusion he needs and does just about the absolute minimum damage to the earth that a human can do in the twenty-first century.
Everything he has is as small, light and fold-able as he could find in order to fit it in his small economy car.
tent2 coleman white gas and gasoline stores
When he was preparing for his new life, he decided that essentially, he was going on an extended camping trip (for many years he hoped), so he went to an outdoor store and outfitted himself. He needed something to live in, so he bought a large, high-quality tent made by Eureka. It is a great tent! In the two months we camped together we had several storms blow through that brought winds well over 50 mph. The tent weathered them like a champ! He needed to
cook so he bought a Coleman 2-burner, dual fuel stove. He got it instead of a propane stove because he was already carrying gas for his Yamaha generator and he didn’t want to have to carry a second fuel.

He needed consistent power in the middle of nowhere, so he bought a Yamaha Generator which (along with the Honda) is famous for its reliability, quiet running and low gas consumption. I found it interesting that he set it up on a 5 gallon bucket to keep dust and dirt from coming in through the air filter when running. I thought that was a very good idea. He carries 10 gallons of gas which easily lasts the 14 days for running the generator and cooking.

He has deep cycle batteries he leaves on the floor-board of his car since they are too heavy to be carrying around.  He runs an extension cord from the generator to a battery charger in the car which charges the batteries. From the batteries he runs cables into the tent. In the picture below, top- right, we see the inverter and cords that run the many electrical items he uses for work.
tent2 interior power & inverter
In the picture above, lower- left, we see his office. Having a comfortable chair is important, so he bought a good folding recliner. A portable table holds his laptop and he uses five gallon buckets for tables.

His bed doesn’t look like much but, he has the highest quality self-inflating sleeping pad that Thermorest makes which is very comfortable. He is a cold sleeper so he has two sleeping bags so he can sleep inside both of them when it is cold, or just one when it is warmer. The desert can be surprisingly cold at night!

His tent is 12×14 feet and over 6 feet tall. That is a huge amount of room for one person, and would be more than enough  for a couple as well. He finds it very comfortable.

He carries a total of ten gallons of water in his two Coleman five gallon jugs. That’s enough for 14 days as long as he is conservative in its use.  Notice the spigot which makes getting water out and washing/rinsing easy. [If you plan to use a small utility trailer to carry your gear, I recommend increasing the water supply by bringing a 30 gallon potable water drum. The extra 250 lbs./30 gallons of water will keep you clean, bathed, keep your porta-pottie flushing, wash your dishes and laundry, as well as keeping your mornings coffee pot filled– without “cutting corners”. Mr. Larry]

All in all, it is a wonderful life! There is something magical about the desert that starts to get in your heart and changes you. Inevitably the strain and constant stress of city-living starts to fall away and a peace and contentment take its place. Desert Rat wasn’t sure if he would like his new life, but it has far exceeded his expectations. Already, he can’t imagine going back to his old life in the city.

It wasn’t his primary purpose, but a side effect of living this way is that it is one of the greenest, most environmentally friendly ways you can possibly life. He is completely off-grid except for the small amount of gas he uses to cook and for the generator. And that is much more than offset by the fact that he no longer commutes to work. In fact he only drives once every 14 days and that is in an economy car.
He is a true minimalist with nothing more than it takes to survive. His entertainment and joy come from nature.

tent2 alt solar additions

[Above, solar panel photos added by Mr. Larry, a recommended addition or alternative to the aforementioned generator.]
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YouTubeC.  See the 5:04 video, “Off Grid: The tent in pictures,” at YouTube, click-or paste the following link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGOS_XRkGVo

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YouTubeD.  See  the 4: 47 video, “Off Grid: The ultimate bug out location,” at YouTube, click or paste the following link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9HisSpOFkM

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Filed under Survival Manual, __4. Shelter Issues

Solar flare EMP (electromagnetic pulse)

(Survival Manual/1. Disaster/Solar flare EMP)

Solar Flares, Coronal Mass Ejections and the Carrington Effect
The ‘Super Solar Flare’ of 1859
6 May 2008, Science1.NASA.gov, Authors: Trudy E. Bell & Dr. Tony Phillips
Excerpt pasted from: http://science1.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2008/06may_carringtonflare/
At 11:18 AM on the cloudless morning of Thursday, September 1, 1859, 33-year-old Richard Carrington—widely acknowledged to be one of England’s foremost solar astronomers—was in his well-appointed private observatory.
 Just as usual on every sunny day, his telescope was projecting an 11-inch-wide image of the sun on a screen, and Carrington skillfully drew the sunspots he saw. On that morning, he was capturing the likeness of an enormous group of sunspots. Suddenly, before his eyes, two brilliant beads of blinding white light appeared over the sunspots, intensified rapidly, and became kidney-shaped. Realizing that he was witnessing something unprecedented and “being somewhat flurried by the surprise,” Carrington later wrote, “I hastily ran to call someone to witness the exhibition with me. On returning within 60 seconds, I was mortified to find that it was already much changed and enfeebled.” He and his witness watched the white spots contract to mere pinpoints and disappear. What Carrington saw was a white-light solar flare—a magnetic explosion on the sun.

