Clemson and Louisville work together on space weather research
CLEMSON South Carolina — When the University of Louisville and Clemson University clash in one of this year’s most anticipated college football games, two researchers at the schools won’t be feeling the same animosity toward their ACC rival school.
UofL assistant professor of physics Jian Du-Caines and Clemson professor of Physics and Astromony Jens Oberheide are working together on a research project funded by NASA. Du-Caines said the two have been friends since they met at the University of New Brunswick, Canada in 2005 and began talking about doing a project together.
In 2014, Du-Caines won a highly competitive, three-year, $394,000 grant from NASA to study the variability of tides in the atmosphere between earth and space.
“We want to be able to better forecast weather in space” Du-Caines said. “The variability of tides is a piece of the puzzle we have to solve to be able to accurately predict day to day weather in space.”
Atmospheric tides, Oberheide said, “are in many ways analogous to ocean tides but instead of rising and falling water levels, atmospheric tides change the temperature in earth’s mesosphere and thermosphere (layers of the atmosphere stretching from 50 miles to 300 miles above ground) by up to 180 Fahrenheit, wind speeds by up to 100 mph and air pressure by up to a factor of two every 24 hours. They occur all over the globe and are generated by large thunderstorm systems in the tropical rainforests and also by the absorption of sunlight in clouds.”
In the troposphere, the layer of atmosphere from the surface of the earth to about eight miles up, atmospheric tides are very small but become very large at the edge of space, about 200 miles above ground, where most manned and unmanned spaceflight takes place, Oberheide said. “This is why tides are so important: Weather systems directly impact the orbits of satellites critically important for our nation’s infrastructure and security, and also of the international space station,” he said. “Furthermore, atmospheric tides change the electrical environment of earth’s upper atmosphere and can severely degrade the GPS signal and communication systems, including TV signals.”
Information about atmospheric tides is new, thanks to a recent discovery made possible by NASA research satellites, Oberheide said. “The accurate prediction of this so-called ‘space weather’ is a high priority for NASA, the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation, to name just a few. In October 2015, the White House announced the ‘National Space Weather Action Plan’ to enhance the national preparedness to space weather events.”
“The collaboration I have with Dr. Du-Caines at UofL will enhance our scientific understanding of atmospheric tides and their impacts by combining Clemson’s satellite expertise and Louisville’s modeling expertise,” Oberheide said.
Du-Caines said she and Oberheide are more concerned about their research than what will be happening on the football field.
“We just laugh about it” Du-Caines said, “though I wish we (UofL) would have won last year!”
Oberheide said, “I am looking forward to watching the game on TV with friends. My prediction: Clemson wins by two touchdowns.”