AGF-804 Radar Diagnostics of Space Plasma (15 ECTS)






October 15, 2023


January 08, 2024


Spring semester (January 8th - May 10th)

Northern lights (Aurora Borealis) over the EISCAT Svalbard Radar. Photo: Njål Gulbrandsen/UNIS.

Grade:Letter grade (A through F)
Course Cost:None
Course Capacity Min/Max:8/16 students (AGF-304/804 in total)
Language of instruction:English
Examination support material:Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue

Course requirements

Enrollment in a relevant PhD programme in geophysics. General knowledge of basic atmospheric physics and/or electrodynamics. Priority will be given to students with knowledge of

ionospheric/space physics or are enrolled on a study program focused towards ionospheric and/or

space physics.

The course should be combined with AGF-801 The Upper Polar Atmosphere. The two courses are designed to complement each other.

Academic content

The course will begin with a brief introduction to the ionosphere and a discussion of basic ionospheric HF sounding techniques and radar design. Students will be given an introduction to basic plasma physics discussing both the fluid and kinetic theory approaches before providing a detailed description of how these fundamental theories are applied to the incoherent scattering processes. Lectures will also focus on the mathematical techniques utilized in the signal analysis process (including the statistical assumptions and techniques used). Significant time will also be spent discussing the resulting autocorrelation function and power density spectrum and how this relates to the intrinsic properties of the plasma.

A technical description will be given of various types of incoherent scatter radars including transmitter, receivers and antenna design. Students will be taught about different radar measurement techniques including simple and coded pulse methodology, pulse decoding processes and lag profile matrixes.

A series of interactive seminars and lectures will be used to familiarise students to the scientific interpretation of incoherent radar data and how to combine it with other datasets such as optical and satellite data. Students will be introduced to the EISCAT Svalbard Radar (ESR) experimental modes and taught how to run the ESR.  The students must design their own radar experiment (the data from which will form the basis of part of their project report) which they will be responsible for running during the field work. In addition, they will be given hands on experience of building a simple radar system and utilizing simple programmes to investigate the basics of signal processing.

Students will be taught how to use the MATLAB data analysis program GUISDAP (Grand Unified Incoherent Scatter Design and Analysis Package), which is used to process the EISCAT radar measurements. Knowledge of a programming language (e.g., Matlab or Python) is advantageous but not essential for the course as students will be given some basic programming exercises to complete at the start of the course.

The students will be required to give an oral presentation detailing either the topic of their PhD or one of two suggested science papers.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing the course, the students will:


  • have detailed knowledge of radar techniques employed in the field of space plasma and ionospheric physics research, including radar design, incoherent scatter plasma theory, pulse coding techniques, and signal processing
  • be able to evaluate and discuss the methodology by which ionospheric plasma parameters can be derived from an auto-correlation function
  • be able to discuss the mathematical approach of the dressed particle theory and evaluate the statistical methods utilized in signal analysis
  • be able to interpret and discuss incoherent scatter radar data in the context of ionospheric and magnetospheric processes.


  • operate an incoherent scatter radar independently
  • utilise the radar data analysis package (GUISDAP) in analysing multiple data sets
  • analyse data and recognise the different analysis techniques employed and know the advantages and limitations of them
  • discuss and describe orally the underlying physical principles surrounding incoherent scatter theory, pulse coding and signal analysis techniques
  • apply scientific reasoning to interpret typical features that are observed in incoherent scatter radar data

General competences

  • produce a short written report detailing radar analysis techniques and data interpretation
  • give presentations of scientific papers from a peer reviewed journal.

Learning activities

The course extends over a full semester and is run in combination with AGF-304. Initially, students attend one week of compulsory Arctic survival and safety training (AS-101).

The main learning activities of the course are:

  • lectures detailing the fundamental physical and mathematical techniques utilized in incoherent scatter radar theory including pulse coding and signal processing
  • interactive seminars focusing on data interpretation
  • data analysis techniques utilizing MATLAB and the GUISDAP analysis program
  • five days fieldwork at the EISCAT Svalbard Radar where students will be expected to operate the radar using the radar control software
  • produce a written report based upon analysis techniques and data interpretation.


  • Total lecture hours: 60 hours.
  • Total seminar and exercises hours: 16 hours.
  • Preparation of oral presentation: 6 hours
  • Total computer lab hours: 16 hours.
  • Fieldwork at EISCAT Svalbard Radar: 5 days

Compulsory learning activities

All compulsory learning activities must be approved in order to sit the exam.

  • Fieldwork
  • Written report
  • Oral presentation to peers


Percentage of final grade
Oral exam100 %

Student life

Northern lights over Eiscat
Northern lights (Aurora Borealis) over the EISCAT Svalbard Radar antennaes. Photo: Njål Gulbrandsen/UNIS.