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SEC Research Programme

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The Sun Earth Connections (SEC) research programme, part of the British Antarctic Survey research strategy Global Science in an Antarctic Context (GSAC) 2005–2009


Sun Earth Connections Programme (SEC)

Principal Investigator: Dr Richard Horne

The Challenge

SEC will describe and quantify the key mechanisms by which variations in the solar wind and solar high-energy radiation affect the Earth's atmosphere, to determine whether or not these have a significant effect on the Earth’s climate system.

It will look at the atmosphere and geospace as a unified whole, opening the way to the development of more realistic numerical models of the climate system

SHARE aerial array and caboose at Halley research station

Objectives

  • Quantify the key mechanisms of indirect links between the Sun and the Earth’s atmosphere
    • via solar and radiation belt particles
    • via the geoelectric field
    • via atmospheric waves
  • Determine how the effect of solar variability may be amplified through those links and the significance for climate
  • Determine the evolution of atmospheric change over time due to indirect influences, on different timescales and at different epochs 

Relevance to Global Science

Energy from the Sun drives the Earth's climate system. Measured variations in the total solar energy output are too small to have a significant direct effect on the climate. But the solar wind – the flux of energetic particles and magnetic fields streaming away from the Sun – and solar ultraviolet and X-ray emissions are highly variable, both as a result of events such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, and on the timescale of the 11-year sunspot cycle. It has been widely speculated that these forms of solar output affect the Earth’s climate system, but the mechanisms remain elusive. We need to quantify the solar influence to distinguish more clearly the various sources of climate change, including those caused by human activities. 

Delivering the Results

SEC will use radars, balloons, and ground-based instruments in the Antarctic to measure the effects of solar variability on energetic particles, atmospheric chemistry and electric fields, winds, tides, and planetary waves from the troposphere to the thermosphere. Ground-based observations will be combined with satellite data to obtain a global view. To complement these observations and assess the global impact, we intend to develop a new model of the radiation belts and link it to existing atmospheric chemistry and General Circulation Models. SEC will link with CACHE, ACES and COMPLEXITY.

Component Projects

  • SEC-HOLISTIC: HOlistic Links between the Ionosphere, Stratosphere and Troposphere and their Influence on Climate
  • SEC-WARP: Whole Atmosphere consequences of Radiation-belt Processes