Long, steel pipelines used to transport essential resources such as gas and oil are potentially vulnerable to space weather. In order to inhibit corrosion, the pipelines are usually coated in an insulating material and maintained at a negative electric potential with respect to Earth using cathodic protection units. During periods of enhanced geomagnetic activity, potential differences between the pipeline and surrounding soil (referred to as pipe-to-soil potentials (PSPs)) may exhibit large voltage swings which place the pipeline outside the recommended “safe range” and at an increased risk of corrosion. The PSP variations result from the “geoelectric” field at the Earth's surface and associated geomagnetic field variations. Previous research investigating the relationship between the surface geoelectric field and geomagnetic source fields has focused on the high-latitude regions where line currents in the ionosphere E region are often the assumed source of the geomagnetic field variations. For the Australian region Sq currents also contribute to the geomagnetic field variations and provide the major contribution during geomagnetic quiet times. This paper presents the results of a spectral analysis of PSP measurements from four pipeline networks from the Australian region with geomagnetic field variations from nearby magnetometers. The pipeline networks extend from Queensland in the north of Australia to Tasmania in the south and provide PSP variations during both active and quiet geomagnetic conditions. The spectral analyses show both consistent phase and amplitude relationships across all pipelines, even for large separations between magnetometer and PSP sites and for small-amplitude signals. Comparison between the observational relationships and model predictions suggests a method for deriving a geoelectric field proxy suitable for indicating PSP-related space weather conditions.
Space Weather - The International Journal of Research and Applications Vol. 8