Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial

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A Summary of the SWIMMR Kick-Off Meeting

The kick-off event for the Space Weather Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk Study (one of the Wave 2 programmes of the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund) took place in the Wolfson Library of the Royal Society on Tuesday November 26th. Seventy-five people attended the event, representing a range of academic institutions, as well as representatives from industry, government and public sector research establishments such as the UK Met Office. 

The morning session of the meeting consisted of five presentations, introducing the programme and its relevance to government, the Research Councils and the Met Office, as well as describing details of the potential calls. The presentations were as follows:

  •  Prof John Loughhead (Chief Scientific Advisor to BEIS) - Space Weather Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk Programme (a governmental perspective). The slides from Prof John Loughhead's talk are available here.
  • Prof Chris Mutlow (Director of STFC RAL Space) - SWIMMR: Project funded by the Strategic Priorities Fund (a perspective from STFC).  The slides from Prof Chris Mutlow's talk are available here.
  • Jacky Wood (Head of Business Partnerships at NERC) - Space Weather Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk (SWIMMR) - A NERC perspective.  The slides from Jacky Wood's talk are available here.
  • Dr. Ian McCrea (Senior Programme Manager for SWIMMR) -  SWIMMR: Space Weather Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk: A wave 2 programme of the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund.  The slides from Dr Ian McCrea's talk are available here.
  • Mark Gibbs (Head of Space Weather at the UK Met Office) - SWIMMR (Met Office perspective and detailed description of the calls.  The slides from Mark Gibb's talk are available here.

During the lunch break, the Announcement of Opportunity for the five NERC SWIMMR calls was issued on the NERC web site.  The afternoon therefore began with a brief introduction by Jacky Wood to the NERC Announcement of Opportunity, and the particular terms and conditions which it contained.

The remainder of the afternoon session was spent in a Question and Answer session in which attendees were able to ask questions to the speakers about the nature of the programme and the potential timing of future calls, and finally to an informal discussion session, in which participants gathered into groups to discuss the opportunities for funding which had been outlined. 

2019 RAS Council elections

As you may have seen, the nominations for RAS Council are currently open with a deadline of 29 November. MIST falls under the “G” (Geophysics) category and there are up to 3 councillor positions and one vice-president position available. MIST Council strongly encourages interested members of the MIST community to consider standing for election.
Clare Watt (University of Reading) has kindly volunteered to be a point of contact for the community for those who may wish to talk more about being on council and what it involves. Clare is a councillor on RAS Council, with her term due to complete in 2020, and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Outcome of SSAP priority project review

From the MIST mailing list:

We are writing to convey the outcome of this year’s priority project “light touch” review, specifically with reference to those projects within the remit of SSAP. We would like to thank all the PIs that originally submitted ideas, and those who provided updates to their projects over the summer. SSAP strongly believe that all the projects submitted are underpinned by strong scientific drivers in the SSAP area.

The “light touch” review was undertaken with a unified approach by SSAP and AAP, considering factors that have led to priority project development (in STFC or other research councils) or new funding for priority projects (1/51 projects in the STFC remit) in the last 12 months. After careful discussion, it was agreed by SSAP and AAP not to select any project where the remit clearly overlaps with UKSA (i.e. space missions or TRL 4+), reflecting STFC’s focus on ground-based observations, science exploitation and TRL 0-3 development. Whilst in no way reflecting the excellence of the science, or community scientific wishes, this approach has resulted in some changes to the list of SSAP priority projects. However, now, unlike at the time of the original call, it is clear that such projects cannot move forwards without UKSA (financial) support, and such funds are already committed according to UKSA’s existing programme. SSAP remain strongly supportive of mission-led science in solar-system exploration, so SSAP have strongly recommended that the high-level discussions between UKSA and STFC continue with a view to supporting a clear joint priority projects call in future, more naturally suited to mission and bi-lateral opportunities.

