Research Article  Open Access
Jun Chen, Weifu Li, Shuxin Li, Hong Chen, Xuebin Zhao, Jiangtao Peng, Yanhong Chen, Hao Deng, "TwoStage Solar Flare Forecasting Based on Convolutional Neural Networks", Space: Science & Technology, vol. 2022, Article ID 9761567, 10 pages, 2022. https://doi.org/10.34133/2022/9761567
TwoStage Solar Flare Forecasting Based on Convolutional Neural Networks
Abstract
Solar flares are solar storm events driven by the magnetic field in the solar activity area. Solar flare, often associated with solar proton event or CME, has a negative impact on ratio communication, aviation, and aerospace. Therefore, its forecasting has attracted much attention from the academic community. Due to the limitation of the unbalanced distribution of the observation data, most techniques failed to effectively learn complex magnetic field characteristics, leading to poor forecasting performance. Through the statistical analysis of solar flare magnetic map data observed by SDO/HMI from 2010 to 2019, we find that unsupervised clustering algorithms have high accuracy in identifying the sunspot group in which the positive samples account for the majority. Furthermore, for these identified sunspot groups, the ensemble model that integrates the capability of boosting and convolutional neural network (CNN) achieves highprecision prediction of whether the solar flares will occur in the next 48 hours. Based on the above findings, a twostage solar flare early warning system is established in this paper. The F1 score of our method is 0.5639, which shows that it is superior to the traditional methods such as logistic regression and support vector machine (SVM).
1. Introduction
Solar flare is one of the most violent outbursts occurring in a localized region of the solar atmosphere, manifesting itself as an enhancement of electromagnetic radiation in a wide wavelength range and the emission of various particle streams with energies ranging from 10^{3} electron volts to 10^{11} electron volts [1]. When the flare radiation comes to the Earth’s vicinity, the photoionization increases the electron density in the Dlayer of the ionosphere, causing absorption of highfrequency radio communication, and enhanced background noise interference with radar.
The intensity scale of solar flare can reflect the overall level of solar eruption. Statistics and experience [2–6] show that the larger the flare, the more likely it is to be accompanied by other solar outbursts such as solar proton event or CME, and the more severe the effects on the Earth, thus affecting spaceflight, communication, navigation, power transmission, and other technological systems. In a sense, solar flare is an important indicator of solar storm. Providing forecast information on the likelihood and intensity of flare outbreaks is an important element at the beginning of operational space weather forecasting. The modeling study of solar flare forecasting is a necessary part of accurate flare forecasting and has important application value.
Presently, solar flare forecasting is mainly shortterm, forecasting the probability of flare occurrence and its level in the next 13 days. Meanwhile, the forecast of solar flare is mainly based on the physical quantities of the active region. Li et al. [7] established a flare shortterm prediction system using SVM and obtained good prediction accuracy. Wang et al. [8] established a shortterm flare prediction system using multilayer perceptron based on the characteristic parameters extracted from the photospheric magnetic map. Huang et al. [9, 10] established a flare prediction model using several machine learning methods. The results show the effectiveness of the evolution information of magnetic field time series in flare prediction. In terms of sunspot group category features, the outbreak of solar flare is closely related to the appearance morphology, magnetic field polarity, and other features of the sunspot group. Many different classifications of sunspot groups have been proposed, such as the Wilson Mountain magnetic classification [11], Zurich typing [12–14], and McIntosh black group classification [15], whose categories can be used as important features for flare forecasting.
In terms of the magnetic parametric characteristics of the active region, since most of the constituents of the Sun are hightemperature plasma, the Sun’s motion and the evolution of its activity are related to the nature of the magnetic field. Meanwhile, several magnetic parameters can be used to predict flare [16–24]. For example, Schrijver [25] found that neutral lines are related to large flare; Song et al. [26] chose parameters such as total unsigned magnetic flux, strong gradient neutral line length, and total magnetic field dissipation to predict the solar flare.
Machine learning has also been applied to flare forecasting due to its significant advantages in data analysis and processing [8–10, 27–36]. For example, Song et al. [26] used an ordered logistic regression method to build a prediction model to forecast the probability of producing X, M, or Cclass solar flares in each solar active region during the next day; Qahwaji and Colak [27] compared the performance of machine learning algorithms such as cascaded neural networks, SVM, and radial basis function networks for flare forecasting.
In recent years, deep learning has been favored by researchers and has the advantage of automatic feature extraction from large data compared to traditional machine learning algorithms. Deep learning has been applied to flare forecasting work with good results [37–42]. For example, Huang et al. [40] used CNN to train a deep learning model for solar flare forecasting based on collecting most of the SOHO/MDI and SDO/HMI active region magnetogram data and achieved automatic extraction of solar active region magnetogram forecast patterns; Nishizuka et al. [41] built a solar flare prediction model, called deep flame network, based on deep neural networks. This model can calculate the probability of occurring flares in the next 24 hours in each active region.
