Category Archives: Geomagnetic Storm

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How Would Bitcoin Be Impacted by a Geomagnetic Reversal?

The Earth’s magnetic field experiences a geomagnetic reversal periodically, which is where the north pole becomes the south pole, and the south pole becomes the north pole. This would cause compasses to point in the direction opposite to what they do today.  A geomagnetic reversal does not happen all at once, it is a process which takes 1,000-10,000 years, during which time the Earth’s magnetic field becomes much weaker and also splits into several pieces. This would result in an increase of charged particles from the solar wind bombarding Earth’s surface, making geomagnetic storms far more dangerous. Since Bitcoin relies on electronics, the Bitcoin network and Bitcoin users could experience detrimental effects during a geomagnetic reversal. This article explores how Bitcoin would be impacted by a geomagnetic reversal, and the possible ways to mitigate negative effects.

There have been 183 geomagnetic reversals over the past 83 million years, yielding an average of 1 geomagnetic reversal per 450,000 years. Reversals are due to patches of iron atoms in Earth’s outer-core becoming reverse aligned, and as these patches of reverse magnetism grow stronger they weaken Earth’s overall magnetic field and then cause it to flip. Sometimes the reversal does not complete itself, resulting in a geomagnetic excursion where the Earth’s field weakens and can even briefly flip, but only for a relatively short amount of time before the field returns to normal. A geomagnetic excursion can have the same damaging effects as a full reversal for electronics and Bitcoin since it comes down to a weaker magnetic field letting in charged particles from space. Geomagnetic reversals and excursions are actually theorized to cause mass extinctions, due to all the radiation that gets to the surface due to a weaker magnetic field.

While a geomagnetic reversal sounds like something that will not happen in our lifetimes due to its long geological time scale, it appears that a geomagnetic excursion or reversal is already beginning. This makes sense since it has been 780,000 years since the last geomagnetic reversal, although, only 41,000 years since the last geomagnetic excursion. The Earth’s magnetic field has been progressively growing weaker over a large area of South America and the South Atlantic, and this is called the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA). Already, the Earth’s Van Allen belt of energized charged particles has dipped to within 200 km of the surface over the SAA, as opposed to its normal altitude of 500 km. Eventually, the SAA could strengthen and lead to a geomagnetic excursion or reversal.

The Van Allen belts would actually crash right into the surface of the Earth during a geomagnetic reversal, since there would be potential for multiple poles to develop besides the 2 poles we have today, highly distorting the magnetic field. This would pose a great danger to all electronics, including the internet and computer infrastructure which runs the Bitcoin network. Shields for Van Allen belt radiation have already been developed for satellites in low earth orbit, such as the International Space Station since they pass through the Van Allen belt when they travel through the SAA. This same sort of shielding might have to be integrated into computers, internet cables, and power cables during the future when a geomagnetic reversal happens, in order for Bitcoin to function properly.

Beyond this, geomagnetic storms would become far more severe. Even in our modern times, a strong enough geomagnetic storm could knock out power and internet for up to a billion people and causes trillions of USD of damage. This is due to currents being generated in electronic devices, and especially cables, as the local magnetic field rapidly fluctuates during a geomagnetic storm. The tropics and even most of the mid-latitudes are well protected from geomagnetic storms thanks to the Earth’s magnetic field, but during a geomagnetic reversal the Earth’s magnetic field would be much weaker and possibly split into more than 2 poles, which would allow severe geomagnetic storm effects to occur anywhere, even in the deepest parts of the tropics.

Geomagnetic storms are predictable, so a mitigation strategy to protect the Bitcoin network is to turn off electronics prone to power surges before a geomagnetic storm hits. That strategy will have to be mixed with shielding some Bitcoin full nodes around the world, to make them impregnable to geomagnetic storms, since Bitcoin will need some full nodes operating 24/7 to keep the network alive. This is as opposed to currently, where even during the strongest geomagnetic storm Bitcoin full nodes in the tropics are automatically shielded due to the Earth’s magnetic field. During a reversal, there’s no place where a Bitcoin full node will be totally safe.

