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Developing early-warnings for hazardous space weather using soil moisture sensing technology

Cosmic-ray soil moisture sensor

Complex neutron interactions are detected by the sensor and converted to an estimate of soil moisture

Rafael Rosolem

Rafael Rosolem (Bristol’s PI on MOSAIC)

10 December 2019

A new UKRI/NERC project will investigate the use of cosmic-ray soil moisture sensing technology to help develop early-warnings for hazardous space weather events affecting critical UK infrastructure.

The Moisture Sensors for Atmospheric Ionising Collaboration (MOSAIC) project, funded by UKRI/NERC under the “Constructing a Digital Environment” announcement, is led by the University of Surrey in close collaboration with University of Bristol’s Senior Lecturer in Civil Engineering, Dr Rafael Rosolem.

The project aims to explore the use of cosmic-ray soil moisture sensors to help providing early warnings of hazardous space weather events which affect critical infrastructure in the UK such as autonomous vehicles, railways, nuclear power station and especially aircraft (including unmanned aerial platforms) . The MOSAIC project will utilize a network of cosmic-ray neutron sensors originally measured for soil moisture estimates from Dr Rosolem’s experimental sites as part of his previous NERC AMUSED project together with several stations from the COsmic-ray Soil Moisture Observing System UK (COSMOS-UK) maintained by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) which is also a key collaborator on this project. 

There is growing awareness of the hazards arising from space weather and generally such solar events are detectable at the earth's surface by a few ground level neutron monitors. However, the UK currently has no ground level neutron measurement capability as this was abandoned in the 1980s, relying solely on neighboring countries for this information. It is also likely that the geographical diversity and distributed nature of the cosmic-ray soil moisture sensor network could offer significant benefits for robustness via the inherent redundancy compared to conventional 'single point' neutron monitors.

Dr Rosolem’s contribution to the MOSAIC project is to work on data analysis and signal processing of the cosmic-ray soil moisture sensors and adapting his previously developed COsmic-ray Soil Moisture Interaction Code (COSMIC) model within the UK. The project is also supported by UK MetOffice, EDF Energy (UK), and Hydroinnova LLC (USA) as partners.

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