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Dartmouth researcher receives NSF grant to build radar systems for space science and engineering

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 03/05/09 • Media Contact: Susan Knapp (603) 646-3661 or Catharine Lamm (603) 646-3943

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(photo by Joseph Mehling '69)
Simon Shepherd (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Dartmouth engineering professor Simon Shepherd has been awarded $2 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of a project to expand the international Super Dual Auroral Radar Network, or SuperDARN, used to study numerous physical processes in the space plasma environment that surrounds the Earth.

Shepherd, an associate professor at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering, is part of a collaborative project with colleagues from Virginia Tech (VT), the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL), each receiving part of the total $6 million award from NSF.

The project, scheduled for completion in 2012, will expand SuperDARN with construction of a new array of ground-based remote sensing instruments. The array will consist of four pairs of radars placed in Kansas, Oregon, the Aleutian Islands, and the Azores. The new radars will extend the current mid-latitude network of three radars— two in Virginia, and one in Japan—and, when coupled with the existing high-latitude array, will enable measurements of drifting plasma in the Earth's ionosphere over a region stretching from Eastern Asia to Europe and from Kansas to the magnetic north pole.

Shepherd, who will oversee the construction and operation of at least one of the four radar sites, said, “This expanded research infrastructure will provide both real-time and archival data accessible to the whole community of scientists and engineers studying the magnetosphere and ionosphere. This data will help us better understand the near-Earth space environment and ultimately be able to better predict these geomagnetic storms and their effects on terrestrial and space systems.”

Shepherd explained that large technological systems—such as those used for communications like shortwave radio, GPS, and other communications satellites, and energy distribution networks like electrical power grids and pipelines—can be significantly and adversely affected by geomagnetic storms in the near-Earth space environment.

Raymond Greenwald, who earned his Ph.D. in physics from Dartmouth in 1970, is a co-principle investigator with the collaborative. “Ray pioneered the technique and design of these radars and played an essential role in building this community of scientists,” said Shepherd. “His efforts resulted in a coordinated methodology—standards for uniform data collection from all the radars—and an attitude of cooperation that allows us to work together in ways that otherwise would have been much more difficult, if not impossible.” Greenwald recently retired from JHU/APL and moved his research group to VT. All the principle investigators on this project have worked with Greenwald in the past.

Location of ground radar
In a view looking down at the North Pole, each dot (orange outlined with red) indicates the location of a radar on the ground. The colored wedges indicate the radar's field-of-view, the locations where measurements from the radar are possible in the near-Earth environment. The two green areas represent polar cap studies, which are directed over the magnetic north pole. The three blue areas represent the existing mid-latitude radars, and the orange areas represent the new project that has just been funded. (Illustration by Simon Shepherd)

Additional investigators on the project are: J. Michael Ruohoniemi and Joseph Baker from VT; William Bristow from UAF; and Elsayed Talaat and Robin Barnes from JHU/APL.

-Written by Catharine Lamm

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