Space weather and climate

Solar wind forecasting

On the more applied side of space physics research, we are active in the development and validation of space-weather forecasting schemes. At the simplest end of the spectrum, this involves persistence forecasting of the solar wind ("the space-weather today will be the same as that one solar rotation ago."). At the other end is a coupled chain of numerical magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) models. We are particularly interested in using observations from the Heliospheric Imager (HI) instruments on board the STEREO spacecraft in order to better constrain the initial conditions of MHD models of the solar wind.

Coronal mass ejections

Coronal mass ejections (CME's) are the explosive release of coronal material out into the heliosphere, due to the rapid release of energy stored in the coronal magnetic field. Earth impacting CME's can be highly "geo-effective", as they can cause strong geomagnetic storms and are also a source of solar energetic particles (SEP's). It is therefore useful to be able to track these events out into the heliosphere, and to understand the dynamics of CME propagation. We use the HI instruments on the STEREO spacecraft to track the propagation of CME's, and use these observations to develop a better understanding of the dynamics of CME's. This will help us improve methods of predicting whether a CME will impact the Earth, and if so, when it will.

Solar energetic particles

Solar energetic particle events are large increases in the flux of energetic charged particles due to processes originating at the Sun and in the inner heliosphere. A typical event consists of an enhancement of the flux of particles in the keV to GeV range, and can last from several hours to days. SEP events can be generated by both solar flares and the strong MHD shock waves ahead of exceptionally fast CME's. Such large fluxes of energetic particles are an important consideration in the design of space-bound technology and can be a severe radiation hazard to astronauts. SEP's also interact with the Earth's upper atmosphere, for example they can significantly affect the composition of the stratosphere, which in turn can alter stratospheric dynamics. We are interested in the statistical description of SEP events and how the event occurrence frequency and magnitude may change under different levels of solar activity that have not been directly observed over the space age.

Things to do now



Page navigation

See also