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Advanced Forecast For Ensuring Communications Through Space

Final Report Summary - AFFECTS (Advanced Forecast For Ensuring Communications Through Space)

Executive Summary:
In the framework of the EU FP7 project AFFECTS (Advanced Forecast for Ensuring Communications Through Space) an international team of researchers headed by the University of Göttingen has developed the first prototype of a European early warning system for weather, with specific emphasis on telecommunication and navigation systems. Severe space storms can affect the performance of technologies on Earth or even cause them to fail. Any potential longer-term losses of power or disruptions to satellite navigation and communication systems are especially critical. The early warning system established by the AFFECTS consortium analyses the data from on-going multipoint space missions, such as STEREO, SDO, SOHO, ACE, GOES and Proba 2 together with information provided by measurements of ISS instruments, in near real-time and provides alerts of solar storms and its immediate radiation impacts. Within about one to two hours after the onset of a solar storm its direction, speed, arrival time, and estimated strength along with the expected disturbances of the Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere and subsequent impact on navigation and telecommunication systems are determined. After a travel of about 150 million kilometres, the solar storm reaches the distance of Earth. About 1.5 million kilometres ahead of the Earth the ACE satellite measures the conditions of solar wind streams and energetic particles, and alerts the arrival of coronal mass ejections. The data from ACE undergo special processing through AFFECTS tools established through dedicated scientific analyses, and within about 3 minutes the first alert about whether the forecasted solar storm has reached Earth is available, including its estimated space weather effects. The pre-warning times range from 12 hours in extreme cases to several days, reports on long-term "large-scale space weather conditions" can be created for periods of up to two weeks. The established AFFECTS results, tools and services, including dedicated dissemination products, are available through the project's website at

Partnering Göttingen University on this project, titled "Advanced Forecast for Ensuring Communications Through Space (AFFECTS)”, are the German Aerospace Center in Neustrelitz, the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques in Freiburg, the company Astrium ST in Friedrichshafen, Germany, the Hamburg Planetarium, the Royal Observatory of Belgium in Brussels, the University of Tromsoe's Geophysical Observatory in Norway, the National Space Agency in Ukraine and the Space Weather Prediction Center of the USA's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The European Union is providing nearly two million of the funds for the project that totals over 2.5 million euros.

Project Context and Objectives:
Solar storms are a consequence of sudden eruptions of magnetised gas in the Sun’s outer atmosphere. Often such storms start with a sudden release of electromagnetic energy lasting for some minutes, accompanied by an eruption of a giant cloud of magnetised plasma – a coronal mass ejection (CME). The fastest of these “space hurricanes” are accelerated to speeds of ten million kilometres per hour and, if heading in the direction of Earth, reach our home planet at a distance of 150 million km in less than a day.

The impact of the coronal mass ejection on the Earth’s magnetosphere causes a geomagnetic storm if the magnetic field of the coronal mass ejection is oriented antiparallel to the direction of the Earth magnetic field. Through the reconnection of the magnetic fields large-scale current systems are driven in the Earth’s magnetosphere causing severe space weather: Polar lights become visible even at equatorial latitudes, astronauts and airline crews and passengers become exposed to enhanced radiation doses in form of energetic particles up to GeV energies, satellites in low Earth orbit experience enhanced orbital drag and can lose hundreds of meters in height, navigation and telecommunication systems are affected or may be even become completely disrupted locally, power grid transformers can be severely damaged causing power outages, such as in Quebec 1989 or in Malmö 2003. For an overview on the subject, the reader is referred to the book “Space Weather – Physics and Effects” by Bothmer and Daglis (eds, Springer/Praxis, 2007).

Solar activity affects the entire Earth environment from the magnetosphere down to the ionosphere, and even to the lower atmosphere climate system. The natural hazards of space weather do not only modify the atmosphere. They also have the potential to disrupt the operations of many technological systems catastrophically, such as communication systems and power grids on Earth. Hence, the impact of space weather for people’s lives and jobs is very real, and as we approach solar maximum around 2013, such risks increase.

