KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M., Sept. 20, 2006 – Two weeks of digging through 3 feet of snow, ice and slush in the tundra of Greenland by four members of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate, with assistance from Danish personnel, will improve the prediction of ionospheric-created disturbances.
Ionospheric-created disturbances disrupt radar and global positioning systems, as well as satellite and high frequency communications.
Following three and a half years of negotiations with the Danish government, the group of researchers serving with the organization’s Battlespace Environment Division, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., received approval last year to install equipment measuring the different properties of the ionosphere at Station Nord, a military outpost located in the far northeast portion of the giant isle.
“Installing the equipment was a challenge due to the harsh environment where there was snow on top of ice on top of frozen ground. Our team spent a lot of time wading in slush,” said Todd Pedersen, research physicist, Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate. “We needed to dig 4 to 5 feet down in the hardened ground to anchor the equipment.”
In the polar region, located above the Arctic Circle, instabilities in the ionosphere create structuring of sunlight-produced plasma, which causes significant effects on radio wave transmissions.
Similar in form to cumulus clouds, but not visible to the naked eye, these disruptions drift away from the direction of the sun across the polar cap.
For the past 20 plus years, the Air Force has conducted ionospheric research at Danish Meteorological Institute sites in western Greenland, and also since the mid-1990s at a civilian facility at Svalbard, a group of islands belonging to the Kingdom of Norway, situated between the Scandinavian nation and the North Pole.
Both stations have provided real-time data to the Air Force Weather Agency, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., but the bulk of the information has been returned months later to the Hanscom Air Force Base team.
In addition, forecast capabilities at the two locations have experienced a gap in coverage as the ionospheric turbulence moves at 500 meters per second across the polar cap, becoming fully developed by the time it reaches Thule Air Base, the U.S. installation in northwest Greenland.
To bridge the lapse, placing instrumentation at Station Nord served as the optimum option.
“With the new instruments, we can observe the forces creating the disturbances, as well as how they evolve and we can also observe their impacts