It was 11:23 AM, only five minutes had passed.

Just before dawn the next day (2 September), skies all over Earth erupted in red, green, and purple auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. Indeed, stunning auroras pulsated even at near tropical latitudes over Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Hawaii.
Even more disconcerting, telegraph systems worldwide went haywire. Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators and set the telegraph paper on fire. Even when telegraphers disconnected the batteries powering the lines, aurora-induced electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted.

The auroral current could be used for transmitting and receiving telegraphic dispatches. This was done between 8:30 and 11:00 in the morning, on September 2, 1859, on the wires of the American Telegraph Company between Boston and Portland, and upon the wires of the Old Colony and Fall River Railroad Company between South Braintree and Fall River, among others. The length of time during each positive wave was only, however, 15 to 60 seconds. The following account came from between Boston and Portland.

Boston operator (to Portland operator): “Please cut off your battery [power source] entirely for fifteen minutes.”
Portland operator: “Will do so. It is now disconnected.”
Boston: “Mine is disconnected, and we are working with the auroral current. How do you receive my writing?”
Portland: “Better than with our batteries on. – Current comes and goes gradually.”
Boston: “My current is very strong at times, and we can work better without the batteries, as the aurora seems to neutralize and augment our batteries alternately, making current too strong at times for our relay magnets. Suppose we work without batteries while we are affected by this trouble.”
Portland: “Very well. Shall I go ahead with business?”
Boston: “Yes. Go ahead.”

At which point, the Boston operator began transcribing 19th Century Vintage erotica (ok, just kidding on that one).
The conversation was carried on for around two hours using no battery power at all and working solely with the current induced by the aurora, and it was said that this was the first time on record that more than a word or two was transmitted in such manner.

Meanwhile on the early morning of 2 September 1859.
The clipper ship Southern Cross was off Chile when, at 1:30am, it sailed into a living hell. Hailstones from above and waves from all around whipped the deck. When the wind-lashed ocean spray fell away to leeward, the men noticed they were sailing in an ocean of blood. The color was reflected from the sky, which, they could see – even through the clouds – was wreathed in an all-encompassing red glow.
The sailors recognized the lights as the southern aurora that usually graced the skies near the Antarctic Circle, just as their northern counterparts cling to the Arctic. To see them from this far north was highly unusual. As the gale subsided, they witnessed an even more astonishing display. Fiery lights loomed against the horizon as if some terrible conflagration had engulfed the Earth. Vivid bolts flew across the now clear sky in spiral streaks and exploded in silent brilliance, as if the very souls of all humanity were fleeing whatever cataclysm had befallen the planet.
Upon their arrival at San Francisco, the ship’s company discovered that theirs was not an isolated experience. Two thirds of the Earth’s skies had been similarly smothered.

Effects of past ‘modern era’ storms on older, less sensitive electronics technology
“…..Fast-forward one hundred and fifty-three years to late 2012 or 2013 . A globalized world is extremely dependent upon electronic communications to operate banking, communications, health care, computers, transportation systems, and a massive electric grid serving billions of people. A super solar flare on the scale of the one in 1859 could shut down modernity for days, weeks, perhaps months depending on the size of the white solar flare eruption from within a sunspot. One could equate such a possible episode as a Cosmic Katrina-like event on a nearly global scale happening in say less than twenty-four hours and possibly affecting millions of people.

A giant solar storm is expected in the range of every one-to-five hundred years, but scientists today have no means to predict them only observe them hours before the electric charge hits the upper atmosphere of Earth. There may be sufficient time to power-down a few hundred of the orbiting satellites but electric power would probably be lost and the hard-drives of computers and servers may crash without hardened back-ups somewhere underground or otherwise properly shielded from the magnetic field….”

Still, more recent examples include the events of March 13, 1989, in which Hydro-Quebec’s power output was completely shut down within 92 seconds, courtesy of two solar CMEs. Power was restored in nine hours and a large transformer in New Jersey was destroyed. There was also the supply disruption that took place on Halloween 2003, including the destruction of 14 transformers in South Africa, which contributed significantly to that country’s long-running struggle to adequately provide its people and industries with electricity.

