Airborne monitoring of space weather and radioactivity

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Meteorology

Abstract

The sun emits high energy particles, some of which have the capacity - particularly during episodes of disturbed Space Weather - to cause damage to the natural and artificial world. In the natural world, as the particles enter the atmosphere, they release electric charge from the air, which it is thought may have an effect on ice and water clouds in the atmosphere. To investigate this effect, which may have a small effect on climate, measurements of the charges generated at the same levels in the atmosphere where the clouds form are needed. A cost-effective way of doing this is to use a weather balloon which has been specially equipped to detect the high energy particles, as such balloon-carried measurement system are released by meteorological services around the world regularly every day.

This project will test out a new low cost approach to harnessing weather balloons for the high energy particle measurements, which will allow many new measurements to be made at little additional expense to that already invested in the weather balloon network. Some electronic systems are required for this which will be developed specially, but the method to be studied is so cheap as to be disposable as needed for a non-recoverable weather balloon. After the electronic circuits have been developed and tested using radioactivity available in a laboratory, a series of real test flights will be made. By choosing two locations at different latitudes, the effect of the earth's magnetic field on changing the energy of the particles which get down into the atmosphere can be used to test the new sensor.

An additional aspect is that radioactivity in the atmosphere above the surface can also be measured simply with the same instrumentation: as these balloons can be released easily from different places, this provides a capability to respond to nuclear accidents and terrorism, in monitoring the dispersal of the hazardous material without the complication of a powered aircraft.

In Russia an important measurement sequence of high energy atmospheric particles has been made using balloon systems since 1957, but, as the instruments become obsolete, this is not expected to be sustained within Russian science funding. By adapting the balloon measurement systems already used by meteorological services everyday, measurements of the high energy particles will be able to be continued cheaply, as well as providing the opportunity to monitor natural radioactivity for which there is an ever-heightened awareness.

Planned Impact

The impact of this work will be in providing new capability where none previously existed in the UK and cost-effective increased utilisation of established measurement networks nationally and, potentially, internationally. Radiosondes with research sensors have shown themselves able to be deployed during national emergencies (for example during the iceland volcano incident by the PI and CoI), hence extension of their capability to radioactivity measurement facilitates a new potential response to radioactivity released maliciously or accidentally.

DSTL, the British Navy and Vaisala have all expressed interest in the use of novel sensors on radiosondes, as users of radiosondes are interested in carrying additional sensors on their standard flights because of the value-added aspect. The new sensor systems to be employed offers spin-out potential for commercial activities, both with the radiosonde manufacturer Vaisala and the UK company BIRAL, based in Bristol with whom the Reading scientists have well-established links.

In addition, the UK Met Office is increasingly involved in Space Weather analysis, since it became identified on the National Risk Register. Through the work proposed, the measurement network already run for meteorology can be extended to provide new information on energetic particles in the atmosphere arising from Space Weather.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description I have had enquiries from School science students about the use of the technology, and how this compares with technology they are using for project work.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Education,Environment
Impact Types Societal

 
Description Evora 
Organisation University of Evora
Country Portugal 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Contributed seminar to University of Evora Doctoral Training programme
Collaborator Contribution Running the Doctoral Training programme
Impact Educational interactions with University of Evora doctoral students
Start Year 2015
 
Description IET Seminar, Stornoway, 17th September 2013 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Keynote/Invited Speaker
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk stimulated discussion from attendees invited by the Institute of Technology, and reports in local newspapers

Discussion of space weather measurements amongst interested engineers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://mycommunity.theiet.org/communities/events/item/151/77/4898
 
Description Met Expo 2013 talk, Brussels, 16th Oct 2013 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Keynote/Invited Speaker
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Commercial awareness of the technology developed

Manufacturers explained latest developments
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description MetTech article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Paper Presentation
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Preparatory article for invited public talk at MetExpo trade exhibition

Attendance at exhibition talk; interest of commercial manufacturers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/f088b3fc#/f088b3fc/80