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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.
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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