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Keywords:

  • extreme value statistics;
  • geomagnetic storms;
  • space weather

[1] Understanding the extremes in geomagnetic activity is an important component in understanding just how severe conditions can become in the terrestrial space environment. Extreme activity also has consequences for technological systems. On the ground, extreme geomagnetic behavior has an impact on navigation and position accuracy and the operation of power grids and pipeline networks. We therefore use a number of decades of one-minute mean magnetic data from magnetic observatories in Europe, together with the technique of extreme value statistics, to provide a preliminary exploration of the extremes in magnetic field variations and their one-minute rates of change. These extremes are expressed in terms of the variations that might be observed every 100 and 200 years in the horizontal strength and in the declination of the field. We find that both measured and extrapolated extreme values generally increase with geomagnetic latitude (as might be expected), though there is a marked maximum in estimated extreme levels between about 53 and 62 degrees north. At typical midlatitude European observatories (55–60 degrees geomagnetic latitude), compass variations may reach approximately 3–8 degrees/minute, and horizontal field changes may reach 1000–4000 nT/minute, in one magnetic storm once every 100 years. For storm return periods of 200 years the equivalent figures are 4–11 degrees/minute and 1000–6000 nT/minute.