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Metal pipelines, such as this one in Alaska, are often used to transport oil or gas long distances. Many are located at high latitudes, where space weather can generate strong electrical currents. Electrical currents flowing in metal pipes causes corrosion, making the pipes wear out more quickly.
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Image courtesy of Donald D. Rice.

Space Weather Effects on Pipelines

Pipelines for transporting oil, natural gas, and water are often made of conducting materials like steel. Very long pipelines (thousands of kilometers/miles) are used to transport oil and gas at high latitudes, especially in the Arctic. Intense electric currents flow in the atmosphere at high latitudes during space weather disturbances. These nonsteady currents create fluctuating magnetic fields that are felt at the Earth's surface. By the process of electromagnetic induction, fluctuating magnetic fields induce currents in the Earth's surface. In regions with large concentrations of rocks that don't conduct electricity well (such as igneous rocks) the currents find the paths of least resistance and become concentrated in man-made conductors like pipelines. The currents flow between the Earth and the pipeline, causing increased corrosion of the pipeline.

Last modified July 11, 2008 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF