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PhD Studentship: Exploiting the UK and Global Soil Moisture Sensor Network to Provide Space Weather Alerts for Aviation and Critical Infrastructure

Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering

Location:  Guildford
Fixed Term
Post Type:  Full Time
Advert Placed:  Tuesday 08 January 2019
Closing Date:  Friday 25 January 2019
Reference:  002019

Studentship description

This is an exciting, multi-disciplinary, opportunity to help create a new global observatory for space weather by exploiting the ‘hidden’ signals caused by solar events in the global COSMOS soil moisture sensor network.

Solar storms can generate sudden surges of neutrons which travel right through the atmosphere and reach the ground. Known as Ground Level Events (GLEs), they create radiation risks to aircraft and safety-critical ground systems. Recent evidence from ice cores and tree rings shows that extremely large GLEs have occurred in the historical record e.g. AD774. Hence a reliable observation and alert system is required but traditional large ground level neutron monitor stations are hard to maintain: the UK closed its only station in the 1980s.

This project explores a potentially more cost effective approach by exploiting the global Cosmic Ray Soil Moisture Observing System (COSMOS): this system measures soil moisture by detecting the quiet-time cosmic-ray generated neutrons ‘reflected’ from the ground. There have not been any significant GLEs during the COSMOS operational life so far but it is known to be affected by the modest cosmic ray flux variation over the solar cycle. Hence it is predicted that COSMOS should be capable of measuring GLEs, potentially with unprecedented spatial resolution on a global scale. Thus the aim of this project is to investigate, understand and predict the response of the COSMOS system to space weather events, and determine if it can be the basis of a new GLE alert and measurement system.

The student will be based at the University of Surrey but will undertake a placement (6 months) with the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology which runs the COSMOS-UK network. Time will also be spent with the UK Met Office to understand the space weather user requirements.

Entry Requirements

Applicants are expected to hold a 1st or upper 2nd class degree or good performance at the Masters level ("merit" or above) in the relevant discipline and have lived in the UK/EU for 3 years or more.


NERC Studentships (covering both fees and a maintenance grant of £14,057/year, tax free) are open to all UK citizens, and other European Union students who have lived in the UK for the past three years. Other students may also be eligible if they have an established relevant connection with the UK. A relevant connection constitutes being resident in the UK for the past three years, not for the sole purpose of education, and not being subject to any restriction on the period for which he/she may stay in the UK.

How to apply

For more information, and to apply, please go to the SCENARIO Reading/Surrey joint DTP web site

Closing date for applications: 25th January 2019

Application enquiries:  Dr Keith Ryden,  01483 6822276.

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