Aurora-induced power surges even melted power transformers in New Jersey. In December 2005, X-rays from another solar storm disrupted satellite-to-ground communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation signals for about 10 minutes. That may not sound like much, but as Lanzerotti noted, “I would not have wanted to be on a commercial airplane being guided in for a landing by GPS or on a ship being docked by GPS during that 10 minutes.”

Unfortunately, current projections by NASA suggest that we may soon be due for a CME on the scale of the 1859 event. According to Dr Richard Fisher, director of the agency’s heliophysics division, solar flare activity varies in accordance with an 11-year cycle and is currently emerging from a quiet period, while the sun’s magnetic energy peaks every 22 years. As a result, solar activity is set to reach its maximum during the 2012-2015 period.
The point of greatest vulnerability in our electricity networks is the transformer.
A simulation conducted by Metatech indicated that a geomagnetic storm roughly 10 times the strength of that seen in 1989 could melt the copper windings of around 350 of the highest voltage transformers in the US,  effectively knocking out a third of the entire US power grid and impacting an area 10 times that of the 1989 storm. Furthermore, the large size of the damaged transformers would effectively prevent field repairs and in most cases, new units would have to be shipped in from abroad, ensuring that their replacement would take weeks or even months. Given that other countries could also be adversely affected and that the majority of transformers are manufactured in Brazil, China, Europe and India, there is no guarantee that the US would be the first priority for resupply in such an event.

Although the industry has weathered geomagnetic storms of the highest (K9) classification since 1989 with little impact on performance, thanks to specialized operating procedures, all these storms were much less intense than the 1989 storm.
Vulnerability has been increased by the fact that in the US, there has been a marked increase in the voltages used in today’s networks. Now, networks operate at around 345-765kV, compared to the 100-200kV design thresholds seen in the 1950s. The higher the voltage, the lower the resistive impedance per unit distance and the higher the geomagnetically-induced currents (GICs) generated in the event of an EMP.

Solar Flare Classifications
Class                         Effects
A                                   none
B                                   none
C                                   C flares are small with few noticeable consequences here on Earth. (think, rain)
M                                  M flares are medium-sized; they can cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth’s polar regions. Minor radiation storms sometimes follow an M-class flare. (think, thunderstorm)
X                                   X flares are big; they are major events that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms. (think, hurricane)

Some notable events
1)  ‘Valentine’s day’ X2.2 flare occurred Tue. 15 Feb 2011, particles began arriving at Earth Fri. 18 Feb 2011. This was kind of a small one, it wasn’t a big solar eruption, about one-tenth of the biggest that we have ever seen. *It wiped out radio communications in the Western Pacific Ocean and parts of Asia and caused airlines to reroute some polar flights to avoid radio outages.
2)  X28  The largest measured solar flare occurred on November 4, 2003, fortunately this flare only grazed Earth. The x-rays from this storm were so powerful that it overloaded the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) that was measuring the sun.
3)  X20 Flares on April 2, 2001 and August 16, 1989. Had these flares been pointing at the Earth, the damage to the satellites and power systems could have been substantial.
4)  2 September 1859: There was a solar storm (discussed above) that hit in the late 19th century; had it occurred today would probably take out most of the world’s power grids, it could induce electrical currents that would knock out at least 300 of the USA’s main transformers cutting off power to 130 million people, all within 90 seconds.

The solar flare events
•   Solar Flares: Arrival Time: Instantaneous, Effect Duration: 1-2 hours
•   Solar Proton Event: Arrival Time: 15 minute to a few hours, Effect Duration: Days
•   Coronal Mass Ejection: Arrival time: 2 or 4 days, Effect Duration: Days
•   The UV and light effects of a solar flare arrive at Earth in about 8 minutes traveling at the speed of light. Particles ejected from a powerful, concentrated explosion may arrive in as soon as 12 hours and are referred to as a plasma bullet’. Typically, the technology disrupting CME’s charged particle storm front take about 3 days to travel the 93 million mile intervening distance.
• Each category for x-ray flares has nine subdivisions ranging from, example, C1 to C9, M1 to M9, and X1 to X9+.
• Solar Flares are not visible from earth with the naked eye.