In the modeling of solar flare forecasting, some of the deep learning networks only use images as input, but they are difficult to extract accurate physical quantities from images. Therefore, they ignore the importance of parameters for flare forecasting. At the same time, these networks may stretch the images or use other methods to meet the input size of the network, so that the information contained in the images, such as area and magnetic field, is distorted and cannot be used effectively. In addition, though deep learning has the advantage of automatically extracting features from large data, the ability of deep learning to extract valid information is limited. And prior knowledge can improve the prediction performance of the model. Therefore, how to apply the prior knowledge of flare forecasting to design deep learning network to optimize the algorithm for more efficient and accurate training is one of the urgent problems to be solved.
In this paper, we combine the means clustering algorithm and several CNN models to build a warning system that can predict whether solar flare will occur in the next 48 hours. The rest of this paper is organized as follows. Section 2 introduces the data we use and analyses them from the statistical point of view to provide a basis for the design of the solar flare warning system. Section 3 builds the whole pipeline and Section 4 conducts experiments and discusses the results. Finally, Section 5 draws the conclusion.
2. Data and Analysis
In this paper, SHARP (http://jsoc.stanford.edu/) magnetogram data collected by SDO/HMI from May 2010 to December 2018 are used [40]. The 10 magnetic characteristic parameters [43, 44] are shown in Table 1. The data are taken every 96 min to ensure the variability. To reduce the effect of projection effect, we select the center of the active region located within ±30°of the solar disk center. After that, we label the data according to the solar event reports provided by NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) based on GOES satellite observation and solar observations. The report gave the information of solar flare and its active region resources, including the start and end times of the flares, the number of the active region, and the magnitude of the flares. The solar flare events without corresponding active regions were excluded. We set a sample every 96 minutes, with the 10 magnetic characteristic parameters as input. For the samples with or above class flares in the next 48 hours, we label them as 1 (positive samples) and for the samples without class or higher flares in the next 48 hours, we label them as 0 (negative samples). The whole data include 1000 solar active regions, each of which will exist for several days on the visible disk. Therefore, during the existence period of a solar active region, there are multiple continuous samples. Totally, 2837 positive and 59,834 negative samples are determined. The data from May 2010 to December 2016 are regarded as the train set and the rest as test data.

There is a serious imbalance between the number of positive and negative samples in our dataset. The numbers of positive and negative samples are 2837 and 59,834, and the ratio is about 1 : 20. The number of active regions that have positive samples is only 92, but the total number of active regions is 1000. In the meantime, we find that the characteristic boundary of positive and negative samples is fuzzy based on the analysis of several features in some active regions as Figure 1. Therefore, it is quite difficult to distinguish positive and negative samples if we directly input them into our model without any data preprocessing strategy.
To alleviate the imbalance of positive and negative samples, we try to find a principle to select the active regions which have positive samples as much as possible. Firstly, we visualize the probability density distribution of each feature in all negative samples and all positive samples as shown in Figure 2. We can easily find that the probability density distributions of the negative samples are all negatively skewed distributions and the characteristics of positive samples are generally larger than those of negative samples. Thus, it is possible to filter out active regions with positive samples by the feature values of each active region. Figure 3 shows the number of active regions (numbered from 1 to 1000) and the variation of corresponding magnetic characteristic parameters. We can find that in the first eight features, the parameter shows significant variations for different active regions, which makes it possible to divide the active regions into multiple categories according to the value of the features.
3. Pipeline
As shown in Figure 4, our method contains the following two steps: data preprocessing and model training.
3.1. Data Preprocessing
Considering the sample classimbalance of the data and the significant difference between the features of the active regions with positive samples and the others, we divide the active regions into several categories to increase the proportion of positive samples. We use means, an unsupervised clustering method, to achieve the above process. For every active region, we calculate the mean of their features which can be calculated as follows: where represents the parameter of the th original sample of th active region and represents the sample size of th active region, and then input them into means to obtain clustering results.
The results (Sum of Squared Error (SSE)) of the number of categories from 1 to 9 are shown in Figure 5, and we choose 3 as the final value of . The clustering result is shown in Table 2 and Figure 6. Obviously, the ratio of positive samples in category C is 0.340633 which is much larger than the one of the whole dataset. Therefore, for the neural network model on the next stage of our algorithm, we only use the data in category C as input data. For each sample in category A and category , we believe that the former is almost impossible to occur solar flare in the next 48 hours, and there is a very little probability of the occurrence of solar flare for the latter. The labels of all samples in both categories are predicted as 0.

