UNIS takes over SPEAR

UNIS takes over SPEAR

Top image: The SPEAR radar facility on Breinosa, now owned by UNIS.

Last week UNIS officially took over the SPEAR radar system on Breinosa from the University of Leicester.

3 October 2008
Text: Eva Therese Jenssen

The Space Plasma Exploration by Active Radar (SPEAR) is a radar system located on Breinosa (Mine 7) Mountain. SPEAR was built by the Radio and Space Plasma Physics group at University of Leicester, UK.

The intention of the radar system is to look at the Sun’s effect on the atmosphere. SPEAR was operational in 2004, and the plan was to run the radar until 2015, following a full solar circle which lasts for 11 years.

Research funding cut in UK
However, SPEAR lost the governmental funding in the UK.

– We hoped to be able to run the facility through a full solar circle, but the rearrangement of research funding in the UK made SPEAR one of the casualties, explains Dr. Christ Thomas, Head of Technical Services at the Radio and Space Plasma group at the University of Leicester.

The research group at Leicester started looking for institutions that could take over the SPEAR operations until 2015.
– We faced a situation where the operational budget would be dried out by the end of 2008, so we had to choose between dismantle the system or find another organization to assume responsibility, he says.

The Leicester group was in touch with several interested parties, and earlier this year it became clear that UNIS wanted to assume responsibility for this radar system.

– I am extremely pleased that UNIS can continue to run SPEAR until 2015. It is a great pity for me to not be able to continue this work, but I am delighted that we don’t have to knock the facility down, Dr. Thomas says.

– Svalbard is a unique place to do exactly this kind of research. Due to the geophysical conditions, with the dark season and the polar cusp just overhead, SPEAR is perfectly located and I am pleased to see that all our efforts do not go to waste, but will be fulfilled by UNIS as the SPEAR manager, he concludes.

Perfect addition
UNIS director Gunnar Sand is also very pleased by the acquisition of the radar system. The focal point in the future is the climate assessment of the atmosphere, because this is the weakest link in the climate research to date.

– It fits perfectly nice into our long term strategy for atmospheric research. With the cooperative agreement between our aurora station, the Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO) and EISCAT – and now the addition of SPEAR, the combined use of these facilities can really map the events in the upper and middle atmosphere.

Later this month there will be a SPEAR campaign. Annually campaigns will be undertaken until 2015, when the facility is scheduled to be dismantled. The annual cost of operating SPEAR is about 3 million NOK.

Gunnar Sand and Chris Thomas

Dr. Chris Thomas (right) hands over the keys to the SPEAR radar facility to UNIS director Gunnar Sand. Photo: Eva Therese Jenssen.

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