Solar Tsunami Responsible for Higher Incidence of Sneezing Around World
The latest solar flare, one of the strongest felt in decades, has been likened to a solar tsunami that seems to be coming in waves and crashing into the earth’s atmosphere.
What was originally thought to be nothing more than a nuisance causing an hour or two of mild electronic disruptions on the morning of August 4th, 2011 has now turned a bit more sinister. There continue to be intermittent outages of radio and television broadcasts as well as cell phone and internet services well into day two of the flare.
The most bizarre by-product of the solar tsunami seems to be an unusually high amount of sneezing going on all over the world. People are calling clinics and emergency rooms asking if there is anything that can be done about the non-stop sneezing they are experiencing when outdoors…
Residents in extremely sunny locales around the globe are cautioned to remain indoors until the threat of solar flare-induced sneezing has passed. Symptoms include an itching in the nostrils and then a sneeze, sometimes coming in rapid succession. It is not know how the solar flare is affecting the outer body but residents are warned against going outdoors without wearing protective clothing until more information can be gathered on this most unusual occurrence.

What happens if the industry fails?
Assuming a CME of sufficient magnitude was to knock out power supplies across the US for a period of several weeks, the most pressing immediate issue, particularly in arid states such as Nevada would be the loss of water supplies, due to the lack of electricity to pump water. In terms of time scale, the UK’s National Risk Register, points out that loss of mobile communications occurs within one hour of disruption, water and sewerage within six hours.
Other important concerns include the knock-on effects in terms of primary fuels. Coal mining operations require electricity supplies as do oil and gas extraction. As of writing, the US has around 23 days of crude oil and gasoline supply in hand (and ~44 days of distillates). However, electric pumps are needed to deliver oil and gas via pipelines and even to deliver petrol at the pumps.

There are also the massive logistical issues that energy companies would be faced with in the event of a long-lasting power disruption. In the absence of computers and electronic records, ensuring steady deliveries of fuel would become a nightmare, not least due to the horrors of processing transactions when all major financial institutions are effectively compromised. Furthermore, the potential for civil disorder would create an unwelcome dilemma for any workers, given the conflict between keeping watch over their families and reporting for duty.

In the case of the UK, the National Risk Register, which was revised this April, warns that organizations should “prepare for the possibility of total loss of electricity for an entire region for up to 24 hours, and to some rural areas for up to one week.” It somewhat confidently states that “if there is an unexpected shutdown of the grid, power will begin to be restored across the grid over three days.” Given the issues associated with transformer replacement as detailed, earlier, this suggests that UK contingency plans may be inadequate in the event of a major GMD (geomagnetic disturbance).

The ice storm that affected Eastern Canada in 1998 and its immediate aftermath is a good example of what happens when electricity supplies are disrupted. It left 4 million people without electricity and resulted in the cessation of almost all economic activity for weeks. Only the continued operation of a single power line to the Montreal island prevented the need to evacuate 1m people due to water shortages. The disruption  is estimated to have cost US$5-7bn for all affected areas. In contrast, a similar outage in 1961 had much less of an effect, as the transition to IT-based systems for infrastructure had yet to take place.

The National Academy of Sciences puts the total economic cost of a widespread power disruption triggered by solar activity at 20 times that of Hurricane Katrina, which after devastating New Orleans, racked up damages equivalent to around US$125bn. At US$2.5tn, this would be roughly equivalent to 17.5 per cent of entire US annual GDP. It also warns that such an event could knock out GPS navigation, air travel and emergency radio communications, adding to the difficulties in bringing an appropriate response to bear.

Space storm alert: 90 seconds from catastrophe
(Excerpts) – “IT IS midnight on 22 September 2012 and the skies above Manhattan are filled with a flickering curtain of colorful light. Few New Yorkers have seen the aurora this far south but their fascination is short-lived. Within a few seconds, electric bulbs dim and flicker, then become unusually bright for a fleeting moment. Then all the lights in the state go out. Within 90 seconds, the entire eastern half of the US is without power.
“A fierce solar storm could lead to a global disaster on an unprecedented scale.”
“A year later and millions of Americans are dead and the nation’s infrastructure lies in tatters. The World Bank declares America a developing nation. Europe, Scandinavia, China and Japan are also struggling to recover from the same fateful event – a violent storm, 150 million kilometers away on the surface of the sun.
“It sounds ridiculous. Surely the sun couldn’t create so profound a disaster on Earth. Yet an extraordinary report funded by NASA and issued by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in January this year claims it could do just that.”
“We’re moving closer and closer to the edge of a possible disaster,” says Daniel Baker, a space weather expert based at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and chair of the NAS committee responsible for the report.
“From time to time,” the report says, the solar wind “carries a billion-ton glob of plasma, a fireball known as a coronal mass ejection. If one should hit the Earth’s magnetic shield, the result could be truly devastating.”
“The incursion of the plasma into our atmosphere causes rapid changes in the configuration of Earth’s magnetic field which, in turn, induce currents in the long wires of the power grids. The grids were not built to handle this sort of direct current electricity.”
“A severe space weather event in the US could induce ground currents that would knock out 300 key transformers within about 90 seconds, cutting off the power for more than 130 million people.”
First to go – immediately for those in high-rise buildings – is drinkable water.
With no trains, no trucks, no cars (filling stations wouldn’t be able to pump gas) supermarket shelves would empty very quickly.
Back-up generators would run out of fuel in less than 72 hours. After that, hospitals shut down. No more modern healthcare. And with the factories shuttered, no more medications.
And forget nuclear power. The stations are programmed to shut down in the event of serious grid problems and are not allowed to restart until the power grid is up and running, the report says.
With no power for heating, cooling or refrigeration systems, people could begin to die within days.
“It could conceivably be the worst natural disaster possible,” the report says, “a planetary disaster.”  “It is questionable whether the US would ever bounce back.”
See entire article by Michael Brooks.

