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The Geospace Observatory (GO) Canada Initiatives: Monitoring and predicting space weather

Artist illustration of events on the Sun

Artist illustration of events on the Sun changing the conditions in near-Earth space. (Credit: NASA)

As our dependence on technology continues to grow, so does our need to monitor and forecast space weather. Space weather refers to the impact of radiation from space on astronauts, satellites, and systems on Earth. Space weather is known to have caused a blackout in the province of Quebec in , malfunctions of the Anik E1 and Anik E2 satellites in , and the loss of 40 Starlink satellites in . Because of its northern location, Canada is highly impacted by the effects of space weather, but this also gives Canada a front row seat to observe the near-Earth space environment (geospace) where space weather occurs.

Much of the technology and infrastructure can be affected by space weather events

Much of the technology and infrastructure that we rely on can be affected by space weather events. (Credit: NASA)

The GO Canada initiative supports the academic community in gathering space weather data, which will enable scientific research, and lead to the development of applications of benefit to Canadians. Space weather is best observed by combining measurements from space and from the ground, by monitoring the magnetic disturbance it causes, the way it absorbs or deflects radio waves, or by observing its visual signature: the aurora.

Instruments collecting geospatial data

Following an Announcement of Opportunity issued in , seven projects were selected. The contribution agreements totalling $3M over 30 months support operation and data collection from scientific instruments that probe space above Canada, to better understand the impact of space weather on Canadian infrastructure. They also ensure the data is collected on a continual basis for open access by Canadian scientists and the public. Here is the list of the projects that were selected to receive a contribution agreement from the CSA.

AUTUMN EAST-WEST – Athabasca University

Photo of an aurora taken by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet

Photo of an aurora taken by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet during his six-month mission on the International Space Station. (Credit: ESA/NASA)

AUTUMN EAST-WEST will operate precision magnetic detectors in Quebec at sites supporting the study of auroras and their effects on the Hydro-Québec power grid, and in western Canada complementing other research networks. Active auroras cause space weather effects on the ground that are well studied through changes of magnetic and electric fields. Understanding those phenomena, and how to minimize them, is part of hazard assessment ensuring reliable operation of the power grids and communications systems now so vital to daily life.

The AUTUMN EAST-WEST data is available on the website of the University of Athabasca.

Project team

  • Dr. Martin Connors, Athabasca University (principal investigator)
  • Ian Schofield, Athabasca University
  • Sébastien Guillon, Hydro-Québec TransÉnergie

CARISMA – University of Alberta

Fluxgate and Induction Coil magnetometers are essential tools for space weather monitoring and solar-terrestrial research on how the Sun's solar wind couples to and influences near-Earth space. Together they provide high-precision measurements of Earth's magnetic fields and can help us understand the electrical currents and processes which transport mass and energy through the near-Earth space of the magnetosphere and ionosphere. This project will operate 19 existing magnetic observatories in the CARISMA network to provide freely available science measurements in support of satellite missions such as the CSA's CASSIOPE/ePOP, NASA's THEMIS, ESA's Swarm and JAXA's ARASE.

The CARISMA data is available on the website of the University of Alberta.

Project team

  • Dr. Ian R. Mann, University of Alberta (principal investigator)
  • Dr. Andrew Yau, University of Calgary
  • Dr. David Knudsen, University of Calgary
  • Dr. Jesper Gjerloev, Johns Hopkins University – Applied Physics Laboratory
  • Dr. Peter Chi, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Dr. Kathryn McWilliams, University of Saskatchewan
  • Dr. Vassilis Angelopoulos, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Dr. Yoshizumi Miyoshi, Nagoya University
  • Dr. David G. Sibeck, Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Dr. Jonathan Rae, University College London
  • Dr. Emma Louise Spanswick, University of Calgary

CHAIN – University of New Brunswick

An illustration of the ionosphere above the Arctic

An illustration of the ionosphere above the Arctic. (Credit: CHAIN, University of New Brunswick)

This project is making continuous and near-time measurements of the electrons in the ionosphere, by measuring how they distort signals from Global Navigation Satellites. The instrument array used for these measurements is the Canadian High Arctic Ionospheric Network (CHAIN) and consists of 28 Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers and 10 Canadian Advanced Digital Ionosondes deployed in the Canadian Arctic. These measurements will be used for space weather applications and research. Infrastructure used for these measurements are funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, and the Department of National Defence.

The CHAIN data is available on the website of the University of New Brunswick.

