Antarctica to get surface based space weather monitoring network

Of course the big question is, will they be able to keep the stations from becoming buried in snow like weather stations in the flawed Steig et al paper that determined that “Antarctica is warming”?

From EurekaAlert and Virginia Tech

NSF awards Space@VT $2 million to improve space weather understanding

IMAGE: Robert Clauer, Virginia Tech professor of electrical and computer engineering, will lead a team of the Space@VT researchers to build a chain of space weather instrument stations in Antarctica.

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Blacksburg, Va. — Members of Virginia Tech’s Space@VT research group (http://www.space.vt.edu/) are receiving a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build a chain of space weather instrument stations in Antarctica. Space weather affects a variety of everyday consumer technologies including global positioning systems (GPS), satellites for television reception, and cellular phones. Also, the understanding of space weather is critical to space programs.

For example, “satellites experience the disruptive effects of energetic charged particles and electrical charging across the satellite structure during various weather conditions. Astronauts are vulnerable to energetic radiation that may occur at space station altitudes. Navigation signals from global positioning satellites are affected by irregularities in the ionosphere that develop under some conditions, and massive disruption in electric power distribution systems can be triggered by geomagnetic storms,” explained Robert Clauer, professor of electrical and computer engineering (ECE) at Virginia Tech. http://www.space.vt.edu/people/faculty/clauer.html

Clauer is leading the team of researchers who include: Joseph Baker, assistant professor of ECE, Tamal Bose, professor of ECE, Brent Ledvina of Coherent Navigation, but who continues to hold an adjunct assistant professor of ECE position, and Majeid Manteghi, assistant professor of ECE. Bose is also the associate director of Wireless@Virginia Tech, a second Virginia Tech research group that is acting as a collaborator on this project (http://www.wireless.vt.edu/).

The northern hemisphere is already well-instrumented as a number of stations currently exist in the Arctic, including an array in Greenland. But due primarily to the “extreme Antarctic climate and lack of manned facilities with the necessary infrastructure to support facilities, the southern polar region is not,” Clauer said.

Data from the southern magnetic field is weaker than the northern magnetic polar field because its “magnetic dipole is offset from the center of the earth and tilted,” Clauer, an expert in atmospheric sciences, explained.

One of the most spectacular manifestations of the dynamic Sun-earth environment or space weather is the aurora borealis in the northern hemisphere and aurora austrialis in the southern Polar Regions. “Since the space age, we now understand these phenomena to be specifically related to the processes of the electric and plasma dynamic environment that exists around the Earth, and these processes result from interactions between the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetosphere,” Clauer added.

Today, the science of space plasma physics has matured, but the goal remains for scientists and engineers to accurately predict the properties of space weather, and this is also the goal of the National Space Weather Program. Space weather refers to the conditions on the sun and in the solar wind, magnetosphere, ionosphere, and thermosphere that can influence the reliability of space borne and ground-based technology or which can endanger human life or health.

Clauer’s office is physically located at the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), a consortium of universities established in 2002 to develop excellence in research and education in a spectrum of aerospace related areas of study, including space science. The NIA teams with NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., to conduct some of the nation’s most advanced aerospace and atmospheric research.

Earlier this year, members of the Space@VT group received a $6 million grant to build radar units. J. Michael Ruohoniemi, ECE associate professor, is leading this effort of which nearly $2 million of the award went to Virginia Tech and Space@VT, directed by Wayne Scales, also of ECE. Other participants in the grant, also from the NSF, are Dartmouth College, University of Alaska at Fairbanks, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL).

These new radar units will complement the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network –– providing an acronym with a humorous touch, SuperDARN. This network is an international collaboration with support provided by the funding agencies of more than a dozen countries. The radars combine to give extensive views of the upper atmosphere in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The new radars will become part of a continuous chain of coverage that extends from Europe to eastern Asia.

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12 thoughts on “Antarctica to get surface based space weather monitoring network

  1. Space weather does not have to be measured 2 meters over the surface, so I imagine they will build reasonably tall masts. Still, they will always need to be raised occasionally as snow accumulates.