Solar flares: the threat to come
8/1/10, Alt-Country.org, by Dr Samuel Fenwick
Excerpt from: http://alt-country.org/Thread.aspx?ID=3048352
Recent warnings by NASA that the Sun’s current lack of activity may soon come to an end with dire implications for the world’s power sector have refocused attention on the effort being made to harden the world’s electricity networks against electromagnetic interference.
Current projections by NASA suggest that we may soon be due for a CME on the scale of the 1859 event. According to Dr Richard Fisher, director of the agency’s heliophysics division, solar flare activity varies in accordance with an 11-year cycle and is currently emerging from a quiet period, while the sun’s magnetic energy peaks every 22 years. As a result, solar activity is set to reach its maximum during the 2012-2015 period.
The point of greatest vulnerability in our electricity networks is the transformer. A simulation conducted by Metatech indicated that a geomagnetic storm roughly 10 times the strength of that seen in 1989 could melt the copper windings of around 350 of the highest voltage transformers in the US,  effectively knocking out a third of the entire US power grid and impacting an area 10 times that of the 1989 storm.
Furthermore, the large size of the damaged transformers would effectively prevent field repairs and in most cases, new units would have to be shipped in from abroad, ensuring that their replacement would take weeks or even months. Given that other countries could also be adversely affected and that the majority of transformers are manufactured in Brazil, China, Europe and India, there is no guarantee that the US would be the first priority for resupply in such an event. Although the industry has weathered geomagnetic storms of the highest (K9) classification since 1989 with little impact on performance, thanks to specialized operating procedures, all these storms were much less intense than the 1989 storm.

Massive Solar Storm Could Cause Catastrophic Nuclear Threat in US
6 August 2011, International Business Times, By Satya Nagendra Padala
Excerpt pasted from: http://www.ibtimes.com/massive-solar-storm-could-cause-catastrophic-nuclear-threat-us-825205
“A severe solar storm could cause global chaos, wrecking satellite communications and would take down the most important power grids in the world for a period of years.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts four “extreme” and many “severe” solar emissions which could threaten the planet during the current decade. NASA has warned that a peak in the sun’s magnetic energy cycle and the number of sun spots or flares around 2013 could generate huge radiation levels.
This is a special problem in the United States and especially a severe threat in the eastern United States. Government studies showed that “extreme” solar flare emissions can cause blackouts for weeks, months or even years, in very large areas of the nation.

An extremely large solar storm would induce geomagnetic currents that could destroy a substantial fraction of the very largest transformers on the power grid.  If this happened, electric power loss due to a large solar storm would be out for a period of years and possibly decades.

Last month, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said that U.S. plants affected by a blackout should be able to cope without electricity for atleast eight hours and should have procedures to keep the reactor and spent-fuel pool cool for 72 hours.
Nuclear plants depend on standby batteries and backup diesel generators. Most standby power systems would continue to function after a severe solar storm, but supplying the standby power systems with adequate fuel, when the main power grids are offline for years, could become a very critical problem.

If the spent fuel rod pools at the country’s 104 nuclear power plants lose their connection to the power grid, the current regulations are not sufficient to guarantee those pools won’t boil over, exposing the hot, zirconium-clad rods and sparking fires that would release deadly radiation.