The priority projects (and PIs) identified by SSAP for 2019/20 are:

  • Solar Atmospheric Modelling Suite (Tony Arber)
  • LARES1: Laboratory Analysis for Research into Extra-terrestrial Samples (Monica Grady)
  • EST: European Solar Telescope (Sarah Matthews)

SSAP requested STFC continue to work with all three projects to expand their community reach and continue to develop the business cases for future (new) funding opportunities. In addition, SSAP have requested that STFC explore ways in which the concept of two projects—“ViCE: Virtual Centres of Excellence Programme / MSEMM Maximising Science Exploitation from Space Science Missions”—can be combined and, with community involvement, generate new funding for science exploitation and maximising scientific return in solar-system sciences. Initially this consultation will occur between SSAP and STFC.

We would like to thank the community again for its strong support, and rapid responses on very short timescales. A further “light touch” review will occur in 2020, with a new call for projects anticipated in 2021. SSAP continue to appreciate the unfamiliar approach a “call for proposals with no funding attached” causes to the community and are continuing to stress to STFC that the community would appreciate clearer guidance and longer timescales in future priority project calls.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Helen Fraser on behalf of SSAP

The Global Network for the Sustainability In Space (GNOSIS)

The Global Network for the Sustainability In Space (GNOSIS) is an STFC Network+ with the goal of helping researchers within the Particle, Nuclear and Astrophysics areas to engage with researchers from other research councils and industry to study the near Earth space environment. For more details, visit the GNOSIS website or see this issue of the GNOSIS newsletter.

Over the next few years we expect a large increase in the number of satellites in Earth orbit. This will lead to unprecedented levels of space traffic much of which will end as debris. The aim of this network is to understand the debris populations and its impact on space traffic management with a view to enabling a safer environment.

The free GNOSIS lunch event will be held on 18 November 2019 at the British Interplanetary Society at Vauxhall, London, with a video link to the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, to facilitate participation from across the UK. Tickets can be obtained here.

GNOSIS will be producing a programme of meetings for both space operations specialists and subject matter novices and will be able to support the development of collaborative ideas through project and part graduate student funding. Details of our first workshop will be announced in the next month.

If you are an academic with no direct experience but have knowledge of areas such as observations, data analysis, simulation or even law, then register your interest on our website. If you are a currently working in the space sector or if you are just interested in the aims and goals of the network please also register your interest and get involved.

SWIMMR: A £19.9M programme of the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund

Space Weather Instrumentation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk (SWIMMR) is a £19.9M programme of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strategic Priorities Fund.

MIST would like draw the attention of the research community to the potential opportunities which will become available as a result of this programme, which received final approval from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in August. The programme will run from now until March 2023 and is aimed at improving the UK’s capabilities for space weather monitoring and prediction. UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund provides a means for linking research council investment to governmental research priorities, hence the areas being emphasised in the programme reflect space weather threats to critical infrastructure, as reflected in the UK national risk register.

The programme will be delivered jointly by the STFC and NERC, mainly through open grant calls, but including some elements of commissioned work to be delivered through open competitive tenders. The first calls are expected to appear during the coming weeks. More information about the programme is available through the RAL Space website, and is forthcoming from the NERC web site.

To mark the official launch of the programme and provide more details of the planned activities, a kick-off meeting is being held in the Wolfson Library of the Royal Society on Tuesday 26 November 2019, from 10:30. Pre-registration is required for this event and can be done using this link. We hope that many of you will be able to attend.

Nuggets of MIST science, summarising recent MIST papers in a bitesize format.

If you would like to submit a nugget, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we will arrange a slot for you in the schedule. Nuggets should be 100–300 words long and include a figure/animation. Please get in touch!

Using Differential Magnetometer Measurements to Monitor Geomagnetically Induced Currents in the Complex High Voltage Network of Great Britain

By Juliane Hübert (British Geological Survey, Edinburgh)

Large geomagnetic storms create time-varying magnetic fields, which induce secondary electric fields in the conductive Earth resulting in geomagnetically induced currents (GICs). The high voltage (HV) power transmission network is connected to the Earth at grounding points in substations. These offer a low-resistance path for GICs to flow into the power network, potentially causing the transformers to malfunction with extensive consequences for the national power supply. The UK government has listed severe space weather events as one of the highest priority natural hazard. Therefore, it is important to fully understand GICs to enable the mitigation of this hazard. It is possible to directly measure GICs at substations using Hall-effect probes, but due to cost and operational reasons, at present only four substations in the UK are monitored. Therefore we have developed a new instrument to measure GICs indirectly using two magnetometers, one placed under the HV line and another a few hundred metres away. By examining the differences between the magnetometers, we work out the additional current flowing in the HV line.

