"On This Day" In Engineering History Blog

"On This Day" In Engineering History

Tune in to find out about significant engineering events that took place "on this day".

Previous in Blog: February 27, 1812 – Rage Against the Machines   Next in Blog: March 20, 1956 - The Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM)
Close
Close
Close
3 comments

March 13, 1986 – Blackout: The Great Geomagnetic Storm

Posted March 13, 2009 1:43 PM by Steve Melito

On this day in engineering history, a powerful geomagnetic storm paralyzed the Hydro-Québec power grid, leaving 6-million customers without electricity for over nine hours. As the world's largest producer of hydroelectric power, Hydro-Québec provides electricity to the Canadian province of Québec as well as to parts of the northeastern United States.

Although the power outage of March 13, 1986 did not extend beyond the Canadian border, the span of this service failure could have been far greater had it occurred during the peak-demand conditions of the summer or winter months.

Understanding Geomagnetic Storms

Geomagnetic storms are temporary disturbances in the Earth's magnetosphere, an extra-atmospheric zone of charged particles that was discovered by Explorer I in 1958. Earth's magnetic field captures charged particles (protons and electrons) carried by the solar wind, an interplanetary stream of ionized particles that flows from the Sun.

In March 1986, the solar wind brought sunspot-induced auroral electroject currents (AEC) into Earth's magnetosphere at speeds as high as 900 km/s. These large, multi-ampere currents flowed in an oval shape and became centered over Earth's north and south magnetic poles, regions where magnetism is concentrated.

Magnetic Poles and Geomagnetically Induced Currents (GIC)

According to the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the Hydro-Québec power grid is particularly vulnerable to geomagnetic storms because of its proximity to Earth's North Magnetic Pole, which lies off Canada's Ellesmere Island and shifts across the Arctic . The North Magnetic Pole is the point on the Earth's surface where the magnetic field is directed vertically downward. When the solar wind is aligned with this magnetic field, the resulting auroras can be especially intense.

Like many other parts of North America, Québec is rich in igneous rock, a geological formation with high electrical resistivity. When geomagnetic storms occur, the AGU's John G. Kappenman explains, "the high resistance of igneous rock encourages geomagnetically induced currents (GICs) to flow in the power transmission lines situated above the rock." The resulting electrical disturbances can be severe.

The image that accompanies this blog-entry (top left) depicts the auroral zone created by the auroral electroject current (AEC) of March 9, 1986. Auroras appear as brightly-colored "lights" in the Earth's atmosphere, typically in the polar regions. With the Great Geomagnetic Storm of 1986, however, auroras were visible as far south as Texas.

Resources:

http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/eiskappenman.html

http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1987SoPh..109..119G

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydro-Qu%C3%A9bec

http://www.qrg.northwestern.edu/projects/vss/docs/space-environment/3-what-is-solar-wind.html

http://physics.fortlewis.edu/Astronomy/astronomy%20today/CHAISSON/GLOSSARY/GLOSS_M.HTM

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Magnetic_Pole

http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/space/SpaceRepublish_1003429.htm

Reply

Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Comments rated to be "almost" Good Answers:

Check out these comments that don't yet have enough votes to be "official" good answers and, if you agree with them, rate them!
Guru
Engineering Fields - Electrical Engineering - New Member

Join Date: Sep 2006
Location: El Lago, Texas, USA
Posts: 2639
Good Answers: 65
#1

Re: March 13, 1986 – Blackout: The Great Geomagnetic Storm

03/15/2009 8:57 AM

There's a much worse one on the way. We don't know when, but it's inevitable, and the next one will do far more damage, since we are far more reliant on satellites than we were in 1986.

Also see the Carrington event of 1859.

Reply
Guru

Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Defreestville, NY
Posts: 1072
Good Answers: 87
#2

Re: March 13, 1986 – Blackout: The Great Geomagnetic Storm

03/16/2009 1:45 PM

It was March 13, 1989.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geomagnetic_storm

__________________
Charlie don't surf.
Reply Score 1 for Good Answer
Guru

Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: Transcendia
Posts: 2963
Good Answers: 93
#3
In reply to #2

Re: March 13, 1986 – Blackout: The Great Geomagnetic Storm

07/07/2009 9:59 AM

Thanks Stevem, That was an interesting event, as I had just had a break up, had no landline, and was dependent on my pager. I was working freelance, was finishing one job, and looking for another. The pager was knocked out, and people who were trying to get ahold of me couldn't, so I lost work.

__________________
You don't get wise because you got old, you get old because you were wise.
Reply
Reply to Blog Entry 3 comments
Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Comments rated to be "almost" Good Answers:

Check out these comments that don't yet have enough votes to be "official" good answers and, if you agree with them, rate them!
Copy to Clipboard

Users who posted comments:

bhankiii (1); stevem (1); Transcendian (1)

Previous in Blog: February 27, 1812 – Rage Against the Machines   Next in Blog: March 20, 1956 - The Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM)

Advertisement