Northern lights in Finnish Lapland
 The combination of the three antenna fields from Finland, Sweden and Norway will be able produce a three-dimensional image of the electrical currents of the Northern Lights. Image: Miikka Niemi / Flatlight Films / Visit Finland

World-first research in Finnish Lapland observes space weather

A research station is being constructed in Karesuvanto, Enontekiö, forming an integral part of an international research project measuring changes in space weather conditions.

James O’Sullivan

08.06.2022

Altogether, 5 000 antennas are being built for use by the Finnish research station, which, together with stations in Skibotn, Norway, and Kaiseniemi, Sweden, will create a common system of antenna fields for the EISCAT_3D incoherent scatter radar.

The construction is a pivotal stage of a 70 million-euro multinational research project, which sees EISCAT (the European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association) boosting the efficiency of its upper-atmosphere phenomena observation. Currently, the association utilises large-dish antennae radars in Sodankylä, Finland, Kiruna, Sweden, and Tromsø, Norway. The EISCAT_3D incoherent scatter radar will bring greater measurement efficiency by collecting vast amounts of data from many different directions at the same time.

Satellite site in Karesuvanto, Enontekiö

The ground was levelled in Karesuvanto, Enontekiö, in October 2021 for the installation of antennas. Image: EISCAT Scientific Association

“People are becoming more interested in space weather as satellites become increasingly important” said Thomas Ulich, head of observations at Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory. “Near-Earth space is very important to us.”

Space weather phenomena can impact satellites and infrastructures here on Earth such as power grids, and interfere with radio communication and confuse navigation devices.

Ulich underlines the importance of observing such with the recent example of Finnish flag carrier Finnair changing the routing of its Asian flights to travel near the polar region. Given that GPS and radio are essential tools for air traffic, anticipating the effects of space weather takes on greater significance.

Finnair A350 in the air

Space weather phenomena can confuse navigation devices, whose accuracy is vital for the likes of Finnair. Image: Airbus

Lapland has proven to be an ideal location for atmospheric and near-Earth space research, given that phenomena such as solar wind and the resultant northern lights generally occur in the Earth’s polar regions. EISCAT_3D can accurately indicate where northern lights will appear and also forecast longer-range phenomena.

The research project stems from more than a decade of planning and is collectively funded by Finland, Sweden, Norway, the UK, Japan and China. It draws on experts in mathematics, radar technology, atmospheric research, information technology and construction. In Finland, the project involves the University of Oulu and Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, and the Finnish IT Center for Science.

The research station is estimated to be operational in early 2023.

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