  2. Wish they has such a system for the US.
    UK.
    Australia.
    Central Europe.
    Eastern Europe. Siberia and India….. China.
    Africa even.

    Who is gong to calibrate this against the previously (heat-biased ?) old sensors?

  3. “Of course the big question is, will they be able to keep the stations from becoming buried in snow like weather stations in the flawed Steig et al paper that determined that “Antarctica is warming”?”
    Easy to fix – they could come with their own permanently installed burn-barrel.

  4. “Space weather refers to the conditions on the sun and in the solar wind, magnetosphere, ionosphere, and thermosphere”
    and “These new radar units” seem to indicate that they will not measure air or surface temperatures in the antarctic (thermosphere starts around 90 to 120 km above ground), although they still might have ground thermomemeter attached to them to monitor environmental influence on their radars.

  5. The press release does not contain a lot of details. My guess is that the planned instruments are mainly magnetometers, and the mentioned array on Greenland could refer to http://web.dmi.dk/projects/chain/. Ground magnetometer data do not deteriorate very much, when the instrument is buried by ice or snow.
    The earlier $6 million grant to build radar units refers to the SuperDARN project, http://superdarn.jhuapl.edu/ where one can get, for example, the convection pattern of the ionospheric plasma in real time: http://superdarn.jhuapl.edu/rt/map/index.html . Also these HF radars tolerate some covering by snow.

  6. Quote:
    Data from the southern magnetic field is weaker than the northern magnetic polar field because its “magnetic dipole is offset from the center of the earth and tilted,” Clauer, an expert in atmospheric sciences, explained.
    Unquote
    Well, he may be an expert in something, but English sentence construction isn’t it. Data is weaker, or the magnetic field is weaker? If he intends the latter, then does it mean that some of those magnetic lines which leave the north magnetic pole never get to the south magnetic pole? I guess I missed that day in Electricity and Magnetism class.

  7. Le’me see here now…
    $22,087 for equipment (less, if they shop RadioShack)
    $46,683 for installation (including travel to/from)
    $75,500 for remote monitors’ salaries (4 grads, PT, 3 years)
    Yup… that leaves $1,855,730 for someone to go down there periodically and keep snow off’n the rig.

  8. They could build an electric powered rover base station. (A little bit of movement every so often should keep it above the snow, and a powered “brush” should keep snow off the roof.)
    Attached to the base station, they could have a several mile long cable attached to a helium filled balloon with solar cells and a bunch of sensors. The extra height would give the solar cells additional sunlight past the 6 month daytime at the base.
    For $2 million, might they be able to afford something like this?


  9. Space weather affects a variety of everyday consumer technologies including … and cellular phones

    No. Emphatically no.
    I’ve yet to see any demonstrated effects to terrestrial cellular … so this last part definitely goes in the ‘old wives tale’ category. ‘Network backhaul’ is via either copper (e.g. a ‘DS1’) or fiber nowadays and has been so for a decade and more (sure, there are a few uWave ‘hop’ here and there BUT not in a mature urban cellular network. The biggest ‘fades’ we saw were due to ‘inversions’ that could and would take a certain 2 GHz circuit down each night when conditions were favorable.)
    .
    .

  10. I wonder if someone interested in weather on the surface might want to donate some surface stations to add on – we could use plenty more on that continent.

  11. _Jim (10:44:01) :
    “I’ve yet to see any demonstrated effects to terrestrial cellular … ”
    Jim:
    You will find, at each cell site, a GPS receiver. It is necessary to provide the timing reference which is accurate enough to keep the site in synchronism with the rest of the network. Loss of GPS for an extended period will bring down the system. Google “GPS Thunderbolt” for references to older, now surplus receivers.

  12. “Since the space age, we now understand these phenomena to be specifically related to the processes of the electric and plasma dynamic environment that exists around the Earth, and these processes result from interactions between the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetosphere,” Clauer added.
    Yes, electric current and plasma.
    Who would have thunk it?
    And who has been busy discouraging anybody from thinking about it?
    Right on this website.

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