From deep sea to outer space

The research at the UNIS Arctic geophysical department spans over a vertical range from the depths of the ocean through snow and ice covered land, and the entire atmospheric column to the solar winds in outer space.

Go to current geophysics research projects

The emphasis is on geophysical phenomena in Polar regions with implications for global currents in the ocean and atmosphere, and radiative processes in the atmosphere and on the ground. These issues are all pertinent in connection with environmental and climatic change questions.

The department divides its research into two main focus areas:

Middle and Upper Atmosphere

One group studies middle and upper atmospheric processes focusing on combined radar and optical measurements of these. The completion of the Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO) – the new aurora observatory – has provided UNIS and other visiting groups from around the world with excellent facilities for studying the aurora borealis and other optical phenomena of the polar night sky.

All research projects studying the middle- and upper polar atmosphere at UNIS mainly utilizes the space related research infrastructure on Svalbard, especially KHO with optical instrumentation and the EISCAT Svalbard Radars (ESR), for studies of auroral-related processes in the ionosphere and magnetosphere. In addition, data from other observational platforms such as satellites and in-situ sounding rockets are used.

Sea-Ice-Snow-Air Processes

The second group studies boundary layer dynamics between sea, ice, land and lower atmosphere, focusing on improved parameterisations of interaction processes for climate models.

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Current research projects:

Aurora over Kjell Henriksen Observatory, Svalbard.
Aurora over the Kjell Henriksen Observatory. Photo: Njål Gulbrandsen/UNIS

The Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO)

The northernmost aurora observatory in the world is an optical observatory located at the archipelago Svalbard 1000 km north of mainland Norway (78o N 16o E).

Here more than 25 optical instruments as well as other non-optical instruments, are employed for research on the middle- and upper atmosphere.

KHO was opened in 2008 and includes the following instrumentation: Meridian Scanning Photometer, DSLR all sky camera, spectrometers, all sky imagers.

Contact person: Professor Fred Sigernes

The Kjell Henriksen Observatory
Aurora over Eiscat Svalbard Radar. Photo: Njål Gulbrandsen/UNIS
Aurora over Eiscat Svalbard Radar. Photo: Njål Gulbrandsen/UNIS

The Birkeland Centre for Space Science

Birkeland Centre for Space Science is a Centre of Excellence (CoE) at the University of Bergen, that also includes scientists from NTNU and UNIS. The objective of the centre is to understand how Earth is coupled to space. The main objective of the centre is to answer the question: How is Earth coupled to Space? With this in mind, the centre has identified four fundamental areas of research:

1) Q1: Asymmetric Aurora
2) Q2: Dynamic Ionosphere
3) Q3: Particle Precipitation
4) Q4: Gamma-ray flashes

Contact person: Professor Dag Lorentzen

Birkeland Centre for Space Science
Sea ice, northwestern Spitsbergen, Svalbard. Photo: Eva Therese Jenssen/UNIS
Sea ice, northwestern Spitsbergen. Photo: Eva Therese Jenssen/UNIS

Air-Ice-Sea interaction

The overall purpose is to investigate the processes involved in air-ice-sea interaction, something which is quite badly represented in today’s climate models with main emphasis is on the atmospheric boundary layer over open water and sea ice and investigation of processes controlling momentum and heat fluxes at the air-ice-sea interface.

The main goals are:
1) To investigate the heat exchange between sea and atmosphere in the Svalbard fjords in wintertime, when the temperature difference between sea and air is large and the thermal stratification is known to be connected to sea ice cover and heat advection.

2) To study the effect of polynyas on the characteristics of turbulence, heat fluxes and the vertical structure of the atmospheric boundary layer.

3) To simulate (with numerical mesoscale model) the effects of different sea ice extents on regional weather conditions, such as temperature and wind patterns, in the mountainous area around the fjords.

Contact person: Professor Frank Nilsen

Aurora seen from the Kjell Henriksen Observatory
Aurora seen from the Kjell Henriksen Observatory

Multi-Instrument Studies of High Latitude Atmospheric Turbulence and Wave Processes

The project aims to initiate a new collaboration between the two research groups through a joint study into how energy is dissipated into the upper atmosphere through interaction between the Sun’s magnetic field (IMF) and the Earth’s magnetic field. Ultra Low Frequency (ULF) waves and turbulence manifest themselves as periodic fluctuations in the atmospheric signatures of this energy deposition (such as temperature and density changes) and in the Earth’s magnetic field. By monitoring the frequency, magnitude and location of the waves on the ground it is possible to investigate the complex plasma processes and interactions happening in the Earth’s ionosphere/magnetosphere system.

Contact person: Associate Professor Lisa Baddeley

Multi-Instrument Studies of High Latitude
Atmospheric Turbulence and Wave Processes