Overview of Research Activities

The research conducted by this group falls generally under the category of remote sensing of the ionosphere/thermosphere system. This encompasses many different routes of inquiry from conducting field experiments to running physics-based and assimilative models to gain a better understanding of how the ionosphere/thermosphere system reacts to different conditions. Below is a brief description of the projects that our group is currently involved in.

Current Research Projects

Collaborative Research: DASI Track 2: An optical network to study the vertical propagation resulting in spatio-temporal variability in the thermosphere

While a key science challenge of this decade is to "determine the dynamics and coupling of Earth's magnetosphere, ionosphere, and atmosphere and their response to solar and terrestrial inputs", [National Research Council, 2012], the complex interactions, coupled with the sheer vastness of the geospace system, make it difficult to address this challenge. The global whole-atmosphere models have been able to produce the state of this coupled system in a statistical sense, yet the ability to reproduce or validate the instantaneous or small-scale dynamics is missing.

Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON)

Operational support from:
NASA through a sub-contract from University of California at Berkeley
Jonathan J. Makela (PI), Farzad Kamalabadi (Co-I), Gary Swenson (Co-I)
Dec 2011-June 2017

Led by Dr. Thomas Immel of the University of California, Berkeley, and scheduled for launch in 2017, ICON will probe the extreme variability of Earth's ionosphere with in-situ and remote-sensing instruments from its orbit 550 kilometers (345 miles) above Earth. The ionosphere is the region at the edge of space where the sun ionizes the air to create constantly shifting streams and sheets of charged particles. Fluctuations in the ionosphere, which are a form of space weather, cause interference in signals from communications and global positioning satellites. Such space weather effects are deleterious to numerous electronic technologies on which modern society relies and as a result can have a significantly adverse economic impact on the nation.

Past Research Projects

CEDAR Collaborative Proposal: Casual Relationships of Ion-Neutral Coupling Processes at Mid-Latitudes

Operational support from:
The National Science Foundation
Jonathan J. Makela (PI), Farzad Kamalabadi (Co-I) in collaboration with Gary Bust (JHUAPL) and Aaron Ridley (University of Michigan>
Aug 2015-July 2018

This project will address two fundamental questions: 1) What is the cause/effect relationship between high-latitude forcing on the neutral winds and the response of electron densities at mid-latitudes, especially during geomagnetic storm conditions? 2) What is the relationship between spatial/temporal variability within the high-latitude drivers and the variability observed within the mid-latitude neutral winds and ionospheric structure? Observations of mid-latitude thermospheric winds and temperatures made by the North American Thermosphere-Ionosphere Observation Network (NATION) of Fabry-Perot interferometers (FPI) will be coupled with time-dependent 3D electron density estimates from the Ionospheric Data Assimilation Four Dimensional (IDA4D) assimilative model. The source of the dynamics observed in the thermospheric neutral winds and electron density will be investigated through exercising an inversion algorithm (Estimating Model Parameters from Ionospheric Reverse Engineering; EMPIRE) developed to estimate the ionospheric drivers from three-dimensional, time-evolving distributions of ionospheric electron densities. The first-principles Global Ionosphere Thermosphere Model (GITM) will also be used to elucidate the underlying physics responsible for the coupling. This study will contribute to the education and training of graduate students at the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan.

Hazards SEES: GIC Hazard Prediction: From the Solar Wind to Power System Impacts

Support from:
The National Science Foundation
Thomas Overbye (PI), Jonathan J. Makela (co-PI), Farzad Kamalabadi (Co-I)
Aug 2015-July 2018

Led by Dr. Thomas Overbye of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, this project is intended to improve the scientific understanding of the processes governing the impacts on our power distribution system of severe solar storms. The team is studying the relationship between solar wind drivers and magnetic field perturbations on the ground, developing improved models of induced electric fields, and enhancing prediction capabilities for GIC hazards. The team is developing algorithms that both advance the science of induced electric fields and operate as a predictive tool of GIC hazards in the bulk power system, including transformer heating and damage and loss of voltage stability. Impact models are being developed, enhanced, and validated to provide better prediction of the effects of GMDs on power systems for both real-time response and longer-term resilience.

