NATO SPS cooperation starts at the University of Oulu with space climate research

Experts from the University of Oulu participate for the first time in research supported by the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme (SPS). In cooperation with scientists from Germany, Norway and Sweden, this first joint project will monitor changes in space environment and atmospheric structure from the Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory.
Researchers of the DECC project together
DECC project partners gathered at NATO headquarters in Brussels in early November. Photo: NATO.

High altitude weather patterns that shift as a result of changes in space and global warming may reveal new hazards and threats. Therefore, extreme weather events will be examined to identify emerging and unexpected security threats. As climate change maximizes at high northern locations, this region is also called the epicentre of climate change. Changes occurring there are mapped to better prepare for them in the Dynamics Above the Epicentre Of Climate Change (DECC) project, which was accepted for funding in June and started in November, 2023. In addition to the Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory (SGO), the three-year project involves the Leibniz Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the University of Rostock (Germany), the Swedish Institute of Space Physics as well as Andøya Space AS in Norway.

SGO is a department of the University of Oulu, which has measured phenomena in the near space with its versatile measuring instruments for 110 years. “Our special expertise in precise measuring instruments is internationally unique, so measuring equipment and methods requiring accuracy are implemented in Sodankylä,” says Professor Eija Tanskanen, Director of SGO.

The joint project funded by NATO SPS is the first for the University of Oulu. “Lapland is a peaceful location for scientific instruments that require an undisturbed environment. In many other places, the noise of human activity interferes with sensitive instruments. In Lapland, quiet areas are also more easily accessible by road than, say, in the United States or Canada,” Tanskanen continues.

“The influence of space weather on infrastructure and energy- and navigation systems is particularly visible in the High North. In combination with significant changes due to climate change, we are facing new challenges in these regions, especially in times of energy transition”, says Rene Heise, former senior Space Weather and METOC officer at NATO SHAPE.

NATO SPS promotes practical cooperation between NATO member states and partner countries based on science, technology and innovation by offering funding for research and development projects, workshops and training courses.

“It’s great that our cooperation with NATO SPS is starting. Our long-established expertise is internationally recognised. We want to continue to collaborate with NATO in a number of interdisciplinary research areas at the University of Oulu,” says Taina Pihlajaniemi, Vice Rector for Research at the University of Oulu.

Monitoring the layers of the atmosphere, air currents, and space objects

The different layers of the atmosphere protect the Earth from threats coming from space. The structure of the atmosphere is lively and constantly changing. By understanding the changes more accurately, this new project aims to better protect against their effects or adaptation.

The thickness and transparency of the different layers of the atmosphere vary, for example, between the day and night sides of the Earth. The different layers of the atmosphere affect how well radio waves and other signals pass through the lower, middle, and upper layers of the atmosphere. In addition, in the DECC project, the measurement expertise of Sodankylä is will be used to refine how the upper atmospheric currents move. The third form of cooperation is the tracking of space objects from Sodankylä. For example 40,000 kg of rocks from space fall to Earth every day.

The project is focused on ground-based observations with a transnational network of instruments providing measurements that are currently not available from any other remote sensing technique, including satellites.

Last updated: 23.11.2023