What is SuperDARN?

The Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN) is an international network of high-frequency (HF) radars located throughout the northern and southern hemispheres. SuperDARN is operated and maintained by an international collaboration of multiple universities and research institutions, located throughout the world. 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.

Above about 100 km altitude, the atmospheric gas becomes quite rarified, and a plasma of electrically charged particles exists. This is a natural part of the Earth’s upper atmosphere, and the electrically charged layer is called the ionosphere. The motion of the charged particles in the ionosphere and throughout the solar system is controlled primarily by electromagnetic forces. Forces on the charged particles in the ionosphere and in near-Earth space are imposed by the fast flowing solar wind plasma and the interplanetary magnetic field, which emanate from the Sun out through the solar system.

Similar to how atmospheric weather is driven by high and low pressure systems, space weather is driven by high and low voltage systems. The SuperDARN circulation/voltage maps are essential input to solar system science.

A plasma circulation map produced by the SuperDARN network. The contours indicate voltage magnitude, which describe the plasma flow speed. This is similar to how pressure contours indicate wind speed on weather maps.

The ultimate goal is to produce a unified space weather model that, given space weather conditions at the Sun, can predict what will happen in the Earth’s atmosphere (including plasma circulation, auroral displays, and changes to GPS signal quality) and even down into the ground where electrical currents are induced.