The Northern Lights Screw Up Arctic Drilling Operations

Image by NASA
Image by NASA

The Aurora Borealis are a beautiful sight—but, it turns out, they can be a real pain in the ass too. A new report explains that they can and do mess up drilling operations, especially in areas around the Arctic where they’re most common.

Auroras happen when solar winds disturb the Earth’s magnetosphere. As a result, charged particles—mainly electrons and protons—pour into the upper atmosphere, losing energy as they do so. The loss of energy occurs through the ionization and excitation of different constituents in the atmosphere, creating the cool colors associated with the northern lights.

But research by Inge Edvardsen from the University of Tromsø suggests that the disturbances in the atmosphere can cause magnetic sensor—which most drilling operations use to determine their position—to play up. In turn, drilling can be imprecise. His research reveals that the problem gets worse the further North one drills.


What’s to do? He suggest the answer is pretty straightforward: Install extra measurements systems below ground and at the bottom of the sea, where possible, to help corroborate the land-based measurement systems.

[UIT via Barents Observer]

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So it’s not the Northern Lights that are the problem, it’s the same phenomenon that causes the Northern Lights that’s the problem. That could have been a lot more clear, but then nobody would click on it.