In the AFFECTS project, European and US scientists are developing an advanced prototype space weather warning system to help mitigate space weather effects on the operation of telecommunication and navigation systems. The following institutions and enterprises in Germany, Belgium, Norway, Ukraine and the United States have been collaborating in the AFFECTS project coordinated by the University of Göttingen, Germany:

Institute for Astrophysics, Georg-August-University Göttingen, Germany (Project Coordination)
Solar Influences Data Analysis Center, Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels, Belgium
Space Research Institute of National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and National Space Agency of Ukraine, Kyiv, Ukraine
Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques Freiburg, Germany
Tromsø Geophysical Observatory, University of Tromsø, Norway
Institute of Communications and Navigation, German Aerospace Center Neustrelitz, Germany
Astrium GmbH Friedrichshafen, Germany
NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center, Boulder, U.S.A. as AFFECTS EU-U.S. research collaborator
Planetarium Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany, as AFFECTS public outreach centre

The key objectives of the AFFECTS project are:

State-of-the-art analysis and modelling of the Sun-Earth chain of effects on the Earth's ionosphere and their subsequent impacts on communication systems based on multipoint space observations and complementary ground-based data.
Development of a prototype space weather early warning system and reliable space weather forecasts, with specific emphasis on ionospheric applications.
Dissemination of new space weather products and services to end users, the scientific community and general public.

The project is organised in the following six working packages:
WP 1 Management (Lead: Dr. V. Bothmer): Administrative, financial and legal management of the project.
WP 2 Data, Calibration, Maintenance and Instrumentation (Prof. C. Hall): Management of the flow of raw and calibrated data required for WPs 3 and 4 as input for early warning and for establishing beyond the state of the art tools and modelling. Maintenance of instruments and data sets and support of detector development. Definition of common data formats to be used for ionospheric, thermospheric and space weather-modelling activities.
WP 3 Early Warning System (Dr. C. Verbeeck): Development of an early space weather warning system.
WP 4 Forecasting Tools and Modelling (Dr. A. Parnowski): Development of a comprehensive tool to flag alerts for perturbed conditions in Space Weather. Provision of tools to forecast space weather parameters as e.g. geomagnetic indices and perturbed TEC (total electron content) based on solar, geomagnetic and GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) based ionospheric data.
WP 5 Forecast System Ionosphere (Dr. J. Berdermann): Development of a Forecast System Ionosphere (FSI) providing early warnings and forecasts of expected ionospheric perturbations for end users. The processing modules integrated into the FSI are developed in WP4.
WP 6 Data and Product Dissemination, Project Sustainability (Dr. R. Van der Linden): Provision of overall space weather data and in particular early warnings and forecasts to end users, scientific community, and general public. Organisation of a user workshop.

Project Results:
AFFECTS main foreground

WP2 – Data, calibration, maintenance, and instrumentation

The project has enhanced the reliability and integrated channelling of data from both space and ground-based sources for dedicated space weather forecast, with emphasis on ionospheric effects. Dedicated state-of-the-art datasets were assembled in repositories after calibration, allowing the partners and other parties to access data and metadata products easily and quickly. These activities also led to expansion of facilities such as the SWACI and STAFF databases to encompass more data types. As part of the learning curve imposed by AFFECTS, ground based data became more reliable by establishing redundancy and faster response times for correcting problems.

WP3 – Early Warning System

The Solar Timelines viewer STAFF ( was developed in the framework of AFFECTS. STAFF is a powerful, fast and easy tool for viewing, combining and exporting a whole range of timelines related to solar activity and space weather. It imports data in near-real time and provides the full available historic archive as well. Next to quick look data and science data, a few predictions of timeline data were also included, among which the geomagnetic forecasts developed by SRI NASU-NSAU within the AFFECTS project.

