August 12, 2009

HPWREN is supporting real-time communication for a Sprites sensor of University of Bath researchers at Piñon Flat Observatory

By Toby Whitley, Dept of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, University of Bath, United Kingdom

HPWREN and UCSD has supported Dr Toby Whitley from the University of Bath, England, setting up a data logger and magnetic field sensors at Piñon Flat Observatory in California, one of a network of four similar stations scattered around the globe. The unit at Piñon Flat is the first to be fully operational with Internet connectivity, ready for a long term measurement campaign, the aim of which is to study Sprites, a type of transient luminous event seen above large thunderstorms. The equipment detects the Sprites from their electromagnetic signatures in the extremely low frequency band which, due to the nature of the Earth Ionosphere cavity, propagate around the entire planet. Combining the data from the entire sensor network allows the total number and locations of Sprites to be mapped. The ideal site to detect Sprite signatures is remote and away from mains electricity sources or other low frequency interferers, however for a long term deployment the equipment needs power and an Internet connection to allow control and monitoring of the unit. These two requirements are difficult to find and is why the support of HPWREN is so vital in order for a project like this to succeed.

The other data-logger locations: the British Geological Survey observatory in Eskdalemuir, Scotland, the South African Astronomical Observatory, Sutherland, and the Geoscience Australia magnetic observatory near Canberra.

On Monday 6th of July Toby Whitley arrived at UCSD to meet Frank Wyatt, Steve Constable, Pete Davis, Glen Offield and the other members of Staff who were supporting the Bath University Sprite Project and helping with the Piñon Flat installation. Having planned various details of the deployment, a group drove up to the site and spent the following few days installing the equipment. Initial test measurements were made to find the most electrically quiet area of the site before the equipment was fixed in place and all cables were buried to prevent animal damage. This was extremely hot work. Connection to the network was made using a fibre optic cable from an access point on site to a media converter on the data logger and then an Ethernet cable into the unit itself. The unit consists of an ADU07 data-logger, GPS antenna, a backup battery and two MFS07 magnetic field sensors placed north and east, recording Hx and Hy. The connection worked flawlessly and immediately and has been running ever since, allowing full control of the data-logger from Bath University.

The other sites around the world should be coming online in the near future to join the one supported by the HPWREN network.

The ADU07 datalogger, which facilitates the data collection, while being accessible from the University of Bath.

Digging trenches for the magnetic field sensors (top), and laying cables (right) was part of the installation.

This photo shows tha SDB connection point.

Toby Whitley hard at work!

The completed installation shows the instroment with its cover and the GPS antenna.

Main HPWREN web site (includes information for acknowledgments/disclaimers and feedback/contact)