IRF celebrates 20 years as Sweden’s regional warning center for space weather

For 20 years, the Institute of Space Physics, IRF, has contributed expertise on space weather within the organization International Space Environment Service, ISES. The responsible researcher for Sweden’s regional warning center, which belongs to ISES, is Peter Wintoft at IRF’s Lund office.

Space weather refers to the time-varying conditions in the space environment that can affect space-borne or ground-based technical systems and, in the worst case, endanger human health or lives. The effects of space weather can result in disruptions to satellites, aircraft, navigation systems, power grids and communications.

ISES has been responsible for improving, coordinating and delivering global space weather services since 1962, and today there are regional warning centers (RWCs) in 22 different countries. In 2000, the IRF was established as a regional alert center after being invited by ISES. Former IRF researcher Henrik Lundstedt’s work to develop space weather in Sweden was of great importance for the invitation.

Peter Wintoft on how he became a space meteorologist:

“I became involved in research on space weather in 1992 when I was a doctoral student at the Department of Astronomy at Lund University. Together with Henrik Lundstedt, we formed the IRF’s office in Lund in 1998. We have been involved in many international projects since then, but have also had a good collaboration with Swedish stakeholders. ”, Says dr. Peter Wintoft at the IRF’s office in Lund.

Space weather services are becoming increasingly important as we rely more and more on technologies and infrastructures that are vulnerable to storms in space. The growing demand for space weather services to be able to protect space-based and ground-based assets requires global coordination of professional actors.

“Space weather is a global phenomenon but with large local variations. Therefore, ISES is a good platform for discussions and exchange of knowledge, but where there is also a local anchoring “, says Peter Wintoft.

ISES works to provide forecasts and monitoring of space weather in real time to reduce and mitigate the risk of space weather impact on technology, critical infrastructure and people’s everyday lives. Another part includes work to improve space weather services and promote understanding of space weather and its impact on users, researchers, the media and the general public.

As the responsible researcher at the Swedish regional warning center, Peter Wintoft ensures that data and forecasts are available for Sweden and provides space weather services to users in the region. A large part of the research and development is funded by the European Space Agency ESA and the EU, which has resulted in different types of forecasting models. To succeed in producing forecast models, many different observations from the sun to the earth are required, with contributions from a number of organizations.

Some examples are NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which delivers real – time data from the sun’s magnetic field and corona, NOAA’s space probe DSCOVR with measurements of the solar wind, and the IRF’s ground – based measurements of the magnetic field. The different RWCs within ISES have a slightly different focus depending on local interests. In Sweden, we have long studied space weather related to effects on the electricity grid, something that the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) became interested in around 2010 and which then funded several projects, ” says Peter Wintoft.

While each regional alert center focuses on its own region, ISES acts as a forum for sharing data, exchanging and comparing forecasts, discussing users’ needs and identifying the highest priorities for improving services.

Peter Wintoft gives examples of how space weather has affected us on Earth:

“Large eruptions on the sun, which should also be directed at the earth, are quite unusual. This means that we do not have so many events to study, especially not with modern observations. Some examples are May 1921 which led to a fire in a telegraph station in Karlstad, March 1989 which led to a power outage for approx. 6 million people along the east coast of America, October 2003 with power outages in Malmö. But satellites and astronauts are also affected, e.g. Christer Fuglesang was on a spacewalk during a major eruption in December 2006. Making predictions of those events is extremely difficult, and it is even more difficult to make predictions of possible effects on technology. But with the help of real-time observations, we can still see if something big is going on, ” says Peter Wintoft.

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