Space weather describes the changing properties of near-Earth space, which influences the flow of electrical currents in this region, particularly within the Earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere. Space weather results from solar magnetic activity, which waxes and wanes over the Sunspot cycle of 11 years, due to eruptions of electrically charged material from the Sun’s outer atmosphere. Particularly severe space weather can affect ground-based, electrically conducting infrastructures such as power transmission systems, pipelines and railways. Ground-based networks are at risk because rapidly changing electrical currents in space, driven by space weather, cause rapid geomagnetic field changes on the ground. These magnetic changes give rise to electric fields in the Earth that cause geomagnetically induced currents (GIC) to flow to or from the Earth, through conducting networks, instead of in the more resistive ground. Railway infrastructure, safety-critical systems, and operations can be affected by induced electrical currents during extreme space weather. Studies of railway operations outside the UK have shown that induced and/or stray currents from the ground during strong magnetic storms result in increased numbers of signalling anomalies in track currents. Meanwhile, induced direct current flowing in overhead line equipment has the potential to stop train movement.
In this project, you will investigate the level of GIC in UK rail infrastructure for the first time by undertaking a comparison of naturally-occurring geomagnetic activity with rail GIC measurements. The outcomes of this project will increase our understanding of the vulnerability of critical infrastructure to the space weather hazard.
The successful candidate should hold a minimum of a UK MPhys Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in a physics-based subject. The candidate is expected to successfully work as part of a team, and to complete research suitable for the award of a PhD in Physics, including publications in high impact peer-reviewed journals.
The Physics Department is holder of Athena SWAN Silver award and JUNO Championship status and is strongly committed to fostering diversity within its community as a source of excellence, cultural enrichment, and social strength. We welcome those who would contribute to the further diversification of our department.