Magnetometer data used to measure GICs

Figure 1: Recorded times series during the G3 geomagnetic storm on 25-26 August 2018. Panels a-d) Horizontal magnetic field components at DMM site Whiteadder (WHI), East Scotland. Panel e) Line GICs at WHI; Panel f) GIC data from a Hall probe at Torness substation.

In the study, we present the design and initial deployment of the first differential magnetometer method (DMM) systems in the UK and measurements from the first site installed at Whiteadder in eastern Scotland. At this site we have successfully detected geomagnetically induced currents in a 400 kV high voltage power network. The Figure compares line GIC data recorded at Whiteadder (panels a-e) to data from a Hall probe at the nearby substation at Torness (panel f) during the 26 August 2018 storm. The measured GICs from the line and the Hall probe show excellent temporal correlation, though with significant differences in amplitude, illustrating that line measurements with DMM and Hall probes at grounding points capture different but complementary views of GIC flow in a network. Using the latest model of the HV network and electric field variations estimated from a magnetotelluric survey, we show that the measured line and earthing GICs match the expected modelled values during the geomagnetic storm. This is the first study to validate such a complex network model using direct and indirect measurements of GICs.

The full article can be found here:

Hübert, J., Beggan, C. D., Richardson, G. S., Martyn, T., & Thomson, A. W. P. (2020). Differential Magnetometer Measurements of Geomagnetically Induced Currents in a Complex High Voltage Network. Space Weather, 18, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019SW002421  

The Climatology of Extreme Geomagnetic Field Fluctuations

by Neil Rogers (Lancaster University)

Strong electrical currents in the Earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere can produce geomagnetically induced currents (GIC) in ground-based infrastructure, such as electricity cables. For extreme conditions this can lead to instability and failure of the electricity supply. The magnitude of these currents is proportional to the rate of change of the horizontal geomagnetic field, dBH/dt.  Climatological statistics of |dBH/dt| may be combined with models of ground conductivity and impedances in the electricity network to evaluate the risk of GICs.     

Using 1.9 billion measurements from 125 magnetometers worldwide we fitted Generalised Pareto (GP) distributions to occurrences of dBH/dt above the 99.97th percentile (P99.97). By extrapolating the GP tail distributions we predicted the magnitude of dBH/dt expected every 200 years. This is shown in Figure 1a (with 95% confidence intervals) as a function of corrected geomagnetic (CGM) latitude. 

Plots showing how extreme values of the rate of change of the geomagnetic field varies spatially.

Figure 1. a) 200-year return levels for |dBH/dt|. b) Occurrence probabilities of |dBH/dt| > P99.97 vs CGM latitude and MLT.

The sharp increase near 53° CGM latitude suggests that the largest |dBH/dt| result from substorm expansions in a greatly expanded auroral region. Figure 1b presents the occurrence probability of |dBH/dt| > P99.97 vs latitude and magnetic local time (MLT). In the auroral zones this maximises in the hours before midnight due to substorm activity and in the 3-10 MLT sector due to ULF wave activity. Poleward of the dayside cusp region (~77° CGM latitude) occurrence rates increase near local noon, in summer, and under northward interplanetary magnetic field (IMF), indicating a relation to magnetospheric tail-lobe reconnection. At latitudes below 40° most occurrences were related to Sudden Commencements, the effect of shock fronts arriving in the solar wind. 

This study models extreme dBH/dt as functions of latitude, MLT, month, and compass direction for return periods up to 500 years, and examines the effect of IMF orientation. The results demonstrate the response of the geomagnetic field to different drivers, and have significant potential in advancing modelling of GIC hazards.

