Project highlights

  • Exploiting the first data from the new NERC EISCAT_3D radar facility to examine the coupled solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere-neutral atmosphere system
  • Investigating the impact of high-latitude extreme space weather events on the upper and lower atmosphere by combining radar measurements with other ground- and space-based instruments.
  • Providing a greater understanding of effects of solar variability on climate


EISCAT_3D is a new, eagerly anticipated,  multi-national all-sky incoherent scatter radar programme which is scheduled to start operating in Autumn 2023, following many years of development. Building on existing expertise within the Planetary Science Group the student will exploit the new radar data set in conjunction with measurements from other ground-based instruments (including our own new HF coherent radar) and satellites. They will investigate the impact of Space Weather events on the high-latitude upper and lower atmosphere and the energy flow from the solar wind into the Earth’s environment on a variety of time and spatial scales. This will involve the student working on international research programmes in conjunction with other researchers in other countries and presenting their findings at international meetings.


Following on from over 40 years of EISCAT auroral science, EISCAT_3D represents a step-change in our ability to make measurements in the Earth’s atmosphere and investigate processes of huge societal importance. A number of phenomena will be studied including geomagnetic storms, substorms and MHD waves, all of which are dynamic processes which transfer energy and momentum from near-Earth space into the Earth’s atmosphere. During these processes  energetic particle precipitation (EPP) are observed to occur which drive associated aurorae and cause lower atmospheric changes (e.g. to the local chemistry). EPP are now considered to have influence on the existence of chemical species (including ‘odd’ nitrogen, NOx) which have impact on the destruction of atmospheric ozone. The project will explore links between solar variability, atmospheric chemistry and climate.

Artists impression of the new EISCAT_3D radar

Figure 1: An artist’s impression of the new radar EISCAT_3D based at Skibotn, near Tromsø in Norway, making measurements of the aurora.


University of Leicester


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability
  • Dynamic Earth


Project investigator

Dr Darren Wright, University of Leicester ([email protected])


Prof Steve Milan, University of Leicester ([email protected])

How to apply


Initially, the student will become familiar with the operations of the EISCAT_3D radar and the processing and interpretation of data sets from relevant ground-based instruments (e.g.  radars and magnetometers) and spacecraft. This may also involve training in the use of the radar systems and some arctic fieldwork. The student will employ existing complex data analysis methods and write code to extend this as required.

Subsequently, the student will undertake conjunctive multi-instrument case studies, followed by a statistical analysis of more extended data sets, assess existing models for NOx and ozone generation and create collaborative links with relevant modellers and create a coupled model between upper atmospheric EPP and lower atmospheric NOx.

The student will develop transferable skills in coding, data analysis, undertaking fieldwork, working independently and also as part of a team. They will also be required to publish their work in peer-reviewed journals and present it at national and international conferences.

Training and skills

Students will be awarded CENTA2 Training Credits (CTCs) for participation in CENTA2-provided and ‘free choice’ external training. One CTC equates to 1⁄2 day session and students must accrue 100 CTCs across the three years of their PhD.

The project will build upon over 40 years of experience within the Planetary Science Group in the exploitation and analysis of geophysical data and combining ground- and space-based observations of Space Weather phenomena. Training in relevant plasma and atmospheric physics and radar techniques will be provided as well as training in computer programming, model simulations and the data analysis required.  The student will gain a great deal of expertise in research methods, data management, analytical thinking and computer programming.

Partners and collaboration

The work will be undertaken in collaboration with Dr Andrew Kavanagh, UK EISCAT scientist based at British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge. Dr Hilde Nesse Tyssøy at the Birkeland Centre for Space Science (University of Bergen), an expert in solar forcing of the lower atmosphere, will also be involved. As a member of SuperDARN (a NERC-funded programme), Leicester also has access to all SuperDARN data and strong links with the PI institutes of the ~40 constituent radars around the world.

Further details

Dr Darren Wright, Planetary Science Group, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester

Tel: +44 116 2523568

Email: [email protected]

If you wish to apply to the project, applications should include:

  • A CV with the names of at least two referees (preferably three and who can comment on your academic abilities)

Applications to be received by the end of the day on Wednesday 11th January 2023. 

Possible timeline

Year 1

Initially the student will familiarise themselves with existing data from previous EISCAT radars and how those radars work. The student will then become familiar with supporting instruments and associated data.

Year 2

The student will examine a series of case studies during a variety of Space Weather events and exploit data sets appropriately to investigate the routes of energy flow into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Year 3

Year 2 studies will be extended to undertake investigations at a more statistical level in order to determine the key processes responsible for transferring energy from the solar wind to the lower atmosphere.

Further reading

A selection of papers and books relevant to this study include:

  • Chisham, G., et al., (2007) A decade of the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN): Scientific achievements, new techniques and future directions, Surv. Geophys., 28, 33–109, doi:10.1007/s10712- 007-9017-8.
  • Rozanov, E. et al. (2005), Atmospheric response to NOy source due to energetic electron precipitation, Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10.1029/2005GL023041.
  • Russell, C. T., et al. Eds., (2016), Space Physics: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press, ISBN-13: ‎978-1107098824.
  • Seppälä, A. et al. (2009), Geomagnetic activity and polar surface air temperature variability, JGR, 114, A10312, doi:10.1029/2008JA014029.
  • Tuttle, S. et al. (2014), Temporal and spatial evolution of auroral electron energy spectra in a region surrounding the magnetic zenith, J. Geophys. Res., doi: 10.1002/2013JA019627.
  • Zawedde, A. E. et al. (2018), The impact of energetic particle precipitation on mesospheric OH – Variability of the sources and the background atmosphere. J. Geophys. Res., 123, 5764-5789. doi: 10.1029/2017JA025038.

Web sites:


The majority of this project will involve research and data analysis undertaken through the use of a laptop computer. In the event of a pandemic, the main impacts would be on the student’s ability to travel to meetings and conferences. Previous experience, however, has shown that this can be largely be mitigated against through video-conferencing. The main facilities (e.g. radars) required for this project are now in an advanced state of deployment. Should a pandemic have adverse impact on their completion, the project can still proceed with the 40-year EISCAT data set which already exists.