A recent report by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory discloses that over the standard 40-year license term of nuclear power plants, solar flare activity provides a 33 percent chance of long-term power loss. This is a risk far greater than most other natural disasters, including major earthquakes and tsunamis…”

Hope n’ Change
Our highly technological modern society is great in a lot of ways…and really, really bad in one specific way: it’s very delicate.   The electronics, computers, and circuit boards that run everything in our lives could be instantly fried by either a naturally occurring solar flare, or the “electro-magnetic pulse” of a single nuclear weapon fired high in our atmosphere.  Electricity would be shut off. Water, pumped from afar, would stop coming out of faucets. There would be no communications. Most recent cars wouldn’t run. Access to food and emergency care would be cut off. And in the resulting chaos, there are estimates that as much as 90% of Americans could die.
As if that wasn’t scary enough, we’re now entering a new period of strong solar activity – with a major X2 coronal ejection 15 February 2011.  The good news is that scientists have determined we could “harden” our electrical grid for $100 million dollars, and the House unanimously passed a resolution saying “Yes! Let’s do it! Quick!”
But in the Senate, they said “where are the votes for us if we fund this?” and, not finding any, they killed it. And maybe us. Of course, $100 million is a lot of money. But it’s only 1/1650th of what congress added to our debt in just one week. And only 1/260th of what the Democrats just decided to give to teachers’ unions to buy more votes for November.
By comparison, potentially saving the Earth seems like it could have been a pretty good deal. But since it didn’t happen, we can all continue to look toward the sun…and hope for no change.

 An Overview of Solar Activities
The Sun provides the energy needed for life to exist on Earth. Every so often, sunspots and solar flares occur on the Sun’s surface and can cause disruptions in our daily lives. From the invention of the telescope in the 17th Century to NASA’s Nimbus-7 satellite, innovations have allowed us to gaze into space and study the sun and moon in amazing detail. The sun is constantly changing and we have been studying sunspots, solar flares and other solar phenomena for hundreds of years.

The sun emits radiation across the entire electromagnetic spectrum.
• Visible: This part of the spectrum, which we can detect with our eyes, allows us to see and provides the energy for plants to produce food by photosynthesis.
• Ultraviolet (UV): We cannot see this part of the spectrum, but it can damage unprotected skin, producing anything from a mild to severe burn to skin cancer.
• Infrared: This part of the spectrum is made up of invisible rays that provide the heat that helps keep the Earth warm.
• Charged Particles: The sun continuously emits energy and particles that make up the solar wind. When the charged particles interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, particularly near the poles, the result is the aurora borealis, which is a spectacular display of color in the night sky.

1.  A gusty solar wind
The solar wind has a speed ranging from 300 to more than 1000 km/s, with an average of about 400 km/s. Its composition is very similar to the solar one, i.e., it’s 80% hydrogen with 20% Helium. However, as the outer solar atmosphere (solar corona) has an extreme temperature of about 1 million K, this highly rarefied gas is fully ionized, a condition called a gas plasma. Therefore, the solar wind is made mostly of protons (hydrogen nuclei) and free electrons (>50% of solar wind particles). This vast medium permeated by this steady outward stream of particles is often called the heliosphere, and extends to about 170 times the Sun-Earth distance where its merges with the interstellar medium.
Despite its very low density (about one particle per cubic cm at the distance of the Earth), the solar wind exerts a substantial dynamical pressure on the Earth magnetic field. The Earth magnetosphere thus takes the shape of an elongated “bubble” floating in the solar wind, with a bow shock on the Sun-facing side and a very long magneto tail away from the Sun. Acting as magnetic bottle, the magnetosphere stores particles originating in the solar wind in toroidal radiation belts, the so-called Van Allen belts, a few solar radii above the Earth Equator. One can then easily understand that any change in the speed, density and direction of the wind will cause deformations and compressions of this magnetic container with various drastic consequences that we will describe soon.

2.  Sunspots
Sunspots are dark areas that form and disappear on the surface of the Sun over periods of days or weeks. Sunspots are caused by concentrated magnetic fields that reduce the amount of energy flow to the surface of the sun from its interior. The reduced energy flow causes the area to cool from about 10,800 ºF (the average temperature of the Sun’s surface) to 7,600 ºF. Because sunspots are cooler than the rest of the Sun, they appear dark on the Sun’s surface. Sunspots are so big that all of planet Earth would fit into a sunspot.

