Reading solar system science

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Meteorology


The projects within this proposal advance our common research area of effects and nature of energetic particles within the sun's atmosphere, the earth's magnetosphere and the heliosphere. Modulation of energetic particles from both the sun and galactic sources determines their abundance and energies in the Sun-earth environment, which, together with wave-particle interaction within the radiation belts establishes the longevity of such particles within the radiation belts. Exposure to energetic particles is an important parameter in the reliability of spacecraft instrument systems. Characterising changes in the Heliospheric Magnetic Field associated with short and rapid variations in the solar wind, such as Coronal Mass Ejections and Co-rotating Interaction Regions, are important in determining the effectiveness with which these large Space Weather disturbance impact the Earth's space environment.

Planned Impact

The common theme throughout this proposal is an improved understanding of how energetic particles interact with magnetic fields. Solar and geomagnetic fields vary over centennial, decadal, diurnal and hourly timescales. This leads to modulation of energetic particles (of both solar and galactic origins) over similar timescales with implications for long-term changes in the flux, acceleration and energy spectrum of particles in the heliosphere. The space environment and atmosphere at Earth are sensitive to the efficiency of these processes, as are modern technological systems such as spacecraft, aircraft and ground-based power grids. Our research will improve the ability to predict the environmental and economic impact of such events.

Direct beneficiaries of our research will include;
- Commercial airlines requiring information about the radiation environment and reliability of HF communications for high-altitude long-haul aircraft. The atmospheric profile of a particle population is determined by its energy spectrum, which affects the radiation environment of aircraft.

- Meteorologists studying phenomena that are sensitive to the presence of charge in the atmosphere such as cloud charging, lightning, pollution and the monitoring of global weather systems via the Global Electric Circuit.

- Satellite operators requiring enhanced information about the potential impact of changes to the Earth's space environment both in terms of the immediate impact of coronal mass ejections but also through an improved understanding of the Earth's radiation belts. Understanding wave-particle interaction in the radiation belts is desirable for improved prediction of particle acceleration, loss to the Earth's atmosphere and the timescales such particles would be retained within the radiation belts. The passage of spacecraft through the Earth's radiation environment can decrease the lifetime and reliability of spacecraft. The expansion of the thermosphere is a function of the energy spectrum of precipitating particles. Thermospheric expansion is important in predicting atmospheric drag on low-altitude satellites.

- Space weather forecasting services such as the UK Met Office who could use information about heliospheric magnetic field structures to assess the geoeffectiveness of solar wind transients thereby improving the accuracy and lead-time of their forecasts. Using STEREO data to locate such structures, while studying their modulation of GCRs will enable us to remotely sense the magnitude of a CMEs enhanced field.

- The UK government who list extreme space weather events in the national risk register. Investigating the efficiency with which solar wind transients propagate through the heliosphere under the wide variety of solar wind conditions constructed from historic data will constrain the current uncertainty in extreme space weather events at Earth.

The general public will benefit indirectly through improved airline efficiency, more reliable power systems and spacecraft operations such as GPS navigation systems, communications and remote sensing of the Earth.

Our group works closely with the UK Met Office, already contributing to their current operational space weather service. We are experienced at promoting our science, both to specialist audiences (through peer-reviewed articles and international scientific conferences) and to more general audiences (through public talks, TV, radio and magazine articles). We will continue to apply ourselves to such tasks in order to maximise the impact of our science.


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Barnard L (2016) The National Eclipse Weather Experiment: an assessment of citizen scientist weather observations. in Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

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Barnard L (2018) What can the annual 10 Be solar activity reconstructions tell us about historic space weather? in Journal of Space Weather and Space Climate

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Barnard L (2015) Solar Stormwatch: tracking solar eruptions in Astronomy & Geophysics

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Forsyth C (2016) What effect do substorms have on the content of the radiation belts? in Journal of geophysical research. Space physics

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Frühauff D (2015) Extracting planetary waves from geomagnetic time series using Empirical Mode Decomposition in Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics

Description (1) We have developed a "space climatology" of solar wind data stretching back centuries. Data from multiple datasets have been carefully inter-calibrated to provide a robust long term dataset to perform studies of long term trends in space before the "space age". (2) We have used physics-based computer simulations to explain features of electromagnetic radiation in near-Earth space. This radiation is important for the acceleration and scattering of high-energy electrons in the Radiation Belts.
Exploitation Route The outcomes from this award continue to inform methods and data that are used (or will soon be used) by services that provide space weather information and forecasts (e.g. Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre and NOAA).
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Energy,Environment

Description STFC Quota studentships
Amount £77,000 (GBP)
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 03/2021
Title Output of 3D model simulating externally driven ULF waves in Earth's magnetosphere, including the effect of convection on plasmaspheric density 
Description This data set contains the ULF wave model output data required to produce the figures in the article: A. W. Degeling, I. J. Rae, C. E. J. Watt, Q. Q. Shi, R. Rankin and Q. G. Zong, "Control of ULF Wave Accessibility to the Inner Magnetosphere by the Convection of Plasma Density", J. Geophys. Res. (accepted Dec. 2017) doi:10.1002/2017JA024874 The dataset has a Matlab binary file format. It consists of a structure array "d" (with 325 elements). These elements correspond to the 2D parameter scan in driver frequency and elapsed time during plume development performed for this study. The elapsed time parameter has 25 elements, ranging 0 to 24 hours (i.e. 1 hour spacing), and the driver frequency parameter has 13 elements ranging from 1 to 7 mHz (with 0.5 mHz spacing). e.g. use "d = reshape(d,25,13);" to reshape the structure array into 2D with columns for the frequency scan and rows for the elapsed time scan. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Description Simulating whistler-mode wave-particle interactions in the magnetosphere 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC)
Department Distributed Research Utilising Advanced Computing
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The Earth's magnetosphere traps plasma across a wide range of energies, where the most energetic particles are stored in the Radiation Belts. Plasma in the Earth's Radiation Belts can be described by gyrating, bounce and drift motions of the particles. These motions are disrupted by wave-particle interactions which can transfer energy between electrons of different velocities, causing rapid variations in the flux and energy of Radiation Belt electrons. Kinetic simulations require tens of thousands of core hours to treat this interaction over a few seconds of real time, but long-time predictions are necessary to investigate changes in the Radiation Belts that can occur over hours and days. Whistler-mode waves are an important contributor as they resonate with electrons over a wide range of energies, and can efficiently energise electrons to relativistic speeds. This project aims to derive time-averaged particle diffusion coefficients self-consistently, including non-linear effects, by performing particle-in-cell simulations of whistler-mode waves generated by an anisotropic electron population in 1 and 2-D and obtain saturated wave levels from analysis of the electric and magnetic fields. We shall also explore the wave-particle interaction for different magnetospheric parameters.
Collaborator Contribution DiRAC have contributed 600,000 core hours on a number of HPC machines in their network in order to carry out the above work over a period of 6 months from January to July 2016.
Impact Manuscript in preparation
Start Year 2016
Description School Visits (Berkshire) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact PI makes multiple individual visits to schools across Berkshire, Hampshire and in London area (KS1-KS5). Presentations made on importance and impact of project, and advertising careers in space sector to pupils, especially focussing on girls' schools. Presentations spark questions and discussion - pupils in KS4-KS5 often blog about visit afterwards, or write article for school newsletter/newspaper.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019