Space weather analysts are atmospheric scientists who investigate atmospheric phenomena and interpret meteorological data gathered by surface and air stations.
The sun’s activity causes large changes in the sun’s plasma and energetic particle populations, and these changes are responsible for the “space weather” that affects earth. Space weather can impact the upper atmosphere and may influence long-term climate trends.
Space weather analysts study and forecast space weather, such as solar flares, geomagnetic storms and particle events. All three can impact human activity.
Solar flares can disrupt radio communications. Sometimes a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), a giant blob of plasma hurled from the sun, accompanies a flare.
Geomagnetic storms occur when a CME hits the earth’s magnetosphere. A geomagnetic storm creates an aurora, but can also cause a variety of highly undesirable consequences. Electrical current surges in power lines, interference in the broadcast of radio, television and telephone signals, and problems with defence communications are all associated with magnetic storms. Odd behaviour in air and marine navigation instruments has been observed, and a compass anywhere on earth is certainly affected. These storms are known to alter the atmospheric ozone layer.
Sometimes energetic particles (protons) are ejected during a solar flare. These particles can cause satellite malfunctions and increase the radiation hazard for astronauts in low-earth orbit.
Major solar activity is a very serious concern in space flight. Communications may be disrupted. Large solar disturbances heat the upper atmosphere, causing it to expand and create increased drag on spacecraft in low orbits, shortening their orbital lifetime. Spacecraft could potentially tumble and burn up in the atmosphere.
For example, they use weather balloons, radar systems, satellites and sensors to monitor the weather and collect data. The data they collect and analyse are critical to understanding air pollution, drought, loss of the ozone layer and other problems. Atmospheric scientists also use graphics software to illustrate their forecasts and reports for public and other uses. They warn the nation and clients via radio, television, newspapers and other media if a damaging solar storm is due or underway.
Many atmospheric scientists work with scientists and professionals in other fields to help solve problems in areas such as commerce, energy, transportation, agriculture and the environment. For example, some atmospheric scientists work on teams with other scientists and engineers to find the best locations for new wind farms, which are groups of wind turbines used to generate electricity. Others work closely with hydrologists to monitor the impact climate change has on water supplies and to manage water resources.
Meteorologists can progress into this career.
Degree: Atmospheric scientists typically need a BSc or BEng, either in atmospheric science or a related scientific field offered by most universities.
Postgraduate: Atmospheric scientists who work in research usually need a minimum of a master’s degree, and preferably a PhD in atmospheric sciences or a related field. Most graduate programmes do not require prospective students to have a bachelor degree in atmospheric science; an undergraduate degree in mathematics, physics or engineering provides excellent preparation for graduate study in atmospheric science. In addition to advanced meteorological coursework, graduate students take courses in other disciplines, such as oceanography and geophysics.
Department of Environmental Affairs
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