Solar power to generate electricity when the power grid goes down, as well as internet cables that are well shielded, will be essential to keep Bitcoin alive during the onslaught of geomagnetic storms and Van Allen belt radiation during a geomagnetic reversal. A simple strategy could be for large Bitcoin mining farms to make an impregnable shield against external radiation and charged particles since it will be essential to keep Bitcoin mining hardware safe and online so the network remains secure, and Bitcoin miners also function as full nodes.

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How a Severe Geomagnetic Storm Would Impact Bitcoin

In September 1859, the Carrington Event occurred. It was the largest geomagnetic storm in recorded history to impact Earth. Telegraph operators received electrical shocks, and telegraph pylons sparked and failed. Simultaneously, after power supplies for the telegraph lines failed, telegrams could still be sent due to all the energy flowing through the lines from the geomagnetic storm.

How might Bitcoin be impacted if a geomagnetic storm of this level occurred today?

Geomagnetic storms are caused by solar flares, violent ejections of radiation and mass from the surface of the sun that travel at high speeds across the solar system. They are caused by powerful magnetic loops on the surface of the sun suddenly changing position, leaving a helical magnetic field unconnected to the surface of the sun. Radiation and mass accelerate rapidly along this field and eject out into space. The energy released by a solar flare is more than enough to incinerate the planet Earth, if it were close enough to the sun. Fortunately, we are 93 million miles away.

The Earth has its own magnetic field, like the sun, and when a solar flare’s magnetic field impacts the Earth it causes sudden changes in Earth’s magnetic field. The most noticeable effect from this is Aurora Borealis, caused by Earth’s magnetic field being compressed and magnetic field lines connecting down through the surface rather than staying out in space. This causes highly charged particles to flow along the field down into Earth’s atmosphere, and when they interact with the atmosphere they react with gases which then emit various colors of light. During the Carrington Event, Aurora Borealis was observed as far south as Cuba and Hawaii, whereas usually it is only observed in polar areas like Alaska or Norway.

The change in Earth’s geomagnetic field generates electrical currents in conductors, even the ground begins to flow with electricity. Power lines and internet cables, especially the long ones that span across continents, would have massive electrical currents from a geomagnetic storm. This is because any moving magnetic field generates electrical currents in conductors according to basic physics.

This intense energy flowing through power lines and cables would destroy a vast amount of technological infrastructure. It is estimated that trillions of dollars of damage would occur if a Carrington Event occurred today, and hundreds of millions of people, if not a billion, would lose power across the world for weeks and even months. Internet service providers would go down for extended periods of time.

The first impact on Bitcoin is obvious. If there is no power and no internet, Bitcoin simply doesn’t work. If a geomagnetic storm like the Carrington Event occurred today, it could cause a majority of Bitcoin users to go offline. Global Bitcoin trading volume would plummet, and it wouldn’t function as a currency. Bitcoin users would be forced to use physical cash and this is one instance where physical cash has an advantage over Bitcoin.

Further, mining farms would be at extreme risk. The surge of power during a geomagnetic storm could fry the rigs in a mining farm causing devastating losses. Even if no rigs were damaged, the loss of power and internet for weeks or months could sink most mining operations. Bitcoin miners depend on mining round the clock to maintain profitability, and any interruption of that ruins the entire business model.

All sorts of computers would likely get fried as the first blast of energy surges through the power grid during a geomagnetic storm. This might cause people to lose Bitcoins if they stored the, only on that computer. This is a reason to make physical backups of private keys, or use a hardware wallet that is almost always disconnected from power and internet.

It is practically inevitable that a major solar flare like the Carrington Event will hit Earth one day, and Bitcoin users can be ready for it if properly educated. Since solar flares move at a speed far less than the speed of light, the Space Weather Prediction Center can issue forecasts several days ahead of time, so people can simply disconnect their computers and mining rigs if the big one is imminent.


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