3.  Solar Flares
Solar flares are the release, in a single burst, of energy in many forms – electro-magnetic (from radio waves through the visible spectrum to gamma rays and x-rays), energetic particles (protons and electrons), and matter that is so hot it is in the form of plasma. Flares are characterized by their brightness in x-rays. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration monitors the x-rays from the Sun with detectors on some of its satellites. Observations for the last few days are available at NOAA’s website, Today’s Space Weather.
Flares are closely related to the cycles of the Sun’s magnetic field, and they emerge from relatively cool, intensely magnetic regions of the solar surface – sunspots.
The energy released during a flare is typically ten million times greater than the energy released from a volcanic explosion. Even then, it only releases a fraction of the total energy emitted by the Sun every second. The radiation and radioactive particles released during solar flare activity can damage satellites and interrupt radio communications on Earth. Coronal mass ejections are the sudden release of large masses of plasma from the very hot corona, which is the atmosphere just above the surface of the sun. CMEs expand away from the Sun at speeds as high as 4 million miles per hours! The light and x-rays accompanying a CME reach earth in a few minutes. The mass of particles may take three to five days to arrive. Solar flares are occasionally accompanied by Coronal Mass Ejections.

4.  Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs)
A typical CME is composed of 1-10 billion tons of particles and combined with solar flares are the biggest “explosions” in our solar system, roughly approaching the power in ONE BILLION hydrogen bombs! See image at left.
Coronal mass ejections are the sudden release of large masses of plasma from the very hot corona, which is the atmosphere just above the surface of the sun. CMEs expand away from the Sun at speeds as high as 4 million miles per hours! The light and x-rays accompanying a CME reach earth in a few minutes. The mass of particles may take three to five days to arrive. (The associated picture, taken by the SOHO [Solar and Heliospheric Observatory] spacecraft, shows a CME.
Coronal mass ejections are more likely to have a significant effect on our activities than solar flares because they carry more material into a larger volume of interplanetary space, increasing the likelihood that they will interact with the Earth. CMEs typically drive shock waves that produce energetic particles that can be damaging to both electronic equipment and astronauts that venture outside the protection of the Earth’s magnetic field.

5.  Geomagnetic Storms
While a flare alone produces high-energy particles near the Sun, a CME can reach the Earth and disturb the Earth’s magnetosphere, setting off a geomagnetic storm. Often, these storms produce surges in the power grid and static on the radio, and, if the waves of energetic particles are strong enough, they can overload power grids and drown out radio signals. This type of activity can also affect ground to air, ship to shore, and navigational communication, military detection, and early warning systems.
Observing the ejection of CMEs from the Sun provides an early warning of geomagnetic storms. Only recently, with SOHO, has it been possible to continuously observe the emission of CMEs from the Sun and determine if they are aimed at the Earth.

“Solar Shield” experimental forecasting system studied
NASA has created a new project called “Solar Shield” in an effort to prevent damage to key transformers in the case of a severe solar storm.
Unfortunately, a report composed by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and the U.S. Department of Energy in 2009 warns that modern power systems, though several utilities have taken the necessary steps to strengthen and secure their power grids, have a “significantly enhanced vulnerability and exposure to effects of a severe geomagnetic storm.”
To protect power systems in the event that another powerful solar storm should occur, NASA has developed a project called “Solar Shield,” which has the potential to shelter high-voltage power lines that crisscross over North America. Considering the length of these power lines has “increased nearly 10 fold” since the beginning of the Space Age, it is critical to consider the effect a solar storm could have on power systems in the United States and throughout the world.
“Solar Shield is a new and experimental forecasting system for the North American power grid,” said Antti Pulkkinen, project leader and Catholic University of America research associate currently working with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “We believe we can zero in on specific transformers and predict which of them are going to be hit the hardest by a space weather event.”
Geomagnetically induced currents (GICs) are the main problems when it comes to power grids during geomagnetic storms. When a CME approaches Earth’s magnetic field, it causes the field to shake. This quiver causes currents from the ground to Earth’s upper atmosphere, and powerful GICs can trip breakers, overload circuits and melt the windings of transformers. Transformer damage leads to large-scale blackouts, and these transformers cannot be repaired in the field. They must be replaced, which is both expensive and time consuming.
“Solar Shield springs into action when we see a coronal mass ejection (CME) billowing away from the sun,” said Pulkkinen. “Images from SOHO and NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft show us the cloud from as many as three points of view, allowing us to make a 3D model of the CME, and predict when it will arrive.”
The CME typically takes 24 to 48 hours to cross the Sun-Earth divide. During this time, NASA researchers at the Goddard Community Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC) are gathering physics-based computer programs to model the CME. Thirty minutes before impact, ACE, a spacecraft stationed 1.5 million km “upstream from Earth,” uses its sensors to make in situ measurement’s of the CME’s magnetic field, density and speed, then sends the data to the Solar Shield team on Earth. The data is fed into CCMC computers where models predict currents and fields in Earth’s upper atmosphere and transmit this information to the ground. The Solar Shield team is then prepared to send alerts to utilities with details about the GICs.