For more information, please see the paper:

Rogers NC, Wild JA, Eastoe EF, Gjerloev JW & Thomson AWP. 2020. A global climatological model of extreme geomagnetic field fluctuations. J. Space Weather Space Clim. 10, 5. https://doi.org/10.1051/swsc/2020008

Tomographic imaging of travelling ionospheric disturbances

By Karl Bolmgren (University of Bath)

The ionosphere, the electrically charged upper atmosphere, has important effects on technologies like radio communication and satellite-based positioning. For high-accuracy positioning using Global Navigational Satellite Systems (GNSS), such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), ionospheric models are often used to estimate the ionospheric effect on satellite to ground communication. This effect is determined by the ionospheric electron content, and sudden changes or disturbances in the electron content can be challenging to include in such models.

A common type of disturbance called Travelling Ionospheric Disturbances (TIDs) are caused by gravity waves in the ionosphere, which are present all over the globe. They can be observed as wave-like fluctuations in Total Electron Content (TEC) and come in widely different spatial and temporal scales. The largest TIDs are generally caused by geomagnetic storm activity, while the more common, smaller TIDs can be caused by activity in the neutral atmosphere, like thunderstorms, perturbations from earthquakes or tsunamis, and the sudden temperature gradients associated with the solar terminator. In order to improve existing models and learn more about TIDs, we need reliable methods to study them.

A simulated Travelling Ionospheric Disturbance

Figure: Cross-section electron density of a modelled TID used to evaluate the tomographic images. For this particular simulation, a horizontal wavelength of 700 km, an initial perturbation speed of 20 m/s, and a period of 30 min was used.

Computerised ionospheric tomography is a powerful tool to image the ionosphere. Tomography is a technique used to reconstruct the 3D structure of an object from integrated measurements and is commonly used in e.g. medical imaging. In ionospheric tomography, the 3D ionospheric electron density is reconstructed from integrated measurements of TEC. We have used simulated TIDs to test how well ionospheric tomography can be used to image different scales of TIDs, and an example of a simulated TID is shown in the figure. We showed that incorporating geostationary satellites can significantly improve the imaging of TIDs. The imaging technique has significant implications for how we observe and investigate ionospheric features, such as TIDs, and presents a method to incorporate these phenomena into existing ionospheric delay correction techniques for applications like GNSS.

For more in details, please see:

Bolmgren, K., Mitchell, C., Bruno, J., & Bust, G. (2020). Tomographic imaging of traveling ionospheric disturbances using GNSS and geostationary satellite observations. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 125, e2019JA027551. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019JA027551  

Local Time Asymmetries in Jupiter's Magnetodisc Currents

By Chris Lorch (Lancaster University)

Jupiter’s large, rapidly rotating magnetosphere is highly influenced by the presence of a global, centrifugally confined current disk comprised of co-rotating plasma from the volcanic moon Io. Azimuthal and radial currents flow through this current disk closing via magnetic field aligned currents (FACs), which are associated with Jupiter’s main auroral emission. These currents arise from dynamical processes within the magnetosphere, driven by the transport and circulation of Iogenic plasma. Characterising the structure and asymmetries in this current system is key to deciphering the dominant drivers of Jupiter’s magnetosphere-ionosphere (MI) coupled system and the behaviour of its plasma disk. 

Previous work by Khurana [2001] examined the solar wind influence on Jupiter’s magnetosphere using equatorial maps of Jupiter’s current disk and the results demonstrated clear azimuthal asymmetries fixed with local time (LT). However, the analysis was limited the lack of spacecraft coverage in the dusk – dayside magnetosphere provided by the Galileo spacecraft.  

Maps of current density mapped to Jupiter's equatorial plane, illustrating the azimuthal asymmetries.

