Exploiting the UK and global soil moisture sensor network to provide space weather alerts for aviation and critical infrastructure entry

This is an exciting, multi-disciplinary, opportunity to help create a new global observatory for space weather by exploiting the ‘hidden’ signals caused by solar events in the global COSMOS soil moisture sensor network.
Start date
Duration
3 years
Application deadline
Funding information

As a NERC PhD student, you will receive a stipend (similar to a wage, but tax-free) and your university fees will be paid. You will also have funding for participation in conferences, fieldwork and visits to the partners co-supervising your project.

Funding source
University of Surrey and University of Reading joint SCENARIO DTP
Supervised by

About

Solar storms can generate sudden surges of neutrons which travel right through the atmosphere and reach the ground. Known as Ground Level Events (GLEs), they create radiation risks to aircraft and safety-critical ground systems. Recent evidence from ice cores and tree rings show that extremely large GLEs have occurred in the historical record e.g. AD774. Hence a reliable observation and alert system is required but traditional large ground level neutron monitor stations are hard to maintain: the UK closed its only station in the 1980s. This project explores a potentially more cost-effective approach by exploiting the global Cosmic Ray Soil Moisture Observing System (COSMOS): this system measures soil moisture by detecting the quiet-time cosmic-ray generated neutrons ‘reflected’ from the ground. There have not been any significant GLEs during the COSMOS operational life so far but it is known to be affected by the modest cosmic ray flux variation over the solar cycle. Hence it is predicted that COSMOS should be capable of measuring GLEs, potentially with unprecedented spatial resolution on a global scale. Thus the aim of this project is to investigate, understand and predict the response of the COSMOS system to space weather events, and determine if it can be the basis of a new GLE alert and measurement system.

The project is based at the University of Surrey. Applications should be made via the SCENARIO website at the University of Reading as the studentship is funded under the SCENARIO joint Reading-Surrey DTP scheme.

Training opportunities

The student will be based at the University of Surrey but will undertake a placement (6 months) with the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology which runs the COSMOS-UK network. Time will also be spent with the UK Met Office to understand the space weather user requirements.

Student profile

The student will have a strong degree in physics (or closely related subjects) and a keen appetite for working on environmental observations, instrumentation, data analysis, radiation physics and space weather. The student will need a flexible and open-minded approach to tackle this highly cross-disciplinary project.

Related links
Reading-Surrey DTP scheme website

Eligibility criteria

Candidates should hold a first or upper-second class Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree at distinction level (or equivalent experience/qualifications) in an appropriate discipline.

To be eligible applicants must also have lived in the UK or EU for 3 years or more.

How to apply

Details of how to apply can be found on the Reading-Surrey DTP scheme website.

SCENERIO NERC DTP Reading-Surrey website


Application deadline

Contact details

Keith Ryden
22 BA 01
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 682226
E-mail: k.ryden@surrey.ac.uk

Space Environment and Protection Group, Surrey Space Centre. The project is run in combination with the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), Met Office and University of Bristol.

The student will be based at the University of Surrey but will undertake a placement (6 months) with the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology which runs the COSMOS-UK network. Time will also be spent with the UK Met Office to understand the space weather user requirements.

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