Imaging Earth’s Near-Space Environment for Better Understanding of Ionospheric Spatial Structuring

Operational support from:
The Naval Research Laboratory
Jonathan J. Makela (PI)
Sep 2014-Sep 2015

In this project, we are utilizing a network of ground-based ionospheric imaging systems to study the structuring of the nighttime ionosphere. This structuring can cause outages on trans-ionospheric communication and navigation signals, such as satellite communications and Global Position Systems. Data from an existing network of imagers will be analyzed in conjunction with space- based assets, such as the Special Sensor Ultraviolet Spectrographic Imager (SSUSI) on the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program vehicles. Ground-based images will be used to validate the images obtained from SSUSI and to place the satellite data into a wider spatial and temporal context. Additional ground-based sensors will be refurbished and deployed, which would increase coverage for comparison to future satellite data.

Vertical Winds: Possible Forcing and Influence on the Upper Atmosphere

Operational support from:
NASA through a sub-contract from University of Texas at Arlingtonbr>Yue Deng (PI; University of Texas at Arlington), Jonathan J. Makela (co-I), Don Hampton (Co-I; University of Alaska)
Jan 2014-Jan 2018

The overall goal of this project is to improve the description of the dynamics in the upper atmosphere associated with vertical winds and to advance our understanding of the coupling between the ionosphere and thermosphere, which can significantly influence the variation of the neutral density. Specifically, the goals are:

  1. Analyze FPI vertical wind observations at F-region altitudes in the aurora zone.
  2. Simulate vertical winds in the cusp during storm periods with GITM in high resolution.
  3. Process data of FPI observations at F-region heights from equatorial Brazil and conduct a climatological study of vertical wind at low latitudes for the first time.
  4. Investigate the influence of vertical wind caused by the perpendicular ion-drag force on the equatorial thermosphere anomaly (ETA) for the first time using the non-hydrostatic GITM.

Observation and modeling of tsunami-generated gravity waves in the earth’s upper atmosphere

Operational support from:
The Office of Naval Research
Jonathan J. Makela (PI), Sharon L. Vadas (NWRA; co_I), and Geoff Crowley (ASTRA, LLC; co-I)
Mar 2013-Aug 2016

In this project, we are investigating the upward coupling of atmospheric gravity waves generated by ocean tsunamis. We will deploy an expanded ground-based observation network using strategically placed optical imaging systems together with a TIDDBIT HF Doppler ionospheric sounder to obtain new information about the ionospheric waves associated with tsunamis. In addition, we will leverage and augment a published and validated gravity wave ray trace model to perform studies of the propagation of tsunami-generated gravity waves through the atmosphere and into the thermosphere/ionosphere system. We will exercise this model using conditions representative of historical tsunami events and use the resultant model simulations to develop and test different observing scenarios and detection algorithms. The successful completion of this project will lay the groundwork for an expanded tsunami monitoring/warning system, possibly including a satellite observing system that could provide warnings of tsunamis in real time. The proposed work will also enhance our understanding of upward coupling caused by all gravity wave sources in the lower atmosphere (not just tsunamis) and how this coupling can generate ionospheric irregularities that affect navigation, communications and surveillance systems used by the Navy and other branches of DoD.

The North American Thermosphere-Ionosphere Observing Network

Operational support from:
The National Science Foundation
Jonathan J. Makela (PI), John Meriwether (Clemson University; PI), and Aaron Ridley (University of Michigan; PI)
May 2012-Apr 2015

Equipment support from:
Air Force Research Laboratory Jonathan J. Makela (PI)
May 2012-Apr 2013

The North American Thermosphere-Ionosphere Observing Network (NATION) is a four-site Fabry-Perot interferometer (FPI) network in the central eastern United States. Using the wind and temperature data from this coordinated network, combined with comparisons to global physics-based models, we are studying the coupled geospace system, specifically the important role that thermospheric winds play in the dynamics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. Thermospheric winds advect compositional changes and temperature variations, as well as regulate the amount of Joule heating that occurs. In addition, they push ions up and down nonvertical geomagnetic field-lines, causing significant variability in the electron density of the ionosphere. We are investigating how energy is transferred from the polar region to the midlatitudes by traveling atmospheric disturbances (TADs). We are also studying the mid-latitude thermospheric response to geomagnetic storms. Both statistical studies and event analyses will be carried out to improve the community’s understanding of how mid-latitude winds and temperatures behave over different seasons and geomagnetic conditions.

