Ionization in Earth’s atmosphere following the solar storm on January 20, 2005
Monday, 15 December 2014
To estimate possible effects of atmospheric ionization on clouds and Earth’s climate as well as radiation exposure of air travelers and aircraft electronics due to space weather, relativistic solar ions are the only solar particles of concern because the less energetic particles do not penetrate to cloud/aircraft altitudes. Some solar storms produce relativistic ions that lead to showers of secondary particles in Earth’s atmosphere and generate signals in ground-based detectors such as neutron monitors at a rate that can be observed above the background due to galactic cosmic rays, hence the term ground-level enhancements (GLEs). In this work we study the January 20, 2005 event, one of the most intense GLEs ever observed. From the bare counter to neutron monitor count rate ratio at South Pole, we estimate a spectral index in rigidity of 5.0. From the Spaceship Earth network, supplemented to comprise 13 polar neutron monitors, we model the time profile of relativistic solar ions impinging on Earth’s atmosphere in the polar regions. We then perform Monte Carlo simulations using a realistic atmospheric model to determine ionization as a function of altitude and time in Earth’s atmosphere. The results will allow us to investigate a possible connection between solar activity and Earth’s climate as mediated by the cosmic ray flux, atmospheric ionization, and cloud formation. This work is partially supported by Thailand Research Fund and a Postdoctoral Fellowship from Mahidol University.