Figure 1: Equatorial maps detailing the structure of Jupiter’s current disk with Jupiter located at (0,0). Dashed circles and radial lines represent 20RJ and 1 hr local time boundaries respectively. A compressed bow shock and magnetopause (Joy et al [2002]) are shown as black solid lines. a) The radial height-integrated current density, warmer (cooler) colours are indicative of current flowing radially outwards (inwards). b) The azimuthal height integrated colour density, flowing in the direction of corotation. c) The divergence of the perpendicular height-integrated current density, indicating the location of upward and downward FACs. Warmer (cooler) colours indicate the presence of upward (downward) FACs.

Lorch et al. [2020] determines the structure of the current disk at all LTs by considering magnetometer data at Jupiter from every available spacecraft, including Juno, up to 28 July 2018.  We apply an automated identification tool to magnetometer data from Jupiter’s current disk in conjunction with updated models of Jupiter’s intrinsic magnetic field and current disk geometry. In total, we identify 7382 lobe traversals, calculating the associated height-integrated current density for each crossing.  Additional coverage provided by the later half of the Galileo mission and the recent Juno mission allowed us to map all LTs. Asymmetries exist in both the radial (Figure 1a) and azimuthal (Figure 1b) currents into 20 RJ. Furthermore, we quantify the structure of upward and downward FACs in previously unmapped regions of Jupiter’s magnetosphere (Figure 1c). We find a positive net current density of 1.87 MA / RJ2, suggesting unmapped currents must close either down-tail or along the magnetopause. Our results demonstrate important asymmetries in Jupiter’s current systems that play a crucial role in the MI coupled system. Amalgamating these results into future MI coupling models has the potential to remove discrepancies between model predictions and observations.

For more information, please see the paper:

Lorch, C. T. S., Ray, L. C., Arridge, C. S., Khurana, K. K., Martin, C. J., & Bader, A. (2020). Local time asymmetries in Jupiter's magnetodisc currents. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 125, e2019JA027455. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019JA027455 

Where does slow Alfvénic solar wind come from?

By David Stansby (MSSL, UCL) 

The solar wind is a continuous flow of plasma from the surface of the Sun, flowing out into interplanetary space. Faster solar wind is known to originate in large coronal holes, but slower solar wind has a wide range of different sources. A subset of slow solar wind is filled with pure Alfvén waves, much like the fast solar wind, suggesting it has a similar origin in coronal holes.

In our study we tested this theory of coronal hole origin, using Helios in-situ measurements of the solar wind at 0.35 AU. Figure 1 shows a wide range of plasma properties in typical fast solar wind (black), highly Alfvénic slow solar wind (blue), and non-Alfvénic slow wind (red).

Distributions for different solar wind types are compared for proton radial velocity, alpha abundance, proton number density flux, and temperature.Distributions for different solar wind types are compared for proton radial velocity, alpha abundance, proton number density flux, and temperature.

Figure 1: In-situ solar wind properties for three intervals of solar wind, measured at 0.35 AU. The three types of solar wind are Fast (black), Slow Alfvénic (blue), and Slow non-Alfvénic (red).

The fast and Alfvénic slow wind had similar

  • Alpha particle abundances
  • Alpha particle drift speeds
  • Alpha particle temperature anisotropies
  • Alpha to proton temperature ratios (in both parallel and perpendicular directions) 

These similarities imply that the heating and acceleration mechanisms of fast and slow Alfvénic solar wind are qualitatively similar, acting in the same way on protons and alpha particles. This agrees with the theory that slow Alfvénic wind originates in coronal holes, like fast solar wind.

In contrast, the fast and Alfvénic slow wind had different

  • Electron, proton, and alpha particle temperatures
  • Mass fluxes

These differences can be explained by different magnetic field geometries in the low corona: slower wind is released on magnetic field lines which undergo more expansion in the corona, increasing the mass flux and reducing the temperatures. This implies that whilst slow Alfvénic wind originates in coronal holes, it most probably originates in small coronal holes.

For more information, please see:

The origin of slow Alfvénic solar wind at solar minimum, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 492, 39–44 (2020), D Stansby, L Matteini, T S Horbury, D Perrone, R D’Amicis, L Berčič, https://doi.org/10.1093/mnras/stz3422