EISCAT National Capability

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds

Abstract

This proposal is seeking funding for a small group of four people, all of whom also work on other projects, who spend part of their time working with researchers using a powerful radar system in northern Scandinavia, called EISCAT, which undertakes research on the upper atmosphere and space weather. Our aim is to help UK researchers to get the maximum benefit from the financial investment that NERC makes to keep the EISCAT facilities operating, by helping to ensure that UK scientists can use the facilities effectively. In return for the money which NERC invests, UK scientists get access to about 200 hours of measurement time per year, which they can use to run their own experiments, to investigate particular properties of the polar upper atmosphere and the physics of space weather processes. These user-specific experiments are known as Special Programmes. In addition, UK EISCAT users also get access to a larger pool of more generic observations, called Common Programmes, which are carried out on behalf of the whole international community, and are made available to all EISCAT scientists. The study of space weather, the effect of the space environment on the Earth, has been part of NERC's remit since 2010. EISCAT is the most significant space weather research facility in which NERC invests and it acts as a focus for UK researchers in this area. It also forms part of a worldwide network of similar radars which study how our atmosphere is changing on short and long timescales, in response to changes originating in the Sun and solar wind. As well as studying the outermost part of the Earth's atmosphere, EISCAT can also carry out other kinds of research on phenomena such as meteors, satellites, space debris, planetary bodies and even do research into low-frequency radio astronomy. Although the EISCAT radars have a great deal of capability and flexibility, they can also be very complicated to use and their data can be hard to interpret. Particular procedures have to be followed for scheduling and operations and some training is needed to understand how the radar operates. The data sets produced by the radar are also often very large and special software is required to analyse them and turn them into estimates of parameters in the upper atmosphere. The members of the EISCAT support group have worked with these radars for many years and are sufficiently familiar with them that they can help scientific users who might not have the same level of knowledge, making NERC's investment in the support team cost effective. We also provide limited funding for UK scientists travelling to EISCAT to conduct experiments, and we lecture on training courses and take part in PR and media events to tell people about the EISCAT radar systems and what they can do. For the last decade, we have been heavily involved in helping to plan a new kind of radar system, which will eventually replace EISCAT's current generation of radars. This facility is called EISCAT_3D, and it is based on a design principle called the "phased array", using arrays of antennas, rather than steerable dishes. The use of phased antenna arrays, coupled with recent advances in modular transmitters, receiver systems and high-performance computing, now make it possible to design a much more powerful, efficient and flexible type of radar. Thanks partly to NERC's investment of £6M, this new radar project has just entered its construction phase. The UK support group needs to remain closely involved in this project to ensure that the design of the new radar system takes account of the requirements of our scientists, ideally also making sure that UK companies can also benefit from some of the opportunities offered by this new project.

Publications

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