May 27, 2022 12:30 pm

Ancient ice reveals a mysterious solar storm

Francis Martin Leon 4 min
Ice core obtained in Antarctica, for illustration only. Credit: Heidi Roop, NSF

Through analysis of ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica, a research team led by Lund University in Sweden found evidence of an extreme solar storm that occurred about 9,200 years ago. What puzzles researchers is that the storm took place during one of the calmest phases of the sun, during which it is generally believed that our planet is less exposed to these types of events.

The sun is a prerequisite for all life on Earth. But our life-giving companion can also cause problems. When there is strong activity on the sun’s surface, more energy is released, which can lead to geomagnetic storms. This in turn can cause power outages and communication problems.

Predicting solar storms is difficult. It is now believed that they are most likely during an active phase of the sun, or solar maximum, during the so-called sunspot cycle. However, the new study published in Nature Communications shows that this may not always be the case for very large storms.

We studied drilling cores from Greenland and Antarctica, discovering traces of a massive solar storm that hit Earth during one of the sun’s passive phases about 9,200 years ago.“, says Raimund Muscheler, a geology researcher at Lund University.

The researchers traced the drill cores looking for peaks of the radioactive isotopes beryllium-10 and chlorine-36. These are produced by high energy cosmic particles that reach Earth and can be preserved in ice and sediments.

This is expensive and time-consuming analytical work. Therefore, we were pleasantly surprised to find such a peak, indicating a hitherto unknown giant solar storm in connection with low solar activity.“, dice Raimund Muscheler.

If a similar solar storm were to occur today, it could have devastating consequences.

In addition to power outages and radiation damage to satellites, it could pose a danger to air traffic and astronauts, as well as the collapse of various communication systems.

These huge storms are currently not sufficiently included in risk assessments. It is of the utmost importance to analyze what these events could mean for current technology and how we can protect ourselves“, concludes Raimund Muscheler.


Cosmogenic radionuclides reveal an extreme solar particle storm near a solar minimum 9125 years BP. Chiara I. Paleari, Florian Mekhaldi, Florian Adolphi, Marcus Christl, Christof Vockenhuber, Philip Gautschi, Jürg Beer, Nicolas Brehm, Tobias Erhardt, Hans-Arno Synal, Lukas Wacker, Frank Wilhelms & Raimund Muscheler. Nature Communications volume 13, Article number: 214 (2022)

This entry was posted in Reports on 29 Jan 2022 by Francisco Martín León

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