Using satellite data to study space weather

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is supporting nine Canadian research teams that are studying space weather so that we better understand it and are better equipped to predict and respond to its effects.

In analyzing data from instruments aboard Canadian and international satellites (sometimes combined with ground-based observations), the researchers will advance scientific knowledge and understanding of the physical processes occurring in geospace (the region of space closest to Earth) and improve our understanding of what causes space weather.

The research grants for these projects represent a total investment of $2.16 million over three years, starting in March 2017, to maximize the use and scientific benefits of satellites like Canada's CASSIOPE (ePOP) and the European Space Agency's Swarm constellation.

What will researchers study or develop?

  • Atmosphere Escape

    1. Space weather causing ions to escape the ionosphere
    2. Irregularities in the ionosphere and their impact on geospace
  • Energy Transfer

    1. Magnetic waves that transfer energy from the ionosphere to the magnetosphere
    2. Fast electrons that make the aurora light up
    3. Enhanced models to understand how the aurora are generated
  • Geospace Regions

    1. The uneven distribution of energy (ions and electrons) across the ionosphere
    2. The Van Allen radiation belts – highly dynamic regions surrounding the Earth
  • Technology Disruptions

    1. Radio waves that travel in the ionosphere
    2. Simulating severe space weather to improve satellite navigation systems

CSA Grants and Contributions

The projects are funded under the CSA Class Grant and Contribution Program following the Announcement of Opportunity: Solar-Terrestrial Science Data Analyses.

To find out more about current CSA opportunities, visit the Funding opportunities at the Canadian Space Agency page.

Solar-terrestrial science project summaries

Atmosphere Escape

  1. Ions flowing into space

    When the solar wind that blows from the Sun flows past the Earth, it shakes the Earth's magnetic field and makes ions in the Earth's upper atmosphere flow up into space. The project team will develop a computer-based model to explore the connections between the Earth's magnetic field and ionosphere that can adversely affect ground- and space-based technology.


    A comprehensive quantitative model of the ionosphere applied against ePOP/CASSIOPE and Swarm observations

    Research team
    • Robert Rankin, University of Alberta (principal investigator)
    • David Knudsen, University of Calgary
    • Andrew Yau, University of Calgary
  2. Disturbances in the ionosphere

    The ionosphere above Canada becomes bumpy when it is disturbed by space weather. The project team will investigate what causes the irregularities (small-scale plasma density structures) in the ionosphere and how they affect the connections between the upper atmosphere and the space above. These disturbances can disrupt satellite navigation systems. The team will also explore how heated atoms in the ionosphere can slow satellites in low-Earth orbits.


    Small-scale plasma irregularities and magnetosphere-ionosphere-thermosphere coupling in the high latitude regions

    Research team
    • Andrew Yau, University of Calgary (principal investigator)
    • Leroy Cogger, University of Calgary
    • Richard Langley, University of New Brunswick
    • Bernard Shizgal, University of British Columbia
    • Christopher Watson, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Energy Transfer

  1. Magnetic waves

    The Earth's magnetic field connects the ionosphere with the space environment. The project team will study the role that magnetic waves play in connecting and moving energy across geospace, between the ionosphere and the magnetosphere.


    What role do Alfven waves play in energy transfer in the dynamical magnetosphere-ionosphere system?

    Research team
    • Ian Mann, University of Alberta (principal investigator)
    • Ivan Pakhotin, University of Alberta
    • Louis Ozeke, University of Alberta
    • David Miles, University of Alberta
    • Robert Lysak, University of Minnesota
  2. Auroral properties

    The aurora light up when fast-moving electrons fall from space into the atmosphere and cause atoms in the ionosphere to glow. The project team will study this process, using new observations from space and the ground, to better understand how aurora are generated, and in doing so, better understand the processes that disrupt satellite navigation systems.


    Optical field line resonances: auroral properties and calibration of Swarm EFI

    Research team
    • Eric Donovan, University of Calgary (principal investigator)
    • Emma Spanswick, University of Calgary
    • David Knudsen, University of Calgary
    • Frances Fenrich, University of Alberta
    • Megan Gillies, University of Calgary
  3. Electron input

    Electrons rain from space into the Earth's atmosphere, causing space weather and often lighting up the aurora. Using data from six Canadian space instruments, together with ground-based auroral observations, the project team will work to improve the models of electron input to the ionosphere and aurora.


    Suprathermal electrons in the geospace environment and their effects on the upper atmosphere

    Research team
    • Emma Spanswick, University of Calgary (principal investigator)
    • Jun Liang, University of Calgary
    • Eric Donovan, University of Calgary

Geospace Regions

  1. Asymmetry in the ionospohere

    When the Sun shines on the Earth's atmosphere, atoms are broken into ions and electrons. Even though the Sun shines uniformly over the entire ionosphere, some regions have more ions and electrons than others. The project team aims to understand this unexplained ionosphere-wide variation (also called ionospheric equinoctial asymmetry or IEA), which negatively impacts satellite communications.


    Analysis and modelling of ionospheric equinoctial asymmetry using Swarm EFI data and physics-based ionospheric models

    Research team
    • David Knudsen, University of Calgary (principal investigator)
    • Levan Lomidze, University of Calgary
    • Johnathan Burchill, University of Calgary
    • Yongshen Chen, York University
    • Joseph Huba, Naval Research Laboratory
  2. Radiation belts

    The Van Allen radiation belts are highly dynamic regions of radiation surrounding the Earth. They trap the radiation generated by solar storms. The activity in the radiation belts is dangerous to both humans and technology. The project team will investigate the role that ultra low frequency waves (EMIC waves) play in draining dangerous electrons from the radiation belts.


    Can EMIC waves solve the mystery of ultra-relativistic electron loss in the outer Van Allen radiation belt?

    Research team
    • David Milling, University of Alberta (principal investigator)
    • Ian Mann, University of Alberta
    • Louis Ozeke, University of Alberta
    • Stavros Dimitrakoudis, University of Alberta
    • Craig Rodger, University of Otago

Technology Disruptions

  1. Radio waves

    Radio waves are essential for communications in northern Canada and for flights over polar regions. They travel through the atmosphere and into space unless they are deflected by the ionosphere. The researchers aim to improve understanding of how radio waves travel through the ionosphere and develop a model to monitor conditions over northern Canada. Such a model could be useful for commercial airlines and high frequency radio users.


    Trans-ionospheric propagation investigations of high-frequency radio waves in the terrestrial ionosphere by the ePOP satellite mission

    Research team
    • Glenn Hussey, University of Saskatchewan (principal investigator)
    • Donald Danskin, Natural Resources Canada
    • Robert Gillies, University of Calgary
    • Gordon James, Natural Resources Canada
    • Richard Langley, University of New Brunswick
  2. Satellite navigation systems

    Satellite navigation systems (such as GPS) are vulnerable to space weather in polar regions because of frequent disturbances in the ionosphere caused by space weather. This can negatively impact aviation and maritime activities. The objective of this project is to develop a computer model that simulates real-world conditions for severe space weather events and in doing so, support improved design and testing of satellite navigation system receivers.


    Polar scintillation model for GNSS

    Research team
    • Susan Skone, University of Calgary (principal investigator)
    • Emma Spanswick, University of Calgary
    • Sajan Mushini, University of Calgary

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