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Energy transfer in Earth’s Radiation Belts through global electromagnetic waves (Advert Reference: RDF20/EE/MPEE/RAEJonathan)

Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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Prof J Rae No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Newcastle United Kingdom Applied Mathematics Astronomy Astrophysics Computational Physics Data Science Fluid Mechanics Geophysics Machine Learning Mathematical Modelling Space Science

About the Project

Earth’s magnetic environment is bathed by the solar wind, transferring significant energy and momentum into near-Earth space. This energy is stored in the stretched magnetic fields of the exended tail of the magnetosphere and in the energisation of relativistic particles in the Van Allen Radiation Belts. Large amounts of stored energy or explosive releases of stored energy manifest as severe “space weather”. These space weather effects pose a significant hazard to modern technology as the resultant “killer electrons” can damage or destroy spacecraft electronics.

Global-scale electromagnetic waves play a major role in this energy transfer, through their excitation and interaction with relativistic electrons and through Joule heating of the ionosphere. Crucially, where the Ultra-Low Frequency (ULF) wave energy can access and how much energy can be transferred are unknowns. We do know that the process is dependent upon a wide range of physical parameters including: the size of the magnetosphere, the wave source, and background magnetic field and plasma mass density and how they vary with time. Recently, we have made a breakthrough that demonstrates that the enhancement of the Earth’s ring current can lead to the unexpectedly strong penetration of ULF waves into the inner magnetosphere. However, the energy pathways are significantly more nuanced because the physics of ULF waves are not as well understood as previously thought.

In this project you will use spacecraft observations to understand the spatial and temporal characteristics of these large-scale global ULF waves, and seek to understand the physics of how these waves are generated, how and why they form where they do, and ultimately how they transfer energy into the Van Allen Radiation Belts. You will have access to a wide array of scientific spacecraft including the NASA Van Allen Probes, Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission and THEMIS spacecraft. You will start to characterise these waves, develop large databases of ULF waves and have the opportunity to pursue advanced analysis through machine learning. As the project develops, you will have the opportunity to input your research into state-of-the-art radiation belt modelling and collaborate with national and international colleagues.

Training opportunities: In addition to regular one-to-one meetings with supervisors, you will be encouraged to participate in wider group activities to build up your academic profile and collaborate with colleagues. You will have access to specific Masters-level modules to build up knowledge and skills in subject-specific areas, and a series of seminars from national and international experts in the field. You will benefit from national summer schools that develop both discipline-specific and transferable skills and there will be opportunities to competitively bid to attend international summer schools (e.g. IAGA summer school, NSF GEM Summer workshop, Los Alamos Space Weather Summer School).

Student profile: This project would be suitable for a student with a background in physics, applied mathematics or closely-related physical science. Prior knowledge of space plasma physics is not necessary. Prior knowledge of a programming language is desirable but training in all necessary skills will be provided.

This project will be supervised by Professor Jonathan Rae.

Please note eligibility requirement:

• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.

• Appropriate IELTS score, if required. – 6.5

• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF20/EE/MPEE/RAEJonathan) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 7 January 2021

Start Date: Ideally 1 June 2021 (but there is flexibility for an earlier or a later start date)

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home and International (including EU) Students where a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2020/1, this is £15,285 p.a.) and full tuition fees.


A Framework for Understanding and Quantifying the Loss and Acceleration of Relativistic Electrons in the Outer Radiation Belt During Geomagnetic Storms, Murphy, K., Mann, I., Watt, C., Sibeck, D., Rae, J., Ozeke, L., Kanekal, S., Baker, D. May 2020, In: Space Weather

Capturing uncertainty in magnetospheric ultralow frequency wave models, Bentley, S., Watt, C., Rae, J., Owens, M., Murphy, K., Lockwood, M., Sandhu, J. Apr 2019, In: Space Weather

How do Ultra‐Low Frequency waves access the inner magnetosphere during geomagnetic storms?, Rae, J., Murphy, K., Watt, C., Sandhu, J., Georgiou, M., Degeling, A., Forsyth, C., Bentley, S., Staples, F., Shi, Q. 16 Oct 2019, In: Geophysical Research Letters

Variations of Field Line Eigenfrequencies With Ring Current Intensity
Sandhu, J. K., Yeoman, T. K. & Rae, I. J., Nov 2018, In : Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics. 123, 11, p. 9325-9339

The Global Statistical Response of the Outer Radiation Belt During Geomagnetic Storms
Murphy, K., Watt, C., Mann, I., Rae, J., Sibeck, D., Boyd, A., Forsyth, C., Turner, D., Claudepierre, S., Baker, D., Spence, H., Reeves, G., Blake, J. B. & Fennell, J., 16 May 2018, In : Geophysical Research Letters. 45, 9, p. 3783-3792
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