Project Highlights:

  • Combining ground- and space-based datasets to examine the coupled solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere-neutral atmosphere system
  • Investigating the impact of high latitude extreme space weather events on the upper and lower atmosphere.
  • Providing a greater understanding of effects of solar variability on climate

The interaction between the Sun’s and the Earth’s plasma environments is very dynamic and one of societal and commercial importance. Following dynamic processes such as magnetic reconnection, a large proportion of the energy from this terawatt system is transferred from the outer magnetosphere inwards by magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) waves, which propagate along magnetic field lines and into the upper atmosphere (ionosphere; Fig. 1), where the energy is dissipated through Joule (frictional heating) and energetic particle precipitation (EPP). “Space Weather” hazards are now part of the UK Government’s National Risk Register since geomagnetic storms are known to affect human activities on the ground and in space.

Recently, it has become apparent that nonlinear effects in the upper atmosphere also influence tropospheric climate, including energetic particle precipitation (EPP, associated with MHD waves) effects on stratospheric ozone (e.g. Seppälä et al., 2009) and changes to the geoelectric circuit. By undertaking this study, the student will be able to gauge the impact of geomagnetic activity on the Earth’s environment.

The Radio and Space Plasma Physics (RSPP) group at the University of Leicester have unique UK access to a number of important data sets including ground magnetometers (through SuperMag), ionospheric radars (including EISCAT and the imminent EISCAT_3D and SuperDARN) and satellites (e.g. the JAXA Arase mission). This project will exploit these facilities to explore energy deposition in the upper atmosphere and its ultimate influence of the lower atmosphere. 

A number of these instruments and their datasets will provide the magnetospheric and upper atmospheric context for events which are associated with energy deposition via EPP. The EPP modify the concentration of “odd” Nitrogen (NOx) species in the atmosphere which impact on the creation of stratospheric ozone and ultimately on tropospheric climate. By examining the energy spectrum of the down-going EPP using the Arase satellite and a ground-based multispectral auroral imager in conjunction with models for NOx creation the student will for the first time produce a realistic model for the impact of solar variability on NOx and ozone concentration.

An illustration of the coupled Solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere system highlighting the key regions of geospace in this project. (Jerry Goldstein, Southwest Research Institute, USA).


Initially, the student will become familiar with the processing and interpretation of relevant data sets from ground-based instruments (magnetometers and radars) and spacecraft. This is likely to also involve training in the use of the radar systems and some arctic fieldwork. The student will employ existing complex data analysis methods and write code to extend this as required.

Subsequently, the student will assess existing models for NOx and ozone generation. They will create collaborative links with relevant modellers and prepare a coupled model between upper atmospheric EPP and lower atmospheric NOx.

The student will develop transferable skills in coding, data analysis, undertaking fieldwork, working independently and also as part of a team. They will also be required to publish their work in peer-reviewed journals and present at national and international conferences.

Training and Skills

The project will build upon over 40 years of experience within the Radio and Space Plasma Physics (RSPP) group in the exploitation and analysis of geophysical data and combining ground- and space-based observations of Space Weather phenomena. Training in relevant plasma and atmospheric physics and radar techniques will be provided as well as training in computer programming, model simulations and the data analysis required. The student will gain a great deal of expertise in research methods, data management, analytical thinking and computer programming.


Year 1: The student will become familiar with the various instruments and data types required to undertake the study. They will gain skills in programming and analysis techniques. Furthermore, the student will start to process and interpret satellite measurements of EPP by Arase in the magnetosphere and a ground-based multi-spectral imager of auroral EPP.

Year 2: The student will extend their studies to include conjunctive case studies incorporating ionospheric (radar), magnetospheric (Arase) and solar wind (Wind) measurements to provide a more comprehensive view. These will also include measurements from the new EISCAT_3D radar, due for deployment in 2021.

Year 3: Ultimately, the student will develop a model of the modification of atmospheric NOx concentration by EPP.

Throughout the project, the student will be expected to publish their work in refereed journals and present their findings at national and international meetings.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

The work will be undertaken in collaboration with Dr J Gjerloev, PI of SuperMAG at the Johns Hopkins University, USA. New collaborations have also been established with Dr J Rae at UCL an expert in MHD waves, Dr Hilde Nesse Tyssøy at the Birkeland Centre for Space Science (University of Bergen), an expert in solar forcing of the lower atmosphere and Prof David Jackson at the UK Met Office. As a PI institute of SuperDARN, Leicester also has access to all SuperDARN data and strong links with the PI institutes of the >30 constituent radars around the world.

Further Details

Dr Darren Wright

Radio and Space Plasma Physics Group

Department of Physics and Astronomy

University of Leicester

Tel: +44 116 2523568

Email: Darren.Wright@le.ac.uk