Correction: You, Not the Birds, Are the First Line of Defense for Space Weather

If you’re here in Austin, along with a few thousand of your closest professional colleagues, you’re not just here to share what you know. You’re here to learn what you need to know for the next great opportunity. Chances are, that opportunity is not at all where you were looking for it just a few years ago. It’s going to take a correction of professional course, and the AMS Annual Meeting is the place to start making that correction.
The next great thing in atmospheric science may be working closer with your colleagues who study the biology and chemistry of air-sea exchanges. It might mean getting to know how to deal with social science. It might mean looking above the clouds and not below, or taking input from different scales of time and space and applying them to your own, or thinking about renewable energy, not just potential and kinetic energy.
If you’re ready to take a hint from community leaders like NWS Acting Director Laura Furgione, UCAR President Tom Bogdan, and others, let alone the National Research Council, it’s time to start learning about the opportunities from outer space, too. In fact it is barely too soon to do so: our economic infrastructure is already completely wrapped up in technology that is highly dependent on the good graces of the sun. One little blip of activity for our massive sun, like a Coronal Mass Ejection, can wreak billions of dollars worth of havoc–and temporary infrastructure paralysis–on our little planet Earth. Space weather is not just one of those next great things in research and forecasting, it’s already crucial.
Yet research shows that right now, the birds likely know more about space weather than the average weather forecaster. That’s right: according to recent laboratory findings, birds have an innate ability, probably due to the chemistry and mechanics of their ears, that enables them to follow Earth’s geomagnetic fields on their long annual migrations. Birds use space weather to find their way. They can hear geomagnetic fields, we can’t.
A number of your colleagues will be correcting that right here in Austin. Some will attend the 10th Conference on Space Weather. (Yes, the 10th! Where have you been? In that time, not only has smartphone usage exploded, but the number of flight operations over the poles has increased by 28-fold–an amazing testament to rapid growth of vulnerability to Space Weather.) The good news for those looking for an opportunity to start making the correction now is that Sunday has two half-day short-course sessions on Space Weather. Students wondering what’s next after their conference ends at noon might be encouraged to know that the afternoon session includes interactive discussion with a blue ribbon space weather panel–and that students are eligible for reduced rate registration!
According to the short course description, “meteorologists are frequently the “first line of defense” for the public.” Clearly this is no job for birds. Time to make that correction, take that opportunity.