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Outcry of British scientists

Closure of the UK ionosondes, major threat to solar-terrestrial research programs

Volker Grassmann, DF5AI

April 6, 2006

Almost every day, public media reports about the signatures of the global climate change and how it affects our life, today and in the future. However, we do not yet understand the details of the geophysical processes which also includes the interaction between the lower, middle and upper atmosphere and the impact of solar-terrestrial phenomena. You and I and most of the citizens in our countries therefore expect intensified scientific efforts in this fields supported by governmental authorities. Not quite right! NASA's earth science programs getting cut (see also the below article on solar cycle predictions), NOAA plans to terminate solar wind data, Germany withdraws from the upper atmosphere EISCAT observatory in high latitudes, etc. etc. - the latest outcry originates from British scientists who are facing a brutal impact on their solar-terrestrial science programs (STP). Being a member of the German section of U.R.S.I., I received the following information from Prof. Paul S. Cannon (G8EAJ):

"For your information PPARC (the UK Grant Awarding Body for STP) has recently reviewed its policy in respect to STP funding. PPARC has decided that it will 'maintain a presence in ground-based STP' but 'withdraw earlier [than planned] from a number of solar-terrestrial physics facilities.' The decisions, which have now been officially confirmed in writing, are as follows:
SAMNET: PPARC no longer classes SAMNET as a National Facility, and recommends that Lancaster attempts to fund future SAMNET operations via the grant line.
Ionosondes: PPARC will withdraw all financial support for the UK ionosondes programme in six months time.
CUTLASS: PPARC will support CUTLASS operations for two more years, at which time support will be terminated.
SPEAR: PPARC will support SPEAR operations for two more years, at which time support will be terminated and PPARC will attempt to transfer the facility to non-UK ownership.
UKSSDC: Support will be reduced to a maximum of £200kpa for FY06/07 and £150kpa thereafter. Highest priority will be given to archival of data from the facilities being closed.
EISCAT: The UK will continue to be a member of EISCAT for at least the next five years, but funding for the support group at RAL will reduce to £300kpa by FY07/08. Highest priority will be given to user support. The UK should close its archive of EISCAT data."
Given the above decisions, the UK’s ground-based STP programme obviously faces a period of considerable difficulty and uncertainty. Many of the STP facilities are planning what can be done to mitigate the effects of these decisions, and would welcome letters of support. The best advice, if you would like to write such a letter or offer to help in any other way, would be to contact the PI (editor's note: 'principal investigator', i.e. the chief scientist) of the facility in question (see the list below) who can advise on the most appropriate course of action.
The PIs of the UK STP National Facilities:
Farideh Honary (SAMNET)
Sarah James (Ionosondes)
Mark Lester (CUTLASS)
Ian McCrea (EISCAT Support Group)
Terry Robinson (SPEAR)
Matthew Wild (UKSSDC)

To realize the damage in scientific continuity, readers are requested to refer to the above hotlinks which explain the scientific programs in detail. See also the information given by Dr. Phil Wilkinson, director of the Australian IPS Radio and Space Services. This cut of funding also affects amateur radio, of course, which benefits from ionospheric data in various aspects (which is also documented by many articles available on this web site). In consequence, British fellow hams are highly alerted, see, e.g. the web site of the Southgate Amateur Radio Club, the international QRZ directory and also the Foren des Arbeitskreises Meteore (AKM) e.V. (refer to the thread "Streichungen für britische Ionosphärenforschung" in the "Polarlichtforum"). The RSGB Propagation Studies Committee has also addressed this issue on their annual meeting in April this year. To understand PPARC's position in this initiative, the reader is requested to refer to the PPARC's web site reporting news from the council (meeting on March 2, 2006).

Further readings:


Open letter addressing the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC)



Copyright (C) of Volker Grassmann. All rights reserved. The material, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without prior written permission of the author.