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Aviation space weather advisories Quick reference guide to space-weather specific abbreviations and User’s guide to Space Weather Advisories for Pilots are now available in PECASUS dissemination section.
Impact of Space Weather on Aviation
The Sun drives our planet’s weather and climate patterns. The exposure of regions on Earth to sunlight is a key component in weather & climate, and changes on a daily and seasonal basis. Solar energy is pumped into our atmosphere and drives the weather, potentially causing storms.Similar to this, we have space weather and space climate. Besides sunlight entering our atmosphere, there is also solar mass continuously flowing along the magnetic shield surrounding Earth. Our atmosphere and magnetosphere can respond in a dramatic way to an abrupt change in the continuous emittance of light and mass from the Sun. A solar storm initiates space weather processes which impact our navigation and radio communication systems and can cause an increase of radiation levels at flight altitude.
Space Weather Warnings for Aviation
PECASUS advises pilots in case Space Weather (SWX) causes a moderate or severe impact on the radiation at flight level, Satellite navigation or long distance Radio communication.PECASUS continuously monitors and measures the atmospheric and magnetospheric space weather parameters. When there is an indication that the health of passengers and crew might be affected due to radiation, or when the HF communication or satellite navigation is impacted, an advisory message is sent out through the standard communication networks defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The advisories have a standard format.
Radiation at flight level
During solar storms, solar particles like protons can suddenly be accelerated, heading into space at great speed. When they arrive at Earth, these energetic particles can penetrate the atmosphere at the magnetic poles. They bombard atmospheric particles and create a shower of particles possibly reaching the Earth’s surface. When this happens, crew and passengers onboard airplanes are more vulnerable to this harmful radiation. The effect is stronger at high altitudes and latitudes.
The ionosphere plays also a crucial role in satellite navigation. The signal sent by the satellite has to pass through the ionosphere to reach the receiver. Solar storms can introduce small scale structures in the ionosphere. When the signal encounters these obstacles, its amplitude and phase can alter very rapidly. Similarly, when the number of electrons in the ionosphere increases dramatically due to a solar storm, positioning errors are introduced in satellite navigation.
The ionosphere is a layer at the top of our atmosphere which is ionised due to sunlight (at ultraviolet and x-ray wavelengths). Because the layer is ionised, it has the ability to reflect HF radio waves allowing long distance radio communication, which is crucial for aviation. HF radio waves have frequencies between 3 and 30 MHz.However, during solar storms, extra energy is deposited into the ionosphere, introducing additional ionisation and irregularities. HF radio waves can be absorbed or reflected in unforeseen ways, causing a radio communication failure. This malfunctioning can happen near the Earth’s poles or on the day-light side of the Earth, depending on the sort of solar storm and associated energy input.
Information about current space weather advisories are available from the Civil Aviation Weather Service by the Finnish Meteorological Institute.
According to ICAO regulations space weather advisories shall be issued only when very strong space weather events occur. As we are currently living the years of solar minimum, there has not yet been any need to send real advisories since Nov 7 2019, when the centers started their official operations. However, several test advisories have been sent during recent months in order to test the dissemination channels in the ICAO framework.
Besides PECASUS the two other services providing advisories are the Space Weather Prediction Center of NOAA (https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/) and the ACFJ (http://www.bom.gov.au/aviation/space-weather-advisories/) consortium formed by Australia, Canada, France and Japan.
The three centers are doing space weather monitoring in two week shifts with one of the centers serving as the On Duty Center (ODC) and the others as Primary and Secondary backup-centers.
PECASUS Global Space Weather Center for aviation started its 24/7 operations today 7-Nov, 2019 at noon UTC. PECASUS led by FMI comprises ICAO member states Finland, Belgium, UK, Austria, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Cyprus, South Africa.
The ICAO space weather service is implemented by joint operation of three global SWX centers (PECASUS. SWPC, ACFJ), with each center providing the service for 2 weeks in turn. One center is always on duty while the two other centers are providing back-up service. The ICAO space weather service was started by PECASUS to be followed by NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) and thereafter by the consortium of Australia, Canada, France and Japan (ACFJ).
The ICAO space weather service starts at the time of solar activity minimum and hence calm space weather conditions prevail. Intensive solar storms may still take place during the years of solar activity minimum, so the SWX centers are on alert all the time. During the next few years the solar activity is expected to increase substantially with the approaching sunspot maximum.
The first ever Council of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) MET panel meeting was hosted by FMI (10 – 12 Sep, 2019) to coordinate the ICAO designated global space weather service centers.
The three ICAO global Space weather Centers PECASUS Consortium, NOAA/SWPC and ACFJ had a coordination meeting at FMI in Helsinki. The meeting was attended by scientists from Australia, Canada, Belgium, U.K., South Africa and France, as well as from ICAO regional centers Russia and China. Brent Gordon (SWPC/USA) and Ari-Matti Harri (FMI) acted as chairmen, with the success of the meeting being also strongly contributed by Kari Österberg (FMI) and Kirsti Kauristie (FMI). During the event, FMI 24/7 weather and security services were introduced by Anssi Vähämäki, Tiera Laitinen and Antti Kokko.
ICAO designated three global space weather service centers to provide civil aviation with information on space weather that has the potential to affect communications, navigation and the health of passengers and crew.
In November 2018, the PECASUS (Pan-European Consortium for Aviation Space weather User Service) consortium led by FMI was selected to become one of the centers due to its high quality performance and successful and strong international work. The headquarters of the center is placed in FMI.
The countries forming the PECASUS consortium are Finland (Lead), Belgium, UK, Poland, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Austria, Poland, South Africa and Cyprus. Two other global centers are SWPC by the United States and ACFJ –consortium of Australia, Canada, France and Japan. The global centers will start their official operations in November 2019.
The PECASUS team introduced the new space weather services by ICAO in the World ATM Congress in Madrid, Spain, in mid-March 2019. Interested congress participants were briefed at the PECASUS stand with discussions, leaflets and slides. In addition, a panel discussion was arranged On 12th March at the FABEC OPS Theatre in the Congress Exhibition area. Approximately 50 persons attended the 50 minute session.
Aim of the panel was:
The session was moderated by Mr. Jan Sondij, of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI). The panellists were Dr Kirsti Kauristie (FMI), Mr. Dennis Hart (EUROCONTROL) and Mr. Klaus Sievers (IFALPA). I her presentation Dr Kauristie told what space weather is, and what the space weather advisories look like. Mr. Hart informed the audience on the history and current status of the service provision within ICAO, in his capacity as ICAO MET Panel Member. Mr. Sievers provided the pilot’s view on space weather. The panel discussions were opened by Mr. Gavin Dixon (NATS), who informed the audience on the experience of the Shanwick Oceanic centre with space weather.
The outcome of the panel session is summarized below:
Text by: Jan Sondij and Kirsti Kauristie
In its 215th Session (29 Oct – 16 Nov, 2018) the Council of International Civil Aviation Organization has designated three global space weather service centers to be operated by the PECASUS consortium, by United States and by the consortium of Australia, Canada, France and Japan. In addition the Council agreed that two regional centers, comprising South Africa and the China/Russian Federation consortium, will be established no later than November 2022.
More (in Finnish): https://ilmatieteenlaitos.fi/tiedote/770699318