Space Weather and Atmosphere team

Our ambition

Large explosions on the Sun known as coronal mass ejections can spew out billions of tons of charged particles and magnetic field into space. When these disturbances reach the Earth they can trigger geomagnetic storms and increase particle radiation levels, causing disruption to power grids, satellites, aviation, and a host of other dependent businesses.   These effects are known as Space Weather. Solar variations are also linked to changes in the atmosphere and surface temperature in the Polar Regions but how this occurs and how it affects weather and climate are open questions.

Winter image of the Halley VI Research Station on the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica with aurora
Aurora over Halley VI Research Station on the Brunt Ice Shelf , Antarctica.

The goal of the Space Weather and Atmosphere team is to understand how solar variations affect the Earth’s space radiation environment, upper atmosphere and climate in the Polar Regions.

Our research provides the information needed by the Space Industry, UK Insurance and Government to mitigate the effects of severe Space Weather, and to assess the solar contribution to climate change in the Polar Regions.

Team priorities

Science

  • Space radiation environment. To measure, simulate and predict changes in space radiation environment as they affect satellites, and to develop realistic scenarios of severe space weather events. These results are being used to assess which satellite orbits are most at risk and to develop better mitigation guidelines. They are also being used to provide real-time situation awareness for satellite operators.
  • Atmospheric heating. To measure the heating and upward expansion of the polar atmosphere due to electrical currents set up during geomagnetic storms. This process, known as Joule heating, is the largest uncertainty in orbit prediction for satellites and space debris. The results will help provide better collision avoidance measures between satellites and space debris in low Earth orbit.
  • Space-atmosphere coupling. To measure changes in atmospheric chemistry caused by particle precipitation and assess how they can affect the heating and cooling of the upper atmosphere. These results are being used in models to determine how they couple through the atmosphere to affect surface temperature and to determine their effect on polar climate.
  • Solar effects on climate. To measure changes in the geoelectric field and understand how it can affect the atmosphere. Changes in the geoelectric field between the ground and the ionosphere have been linked to changes in atmospheric temperature, from the surface upwards.

Technology, innovation and training

  • Using High Frequency over-the-horizon radars to understand coupling between the Sun, solar wind and the upper atmosphere, and the transport of charged particles in the radiation belts
  • Using Medium Frequency radars to measure high altitude winds and atmospheric circulation in the polar vortex
  • Developing state-of-the-art sub-millimetre radiometer technology to measure upper atmosphere winds and chemistry with Cambridge University
  • Using an array of remote, low power magnetometers to measure changes in the geomagnetic field and electrical currents generated by Space Weather
  • Using the BAS radiation belt model to simulate and predict the Earth’s radiation environment for satellites (a model equivalent to a general circulation model in atmospheric science)
  • Exploiting data collected by constellations of satellites on charged particles, electromagnetic fields and atmospheric composition
  • Training young scientists via PhD studentships with the Cambridge Earth System Science NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, the Open University, and via short term student vacation projects

Influencing and leading international programmes

  • Continue setting scientific priorities as one of the PI Groups in the international SuperDARN radar network, and the AARDDVARK radio receiver consortium
  • Continue leading the European Union SPACESTORM project
  • Continue to play a leading role in the International Association of Geophysics and Aeronomy (IAGA), and the VLF/ELF Remote Sensing of the Ionosphere and Magnetosphere (VERSIM) scientific planning

Stakeholder engagement

  • Continue providing expert advice to the Cabinet Office and UK Government departments through our membership of the Space Environment Impacts Expert Group reporting to the Department of Business, Innovation and Science
  • Continue our collaborations with the space industry including UK insurance, European satellite operators and satellite designers, through our leadership of the European SPACESTORM project
  • Organising an annual end-user lunch at the European Space Weather Week jointly with the European Space Agency
  • Continue representing the UK on the Council of the European Incoherent Scatter (EISCAT) radar and supporting UK users of the facility

Public engagement

  • Disseminating information by publishing our results in high-impact peer reviewed Journals, giving presentations at international conferences and issuing press releases when appropriate
  • Organising and running scientific sessions at International conferences

Gareth Chisham

Space Weather Researcher

Mark Clilverd

Atmospheric Physicist

Mervyn Freeman

Senior Space Weather Researcher

Sarah Glauert

Radiation Belt Modeller

Richard Horne

Science Leader

Andrew Kavanagh

Middle Atmosphere Vertical Coupling Analyst

Tobias Kersten

Research Assistant

Nigel Meredith

Particle Data Analyst

David Newnham

Middle Atmosphere Physicist

Robert Shore

Geomagnetic Field Researcher

Emma Turner

Visiting Scientist

Emma Woodfield

Radiation Belt Modeller

IMAGE Auroral Boundary Data

The objective of this project was to investigate whether magnetic reconnection in the space environment has a characteristic scale in space and time by characterising statistically the spatial and temporal …




EISCAT Science Support

The EISCAT science support group is a collaboration between the British Antarctic Survey and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, funded via the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) EISCAT, the European …






SPACESTORM

SPACESTORM is a collaborative project to model space weather events and find ways to mitigate their effects on satellites. Over the last ten years the number of satellites on orbit …



FEATURED PAPER: Energetic Electron Hazard

13 June, 2016

Energetic electrons are an important space weather hazard. In this paper we apply extreme value analysis to 16 years of operational satellite data from the NOAA Polar Operational Environmental Satellites …


PRESS RELEASE: New season – ambitious science

23 November, 2015

New season tackles ambitious science and logistical challenges The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) 2015/16 field season is underway with dozens of scientists and support staff – together with planes and tonnes …


NEWS STORY: Space weather features at free event

4 June, 2015

FREE event: ‘Discover Antarctica’ at British Geological Survey Open Day, Saturday 27 June, 10am-4pm Staff from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) will showcase its work at this year’s British Geological Survey …


NEWS STORY: NERC placement offered

6 May, 2015

NERC Research Experience Placement 2015 A Research Experience Placement supported by EnvEast DTP and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is available at British Antarctic Survey (BAS) this …


NEWS STORY: Lessons from electrons

14 October, 2014

Study of electrons in space could help weather forecasting Researchers have discovered a formerly undetected impact of space weather on the polar atmosphere, which may explain some previously unexplained variations …


NEWS STORY: Changes in upper atmosphere

23 May, 2014

Earth’s magnetic field is important for climate change at high altitudes New research, published this week, has provided scientists with greater insight into the climatic changes happening in the upper …


NEWS STORY: Improving space weather forecasting

9 June, 2013

Space weather forecasting system used by satellite operators Weather forecasting is a tricky enough job on Earth, but doing it for the outer atmosphere and beyond is even more problematic. …


NEWS STORY: BAS involved in NASA mission

30 August, 2012

British Antarctic Survey scientists involved in NASA ‘space weather’ mission WASHINGTON — NASA’s Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP), the first twin-spacecraft mission designed to explore the Earth’s radiation belts, launched …


PRESS RELEASE: Space weather forecasting

29 March, 2011

Major EU-funded space weather initiative launched and managed in UK A major EU-funded initiative to improve ‘space weather’ forecasting will hold its inaugural meeting in the UK on Tuesday 29 …


PRESS RELEASE: New research sheds light on Aurora

20 October, 2010

New space research settles years of scientific debate New space research published this week (Thursday 21 October) in the journal Nature, has settled decades of scientific debate. Researchers from the …