The EISCAT_3D radar will provide UK scientists with a cutting-edge tool to probe the upper atmosphere and near-Earth space, helping them understand the effects of space weather storms on technology, society and the environment – especially the potential damage it can do to satellites, communications and power grids
Costing a total of £63m, the facility will be distributed across three sites in northern Scandinavia – in Skibotn, Norway, near Kiruna in Sweden, and near Kaaresuvanto in Finland. The project will start in September 2017 with site preparations beginning in summer 2018. The radar is expected to be operational in 2021.
A key capability of the radar will be to measure an entire 3D volume of the upper atmosphere in unprecedented detail. This is necessary to understand how energetic particles and electrical currents from space affect both the upper and the lower atmosphere. Scientists will be able to take measurements across scales from hundreds of metres to hundreds of kilometres, providing exceptional detail and vast quantities of data, and opening the scope of research that can be carried out.
The northern hemisphere already hosts several EISCAT radars, situated in the so-called auroral oval - where you can see the northern lights or aurora borealis. They take measurements in a region of the Earth's upper atmosphere called the ionosphere – from about 70 to 1000 km altitude. They sample the electron concentration and temperature, and the ion temperature and velocity at a range of altitudes along the radar beam direction. But the current EISCAT radars provide a single pencil beam, so researchers can only look at one small portion of the sky at a given time.
Dr Andrew Kavanagh, UK EISCAT Science Support, based at the British Antarctic Survey, said, "The new EISCAT_3D radar will measure the ionosphere in lots of different directions simultaneously. It will be like having hundreds of dishes all operating together, looking in different directions. This means we can easily see changes in the ionosphere and don't miss important data: when our measurements change we will be able to say whether something had just appeared or faded or if something was moving through the beams. This is really important as it gives us information about how space weather effects evolve."