The Remote Equatorial Nighttime Observatory of Ionospheric Regions (RENOIR)

Operational support from:
The National Science Foundation
Jonathan J. Makela (PI) and John Meriwether (Clemson University; PI)
Jan 2010-Dec 2012

Deployment support from:
NASA and Celmson University
Jonathan J. Makela (PI) and John Meriwether (Clemson University; PI)
Jul 2007-Jun 2009

Equipment support from:
Office of Naval Research Jonathan J. Makela (PI)
Mar 2006-Dec 2007

Through this project, we have acquired equipment comprising a single remote equatorial nighttime observatory for ionospheric regions (RENOIR) station. The station, housed in two trailer units, consists of a single wide-field imaging system, two Fabry-Perot interferometers, a dual-frequency GPS receiver, and an array of single-frequency GPS scintillation monitors.  RENOIR provides an unprecedented view of the nighttime ionosphere/thermosphere system. Through the deployment of RENOIR to the low-latitude region, we hope to come to a better understanding of the variability in the nighttime ionosphere and the effects this variability has on critical satellite navigation and communication systems. The initial deployment of RENOIR was completed in 2009 in Brazil. We are collaborating with scientists at the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and the Federal University at Campina Grande (UFCG) and have installed one trailer at São João do Cariri and one at Cajazeiras. In conjunction with other instrumentation installed in Brazil, we will investigate the relationship between neutral winds and the development of equatorial ionospheric instabilities.

Specification of Nighttime Ionospheric Irregularities: Occurrence, Spatial, and Dynamic Properties

Office of Naval Research
Jonathan J. Makela (PI)
Jan 2009-Dec 2011

In this project, we will develop automated analysis algorithms to extract pertinent spatio-temporal properties of ionospheric structures from an imaging database collected over the previous solar cycle. Effects on trans-ionospheric radiowave propagation will be studied using collocated radio (GPS) measurements. A database of structure occurrence, drift velocity, widths, and altitudes as a function of longitude, season, and solar cycle will be created and analyzed. The analysis routines will be developed such that they can be run in near real-time as part of an ionospheric structure specification network.

Multi-Instrument Study to Investigate the Formation and Growth of Equatorial Irregularities

Air Force Office of Sponsored Research
Andrew Gerrard (PI; New Jersey Institute of Technology), John Meriwether (Co-I; Clemson University), Erhan Kudeki (Co-I; University of Illinois), Jonathan J. Makela (Co-I: University of Illinois
Jan 2008-Dec 2010

CAREER: Multi-Technique Study of Ionospheric Irregularities at Mid-Latitudes

National Science Foundation
Jonathan J. Makela (PI)
Jun 2007-May 2012

The research component of this CAREER proposal focuses on developing and deploying two clusters of optical and radio equipment to study irregularities that occur in the nighttime mid-latitude F region. The education component integrates the research conducted into the classroom through the development of modules and laboratory experiments pertaining to the instrumentation used in this study.

Two clusters of instrumentation consisting of a wide-field ionospheric imaging system, a dual-frequency GPS receiver, and a single-frequency GPS scintillation monitor will be deployed to the Caribbean as part of the proposed research. The deployed instruments, in conjunction with other instruments in the region (especially those at the Arecibo Observatory), will allow us to address at least three sets of scientific questions:

  1. What are the physical extent, seasonal properties, and lifetimes of nighttime F-region structures observed over the Caribbean?
  2. What is the genesis region and mechanism for the different types of structures present in the nighttime F-region ionosphere? Do they grow locally, or are they coupled from low latitudes? What effect on trans-ionospheric radio wave propagation do these irregularities have?
  3. Are the enhancements in electron density commonly seen in the American sector during severe geomagnetic storms effective in creating scintillations on critical trans-ionospheric radio links?

Previous studies lacked the spatial coverage to address these questions. Nor did they have instrumentation to measure the scintillation effects on critical satellite links. Both of these shortcomings are addressed in this research plan.