Fredericton researchers map weather in space

Two Fredericton researchers are on a whirlwind tour of Canada's north to learn more about space weather.

Pair expanding network in the Arctic

Two Fredericton researchers are off to the Arctic expanding the Canadian High Arctic Ionospheric Network. (Courtesy Todd Kelly and Richard Chadwick)

Two Fredericton researchers are on a whirlwind tour of Canada's north to learn more about space weather.

Physics technical officer Todd Kelly and colleague Richard Chadwick are off to the Arctic to expand the Canadian High Arctic Ionospheric Network. The C.H.A.I.N. is a series of transmitters and receivers that monitor and measure weather and different signal levels around 85 and 500 kilometres above the earth.

"They are used to monitor the ionosphere," explained Chadwick. "We're monitoring changes in electron density. It can interfere [with] or enhance communications. So it's an issue for communications with satellites or over-the-horizon communications, or airplanes. Those kinds of things."

Kelly and Chadwick are adding six new stations this time around.

"Places like Fort McMurray, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson, Kugluktuk, we're stopping in Yellowknife, Cambridge Bay and Gjoa Haven, Nunavut," said Kelly.

When communications pass through the ionosphere they can become distorted. The growing network of stations throughout the Arctic maps the distortion, showing what areas should be avoided.

The data collected  from high in the earth's atmosphere is then sent to the University of New Brunswick’s large server system in a climate controlled room. There the information is processed, mapped, and made available to over 180 different clients from across the globe.

Their clients, including airlines and the Department of National Defense, rely on the constantly updated maps to plot routes through the Arctic without having communications cut out.

With more transcontinental flights choosing to fly over the Arctic to save on fuel and time, the group's data is becoming more valued.

"They need to know this information so that they can either make corrections or change the frequencies of operations, depends on the situation," said Dr. Jayachandran Thayyal.

Thayyal is the head of the project. A physics professor at the University of New Brunswick, he's personally installed many of the original stations now in use.

"I'm not going this time, but I love doing it," he said.

Kelly and Chadwick said they’re already planning to expand the array next summer.