ACE Spacecraft
The Earth is constantly bombarded with a stream of accelerated particles arriving not only from the Sun, but also from interstellar and galactic sources. Study of these energetic particles, or cosmic rays, contributes to our understanding of the formation and evolution of the solar system, as well as the astrophysical processes involved. The Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft carries six high-resolution sensors and three monitoring instruments to sample low-energy particles of solar origin and high-energy galactic particles.
From a vantage point approximately 1/100 of the distance from the Earth to the Sun, ACE performs measurements over a wide range of energy and nuclear mass, under all solar wind flow conditions and during both large and small particle events including solar flares. ACE provides near-real-time solar wind information over short time periods. When reporting space weather, ACE can provide an advance warning (about one hour) of geomagnetic storms that can overload power grids, disrupt communications on Earth, and present a hazard to astronauts.
ACE orbits the L1 libration point which is a point of Earth-Sun gravitational equilibrium, about 1.5 million km from Earth and 148.5 million km from the Sun. The elliptical orbit affords ACE a prime view of the Sun and the galactic regions beyond.

Sun’s protective heliosphere ‘bubble’ is shrinking
The protective bubble around the sun that helps to shield the Earth from harmful interstellar radiation is shrinking and getting weaker, NASA scientists have warned.
By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent 1:30PM BST 18 Oct 2008
New data has revealed that the heliosphere, the protective shield of energy that surrounds our solar system, has weakened by 25 per cent over the past decade and is now at it lowest level since the space race began 50 years ago.
Scientists are baffled at what could be causing the barrier to shrink in this way and are to launch mission to study the heliosphere.
Dr. Nathan Schwadron, co-investigator on the IBEX mission at Boston University, said: “The interstellar medium, which is part of the galaxy as a whole, is actually quite a harsh environment. There is a very high energy galactic radiation that is dangerous to living things.
“Around 90 per cent of the galactic cosmic radiation is deflected by our heliosphere, so the boundary protects us from this harsh galactic environment.” The heliosphere is created by the solar wind, a combination of electrically charged particles and magnetic fields that emanate a more than a million miles an hour from the sun, meet the intergalactic gas that fills the gaps in space between solar systems. At the boundary where they meet a shock wave is formed that deflects interstellar radiation around the solar system as it travels through the galaxy.
Without the heliosphere the harmful intergalactic cosmic radiation would make life on Earth almost impossible by destroying DNA and making the climate uninhabitable. Measurements made by the Ulysses deep space probe, which was launched in 1990 to orbit the sun, have shown that the pressure created inside the heliosphere by the solar wind has been decreasing.
Dr David McComas, principal investigator on the IBEX mission, said: “It is a fascinating interaction that our sun has with the galaxy surrounding us. This million mile an hour wind inflates this protective bubble that keeps us safe from intergalactic cosmic rays. “With less pressure on the inside, the interaction at the boundaries becomes weaker and the heliosphere as a whole gets smaller.”
If the heliosphere continues to weaken, scientists fear that the amount of cosmic radiation reaching the inner parts of our solar system, including Earth, will increase.

Potential Health Effects
Solar flares and coronal mass ejections result in the release of radiation across the spectrum, from x-rays to light waves to fast-moving protons to plasma. We know that satellites can be affected (even made non-functional) and astronauts need to be aware of the risk and seek shelter during these storms. Astronauts on the Space Station receive increased exposure during these solar phenomena. The energetic particles from a flare or CME would be dangerous to an astronaut on a mission to the Moon or Mars. As for sunspots, they are merely cooler regions of the sun and do not cause any particular harm.
Out of all of the Sun’s activities, it is actually the Sun’s UV rays that pose the greatest risk to human health.

What you can do to protect yourself (on a normal, daily basis)
UV rays pose a much greater risk to human health than the radiation from the Sun’s other activities. Here are some of the ways in which you can better protect yourself from the Sun’s harmful UV rays:
•  Cover Up: Wear tightly woven, loose-fitting, and full-length clothing.
•  Wear Sunglasses that Block 99-100% of UV Radiation: Sunglasses that provide 99-100% UVA and UVB protection greatly reduce sun exposure that can lead to cataracts and other eye damage.
•  Always Use Sunscreen: Apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher liberally on exposed skin. Reapply every 2 hours, or after working, swimming, playing, or exercising outdoors.
•  Check daily the UV Index: The UV Index provides important information to help people plan outdoor activities in ways that prevent overexposure to the sun. This information is commonly found near weather predictions in newspapers and on the internet sites, like EPA’s Sunwise UV Index site.

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