How Bitcoin (BTC) Can Prepare for a Severe Geomagnetic Storm

January 22, 2019 / by Zachary Mashiach

Since the creation of Bitcoin (BTC) in 2009, there have been no severe geomagnetic storms. However, Bitcoin (BTC) users are highly dependent on internet and electricity, and it is inevitable that one day, a severe geomagnetic storm will disrupt Bitcoin (BTC) users across the globe.

A geomagnetic storm starts at the surface of the sun, where massive helical loops of magnetic energy extend outwards into space. These helical magnetic fields often break down in a phenomenon known as magnetic reconnection, and this projects a tremendous amount of radiation and charged particles into space. This is called a solar flare and coronal mass ejection.

When solar flares hit the Earth, they cause rapid fluctuations in Earth’s magnetic field. A fluctuating magnetic field induces electrical currents in conductors. The world’s internet is connected with cables that span the entire ocean, and these cables are highly susceptible to induced electric currents from a geomagnetic storm. Further, electrical power lines extend across great distances on land, and during a severe geomagnetic storm, the current would become so great that transformers would explode and power substations could catch fire.

In March 1989 a severe geomagnetic storm caused Quebec’s power grid to go down within seconds, and another storm in August 1989 halted trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange. However, these events do not compare to the Carrington Event of 1859, the largest geomagnetic storm in recorded human history. Telegraphs system across the world were overloaded with induced electrical current, causing pylons to spark and operators to get shocked. After electricity was cut from the grid numerous telegraph operators were still able to send messages since the geomagnetic storm was generating electricity in the lines. Aurora Borealis, an atmospheric phenomena typically only observed in polar regions, was observed as far south as Cuba and Hawaii.

If the Carrington Event were to occur today, it would shut down electrical and communication grids for days, months, even years, and ultimately, damage could be trillions of dollars. In 2012, a Carrington-sized solar flare happened, but it missed Earth.

The Bitcoin network has just over 10,000 full nodes as of this writing, mostly centered in the United States, Europe, China, and Japan. Unfortunately these nodes are far enough from the equator that they would be highly susceptible to a severe geomagnetic storm and would likely go offline.

Maintaining Bitcoin nodes in the tropics, especially right around the equator, will be crucial to the survival of the Bitcoin network during a severe geomagnetic storm. Even in the worst geomagnetic storm, the equatorial region will be shielded by Earth’s magnetic field, and nations right on the equator may experience little disruption to their electricity and internet.

At this time, there are only about 50 Bitcoin nodes in the equatorial region, mostly in Malaysia, Venezuela, and Colombia. In order for the Bitcoin network to be robust in the event of the most catastrophic geomagnetic storm, global efforts should be made to increase the number of Bitcoin nodes and mining farms along the equator.

Bitcoin users at higher latitudes, like the United States, can take steps to prepare for a geomagnetic storm. All Bitcoin and cryptocurrency should be held in personal wallets where the private key is exclusively controlled by the user, since even reputable wallet services could have their servers fried during a severe geomagnetic storm.

Also, having a personal source of renewable electricity like wind, solar, or hydroelectric could ensure that Bitcoin users keep their electricity running even when the whole grid collapses.

Bitcoin users and miners should disconnect their computers and rigs from electricity before the geomagnetic storm hits. For the most severe geomagnetic storms — ones like the Carrington Event — there is less than one day of warning. Bitcoin users can monitor the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) to avoid being caught off-guard. Computers and mining rigs connected to electricity during a geomagnetic storm could get fried by the induced electrical current.

Maintaining an internet connection is the hardest thing to prepare for. Not even satellite internet is a good option, nor the Blockstream satellites which broadcast the Bitcoin blockchain from space, since satellites can easily get fried by radiation during a severe geomagnetic storm. The best thing Bitcoin users could do is make sure they control their private keys, have a personal renewable electricity source, protect their computer from the storm, and wait for electricity to come back up.