3.2. Model Training
The neural networks we use are Resnet18, Resnet34, and Xception, which are commonly used in deep learning. Firstly, Resnet [45] is a pioneering neural network proposed by He et al. in 2016. The network avoids the problem of gradient disappearance and solves the problem that it is difficult to optimize deep neural network. Resnet18 and Resnet34 represent Resnet with 18 layers and with 34 layers, respectively. Secondly, Xception [46] is proposed by Google in 2017. The model is a network entirely based on deep separable convolution. It processes the correlation among channels and spatial correlation separately to make the model converge faster and have better performance.
After means clustering, all active regions are divided into three categories, namely, category A, category B, and category C. For the samples in category C, we randomly choose threefourths of samples in the existence periods of each active region as training data for the neural network models and the rest of the samples as validation data in the process of training model. To avoid the influence of dimension, we standardize the original data. The standardization method we use is different from those commonly used. The standardization calculation formula is as follows: where represents th standardized sample of th active region, and represent the mean and variant of th active region, and represent the mean and variant of , and represents the total number of samples. Considering that there is a temporal relationship among adjacent samples, we input 16 consecutive samples (input size is , where 10 represents the number of features) into the model every iteration. If the label of a sample is predicted to be 1 by the neural network, we will regard this sample as a signal of solar flare which will occur in the next 48 hours. But if it is predicted to be 0, the probability of occurring solar flare in the next 48 hours will be so small that we can ignore it.
4. Experiments
In this section, we first give the introduction of our experimental setting and then conduct several ablation experiments and comparisons with different models to show the performance of our method.
We choose the three indexes recall (), precision (), and score to show the prediction effectiveness of our method. The calculation formulas are as follows:
To verify the improvement of means clustering algorithm and boosting strategy, we conduct several ablation experiments and the results are shown in Table 3. Besides, we also make comparisons between our method and other 13 binary classification algorithms commonly used to present the prediction performance of our method in Table 4. The TSS (True skill statistics) and HSS (Heidke skill scores) are 0.5709 and 0.5587, respectively, where the HSS is used to measure the fractional improvement of prediction over the random prediction [47], and the TSS is the recall minus the false alarm rate [48].


Our experimental results show that the prediction performance of the model which integrates several neural networks is better than the one of a single convolutional neural network. Finally, we choose to combine the prediction results of Resnet18, Resnet34, and Xception by boosting strategy. From Table 3, we can notice that means can greatly improve the performance of a single network and triple networks. Obviously, the key to performance improvement lies in precision. For all networks, recall may be unchanged or even reduced greatly after clustering. However, precision is bound to increase significantly. After clustering, although the positive sample rate will be greatly improved, from 5% to 34%, nearly 40% of the information of positive samples will also be lost. We think this is the main reason why recall remains unchanged or even decreases. It also means that the number of positive samples we predict is less than the one without clustering, but the probability that a predicted positive sample is a true positive is higher. From Table 4, if we do not cluster active regions, although our method is not the best in this condition, it is still close to the best performance. But under the condition of clustering, the performance of our method is much better than the one of other methods. For the phenomenon that the prediction performance of other binary classification methods is decreasing or even very poor after clustering, we think the main reason is that the number of input samples (less than 10% of the total number of original samples) is not enough for them. In contrast, the performance of our method improves by more than 9% after clustering.
5. Conclusion
In this paper, a twostage solar flare early warning system is proposed to predict whether solar flare will occur in the next 48 hours. The system consists of an unsupervised clustering algorithm (means) and several CNN models, where the former is to increase the positive sample rate, and the latter integrates the prediction results of the CNN models to improve the prediction performance. Three CNN models, Xception, Resnet18, and Resnet34, are chosen in the 2nd stage. The score of our method reaches 0.5639, which proves the effectiveness of our method.
Data Availability
The data we use is available on https://tianchi.aliyun.com/competition/entrance/531804/information.
Conflicts of Interest
The authors declare no conflicts of interest to this work.
Authors’ Contributions
Jun Chen is assigned to the conceptualization, literature review, modeling, writing—original draft, and writing—review and editing. Weifu Li, Hong Chen, Xuebin Zhao, Jiangtao Peng, and Yanhong Chen did the conceptualization. Shuxin Li is assigned to the conceptualization, literature review, and writing—original draft. Hao Deng is also assigned to the conceptualization and literature review.
Acknowledgments
This work is support in part by the National Natural Science Foundation of China under Grant Nos. 12071166 and 42171351; Hubei Key Laboratory of Applied Mathematics under Grant Nos. HBAM 202004 and 201612; and Hubei Provincial Natural Science Foundation of China under Grant No. 2021CFA087.
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