Project team

  • Dr. Jayachandran P. Thayyil, University of New Brunswick (principal investigator)
  • Dr. Christopher Watson, University of New Brunswick
  • Dr. Richard Langley, University of New Brunswick
  • Dr. David Themens, University of New Brunswick
  • Dr. Anton Kashcheyev, University of New Brunswick
  • Dr. Anthony McCaffrey, University of New Brunswick
  • Todd Kelly, University of New Brunswick

SuperDARN Canada National Research Facility – University of Saskatchewan

The northern lights seen over the Saskatoon SuperDARN radar site

The northern lights seen over the Saskatoon SuperDARN radar site. (Credit: Ashton Reimer)

The Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN) is a global network of scientific radars that monitor conditions in the near-Earth space environment. The radars allow researchers to observe how space weather conditions drive charged particle flows in Earth's ionosphere and magnetosphere. These changes are connected to disturbances in space and on Earth that affect critically important modern infrastructure, including satellites, power grids, pipelines, radio communications and space station radiation hazards. Canada's fundamental contribution to SuperDARN is the operation of the five SuperDARN Canada radars at Saskatoon, Prince George, Rankin Inlet, Inuvik, and Clyde River.

The SuperDARN data is available on the website of the University of Saskatchewan.

Project team

  • Dr. Kathryn McWilliams, University of Saskatchewan (principal investigator)
  • Dr. Glenn Hussey, University of Saskatchewan
  • Dr. Alexandre Koustov, University of Saskatchewan

ICEBEAR Radar Operations – University of Saskatchewan

The Ionospheric Continuous-wave E-region Bi-static Experimental Auroral Radar

The newly constructed Ionospheric Continuous-wave E-region Bi-static Experimental Auroral Radar (ICEBEAR) transmitter near Prelate, Saskatchewan. (Credit: Kevin Krieger, Research Engineer, University of Saskatchewan)

This research involves explaining a natural phenomena in Earth's ionosphere, the partially ionized transition region between the neutral atmosphere (below) and fully ionized space (above). An ionized medium has electrically charged particles, which are "free" to move around. Electric and magnetic fields interact strongly with ionized mediums, which behave very differently from the neutral atmosphere on Earth's surface. A new innovative advanced digital radar, ICEBEAR (Ionospheric Continuous wave E-region Bistatic Experimental Auroral Radar), makes detailed observations of the lowest portion of the ionosphere. The radar is able to detect the motion of ionized particles, which are responsible for the beautiful aurora borealis displays. The highly sensitive radar also observes neutral winds in the high atmosphere by tracking the ionized tails of micrometeorites that bombard Earth.

The ICEBEAR data is available on the website of the University of Saskatchewan.

Project team

  • Dr. Glenn Curtis Hussey, University of Saskatchewan (principal investigator)
  • Dr. Alexandre Koustov, University of Saskatchewan
  • Dr. Jean-Pierre St. Maurice, University of Saskatchewan

CAR-NGEN – University of Alberta

A wind of particles from the Sun called the solar wind strikes Earth's magnetosphere

A wind of particles from the Sun called the solar wind strikes the blue funnel-shaped magnetosphere around Earth. (Credit: ESA)

Fluxgate magnetometers are an essential tool to monitor space weather and for solar-terrestrial research into how the Sun's solar wind couples to and influences near-Earth space. Fluxgates provide high-precision measurements of Earth's magnetic fields and can infer the electrical currents and processes which transport mass and energy through the near-Earth space of the magnetosphere and ionosphere. This project, CARISMA – Next GENeration autonomous magnetometer array (CAR-NGEN), exploits recent technological advancements to deploy an array of world-leading fluxgate magnetometers to provide freely available science measurements in support of satellite missions such as the CSA's CASSIOPE/ePOP, NASA's THEMIS, ESA's SWARM and JAXA's ARASE.

Project team

  • Dr. David K. Milling, University of Alberta (principal investigator)
  • Dr. Ian Robert Mann, University of Alberta
  • Dr. Andrew Yau, University of Calgary
  • Dr. David Knudsen, University of Calgary
  • Dr. Jesper Gjerloev, Johns Hopkins University

TREx-ASI – University of Calgary

The aurora is a beautiful manifestation of processes that occur in near-Earth space. Auroral images are also a powerful tool for remote sensing geospace. Canada has the most, and most readily accessible land under the aurora in the world, and so our geography provides a globally unique platform for scientific imaging of the aurora. TREx-ASI is an innovative and new network of auroral imagers with fields of view covering Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and much of the Northwest Territories. TREx-ASI will provide scientific images that will power Canadian space science, and enhance science return from exciting Canadian, NASA, and European scientific satellites.

The projet TREx-ASI data is available on the website of the University of Calgary.

Project team

  • Dr. Eric Donovan, University of Calgary (principal investigator)
  • Dr. Laila Andersson, Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado
  • Dr. Vassilis Angelopoulos, Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, UCLA
  • Christine Gabrielse, Space Sciences Department, The Aerospace Corporation
  • Michael Henderson, Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Dr. David Knudsen, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Calgary

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