Inventor: Dr. Mark Clilverd, British Antarctic Survey
Mentor: Dr. Jessica Ocampos
Rapid, real-time detection of solar flares can be accomplished by monitoring atmospheric changes in very low frequency (VLF) radio signal propagation conditions. Solar flares are the first indicator of a sequence of space weather events that can severely disrupt air transportation, maritime mobile services, emergency responders and land-based high frequency (HF) radio communications. Travelling at the speed of light, the effects are felt on the Earth’s dayside ionosphere before any warning systems can provide an alert, can last for several hours at a time and typically occur in clusters over a week or so.
Countries in Africa, and South America are well placed to undertake solar flare real-time analysis because of the locations of VLF transmitters at that longitude (see map below). Countries that have shown they can provide some of the infrastructure necessary include Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Costa Rica, Philippines, Tahiti and India. Additional well-placed locations include Tuvalu, Samoa and Zimbabwe.
Immediate effects of solar flares on aviation are via HF Communication, navigation and communication satellites including GPS, and air traffic control. As a result, Amendment 78 to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annex 3 officially identifies solar flares and solar storms as potential hazards that affect communications, navigation, and could pose a radiation risk to crew and passengers. Early warning of HF blackout occurrence, duration and severity is a requirement for the ICAO.
Existing satellites can monitor x-ray wavelengths for solar flare activity, but the data are low time resolution and delayed with respect to the flare occurrence.
The British Antarctic Survey has the expertise to develop systems to monitor and detect solar flares in real time. This will need the development and installation of very low frequency radio receiver systems, appropriate analysis of the ionospheric perturbation levels caused by solar flare activity, and the refinement of algorithms to give real-time information on solar flares. Local groups in partner countries will gain expertise in the system operation, data analysis, and nowcasting.
The task for the i-Team is to investigate which developing countries would gain the greatest benefit from having access to early warnings about solar flares, so that the inventors can identify appropriate collaboration partners to work with in setting up and testing the new systems. As well as countries using the solar flare information themselves for their own benefit, they may also be able to host infrastructure and provide solar flare information to other countries across the globe.