The Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN) is an international network of high-frequency (HF) radars located throughout the northern and southern hemispheres. The purpose of the SuperDARN is to study plasma in the near-Earth space system, its interaction with the Earth’s atmosphere and geospace environment, it’s effects on the terrestrial “hard” infrastructure (e.g. communications, energy, transportation, etc…), and it’s role in the Sun-Earth system.
SuperDARN is operated and maintained by an international collaboration of multiple universities and research institutions, located throughout the world.
SuperDARN radar locations in the northern and southern hemisphere. The field-of-view of each active radar is coloured in grey (Source: Virginia Tech SuperDARN group).
How Does the International SuperDARN Partnership Work?
The international SuperDARN collaborations are codified in the SuperDARN Principal Investigators’ Agreement. “This document represents the working agreement reached between the SuperDARN Principal Investigators (PI) and forms the basis for coordination of the operations of the radars, the exchange of data, the analysis and publication of results and the sharing of technical developments associated with the radar systems [excerpt from SuperDARN PI’ Agreement].” All SuperDARN partners rely on the other partners to provide high quality data in a timely fashion.
How Does SuperDARN Work?
Disturbances in near-Earth space (space weather) drive circulation of the plasma in the ionosphere that is continuously monitored over half the Earth’s surface by the SuperDARN radars. The international network of 36 HF radars are synchronized to take 32,400 measurements of ionospheric circulation every minute, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Canadian SuperDARN radars observe the impact of this space weather on the ionosphere over northern Canada.
The electromagnetic forces that create the plasma circulation in the ionosphere can be represented by a voltage pattern. Measuring the plasma circulation allows scientists to recover the voltage pattern that produced the motion of the charged particles. SuperDARN works like a police radar, measuring the Doppler shift of the radar signal caused by the plasma motion in the ionosphere. Because of a special property of charged particles in the near vacuum of space, the SuperDARN voltage map is also a projection of the dynamics of particle motion in the Earth’s magnetosphere; the magnetosphere acts like a projector, the ionosphere is like a huge screen.
SuperDARN is the only system capable of producing these voltage maps at 300 km altitude covering half of the Earth’s surface, every minute of every day. There are no other instruments—no fleets of satellites, no volley of rockets—that can achieve this vast coverage and level of detail every minute of every day.