Space Weather Workshop: Day 1

I’m at the Space Weather Workshop, an annual meeting sponsored by the NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. When it comes to interfacing space weather science, policy, applications and forecasting, this is THE meeting to be at. I’ll be posting updates summarizing each day.

 

The stage setup for the Space Weather Workshop before the conference begins.  The “globe” in the center is a circular screen that shows various animations throughout the week.

This year, the conference was kicked off by a talk from Bill Murtagh, a SWPC employee and long-time advocate for Space Weather.  This talk focused on the challenges that remain for space weather forecasting, and wow do we have a long way to go!  He made a specific point concerning the “Halloween Storms” of 2003: the sun had no sun spots leading up to the event, leading us to believe that calm conditions were in our future.  A few days before the event, however, a very large and active sunspot snuck around the edge and produced the massive storm.  We remain very, very limited in our forecasting capabilities.

Bill Murtagh emphasizes that despite great progress, we have a long way to go if we’re going to produce long-term forecasts of space weather.

The focus of this year’s conference is dictated by a set of policy documents recently finalized and released by the National Science and Technology Council – an advisory council to the White House that helps set science goals for the nation.  Two documents, the National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan, set clear goals for the United States’ in terms of forecasting and mitigating the effects of space weather on technology and society.  A rough path for achieving these goals is outlined; the documents also list potential roles and responsibilities for NASA, NSF, other government agencies, universities and the private sector.  These documents make recommendations, but do not have “teeth”- they are not setting policy monetarily or via rule of law.  To enforce the recommendations and create a mandate for government agencies, a bill is currently working through congress.  The bill passed through congress on Tuesday; an announcement of this progress at the workshop was met with resounding applause.  Overall, this is an exciting time for space weather, but also a tumultuous period as all parties attempt to understand how they will fit in as the community adapts to the new mandates. 

On this topic, we heard from many different parties.  Government agencies, such as NSF and NASA, discussed how their current programs fit into the policy documents or how they were changing their programs to better fit with the new mandates.  Talks focused on “R2O2R”, or research-to-operations-to-research.  In other words, how do we translate scientific discoveries to the operational forecast environment quickly and effectively?  How are the problems that arise in the operational environment communicated back to research to improve forecasts?  Universities and commercial entities proposed new centers to support R2O2R work.  There were panel discussions where the audience could pepper the speakers with questions.  

This may seem quite boring to the outside observer, but it is very exciting for us involved in space weather.  The talks and discussions will shape space weather forecasting for years to come.  The decisions made are going to dictate how space weather research is directed and funding.  Day 1 of the Space Weather Workshop is the future of space weather forming in real time.