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Fine-scale electric fields and Joule heating from observations of the Aurora

Project Description

Project Rationale:
The Earth’s aurora borealis (northern lights) are a spectacular natural phenomenon. More than just a natural wonder, the occurrence of auroras indicates the presence of energy deposition from the ‘solar wind’ into the upper atmosphere through the process of Joule heating, which is both one of the major energy sources for the thermosphere, and yet also one of the largest sources of uncertainty in its energy budget [1]. This energy transfer is manifested through electric fields and currents in the ionosphere; the reason for the uncertainty in the amount of Joule heating is believed to be due to underestimation of the variability of the electric field in both the spatial and temporal domain [1]. Recent work at Southampton has shown that electric fields on temporal scales of hundreds of milliseconds can be determined from auroral observations made by state-of-the-art instruments [2]. So far, only simple electric field structures have been considered (a uniform electric field throughout the modelled volume/instrument field of view). This provides a measure of the temporal variability on short timescales, but more complex parameterizations could quantify spatial variability on scales of hundreds of metres and therefore reveal the true contribution to atmospheric heating made by Joule heating.

Funding Notes

You can apply for fully-funded studentships (stipend and fees) from INSPIRE if you:
Are a UK or EU national.
Have no restrictions on how long you can stay in the UK.
Have been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the project.

Please click View Website for more information on eligibilty and how to apply


[1] Codrescu, M. V., T. J. Fuller-Rowell, and J. C. Foster (1995), On the importance of E-field variability for Joule heating in the high-latitude thermosphere, Geophys. Res. Lett., 22, 2393–2396, doi:10.1029/95GL01909.
[2] Tuttle, S. A. (2017), Quantitative modelling of fine scale auroral emissions and electric fields at sub-second resolution. University of Southampton, Doctoral Thesis,
[3] Ashrafi, M. (2007), ASK: Auroral Structure and Kinetics in action, Astron. Geophys., 48, 4.35-4.37, doi:10.1111/j.1468-4004.2007.48435.x.

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of Southampton in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 68.62

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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