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Langley’s Ionosphere Research Focus of CBC Report

March 5, 2015  - By
Richard Langley describes the ionosphere study to CBC News reporter Shawn Fowler.

Richard Langley describes the ionosphere study to CBC News reporter Shane Fowler. (Screen capture from CBC News video)

CBC News interviewed GPS World Innovation Editor Richard Langley about his ionosphere interference research project with NASA, reported on earlier this week.

Langley, a professor at the University of New Brunswick, is working with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California to better understand how the ionosphere is disturbed by a variety of phenomena including solar outbursts and other natural hazards such as tsunamis. They are using the signals from GPS satellites to probe the ionosphere with the signals being picked up by receivers both on the ground and in low-Earth-orbiting satellites. The research could help find ways to mitigate ionospheric interference to GPS signals themselves as well as to other types of radio communications.

“GPS satellites are much higher than the ionosphere,” Langley told CBC News reporter Shane Fowler. “So the signals from the satellites have to come down through the ionosphere to receivers on or near the Earth’s surface. And as they come down through the ionosphere they get a little distorted. When you see auroras in the sky, that’s when you can tell the ionosphere is a bit disturbed. The average consumer may not notice these variances, but high-precision applications, like for scientific applications, we actually always see the effect of the ionosphere.”

Screen capture from CBC news video.

Screen capture from CBC news video.

The research could also help develop early-detection systems for tsunamis. “The energy from that water displacement actually propagates up all the way into the atmosphere, all the way to the ionosphere,” Langley told CBC. “It basically moves around the electrons up there and GPS signals coming down from the satellites, through the ionosphere, pick up those small variations. It has the potential to save a lot of lives.”

Solar flares can also affect GPS signals. The Carrington Event, a solar storm in 1859, knocked out some of Earth’s telegraph systems. “The effect on the Earth’s magnetic field was so strong that currents were set up,” Langley told the CBC. “Those currents were so strong that telegraphs could run without batteries. There was enough current from this disturbance that it could run the telegraphs. And in some cases there was too much and rumour has it started small fires. Luckily we haven’t had one of those again; it seems to be a one-in-100-year, or a one-in-a-200-year, event.”

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