The near real-time flare, dimming and EUV wave detector Solar Demon was developed as collaboration between the FP7 projects AFFECTS and COMESEP. Solar Demon works on both quick look and synoptic science SDO/AIA data. As dimmings and EUV waves are often the precursors of CMEs, careful detection and characterization of these features aid space weather forecasters, leading to more accurate forecasts. Solar Demon has been integrated in ROB’s operational space weather forecasts. The Solar Demon website ( provides an online catalogue of flares and dimmings with detailed light curves, movies, images and statistics on every detected event.

ROB has performed an in-depth forecast verification study of its space weather forecasts since 2002. A detailed look at this forecast verification study is forthcoming in a paper in the Journal of Space Weather and Space Climate. The forecast verification analysis will be maintained and run automatically on a regular basis to allow continuous evaluation and roads to further improvement. Results are available through the website

At the University of Göttingen, a near real-time CME forecast system has been set up, based on the analysis of CME parameters, which allow an advanced determination of the CME arrival time and impact on Earth. The Graduated Cylindrical Shell Model (GCS) developed by NRL based on results from the University Göttingen Team and the Coronal Analysis Tool (CAT) developed by NOAA-SWPC are CME 3D modelling tools which attribute geometrical shapes to CMEs observed in STEREO/SECCHI and SOHO/LASCO coronagraphs. In the UGOE CME forecast system, after receiving a fast warning message from ROB and NOAA-SWPC, both tools are used to determine the 3D structure and earthward directed speed of a CME. In the current state of their implementation, the GCS tool provides the better geometrical fit to STEREO and SOHO coronagraph images, whereas the CAT tool is beneficial with respect to propagation and velocity. The CME position, topology, and speed, along with EUV and magnetogram source region parameters (i.e. source region position and magnetic configuration), are then used in the UGOE system to provide a real-time prediction of onset time and strength of a geomagnetic disturbance. The final product resulting from this research (cooperation between UGOE, ROB, NOAA-SWPC, and NRL) is a real time application that currently provides a forecast of the arrival time, speed, geomagnetic strength (ap), and auroral position of a CME. Research on enhacing the prediction of event duration and impact probability is continuing through testbed runs. The UGOE CME forecast system is applied especially to strong events, but currently not in 24/7 mode.

After a successful commissioning phase in which the early warning messages was only distributed internally and to a small group of pilot users, the Early Warning Message for GNSS Users is currently in full operational mode.

The corresponding information is displayed on a dedicated website: It shows a short description of the service, current warning status, latest early warning issues, information on subscription to the e-mail service, and an archive and contact details for user feedback. Further information and the summary of services is available through the AFFECTS main website.

WP4 – Forecasting tools and modelling

SRI NASU-NSAU has developed an operational geomagnetic forecast service based on a new approach which provides 1 to 4 hours lead time Dst forecast and 3 hours lead time Kp forecast. The Dst forecast is more accurate than other available operational forecasts, which maintain a public output archive for validation. The Kp forecast is roughly at the same level of accuracy as the best available forecast.

UGOE has developed a near real-time CME warning system, including space weather impact forecast and L1 near real-time solar wind alerts.

WP 5 - Forecast System Ionosphere, user interfaces

The developed Forecast System Ionosphere (short FSI) allows determining ionospheric and geomagnetic conditions over Europa under consideration of possible influences due to space weather events. For this purpose DLR developed among others an ionospheric perturbation model based on the statistical analysis of a large number of geomagnetic storms over Europe between 1995-2011, which is more than one solar cycle.

The geomagnetic storms have been analysed in respect to season, local time, storm time and latitude to obtain the mean behaviour of geomagnetic storms over Europe in order to allow a forecast of ionospheric disturbances up to 24 hours in advance.

The FSI combines measurement of the sun, the solar wind, the geomagnetic and the ionosphere to get a conclusive picture over the current space weather conditions and their possible impact on the ionosphere. In addition an active warning system via mail has been established to allow a fast and direct flow of information about possible ionospheric disturbances to GNSS user groups and service providers.

WP6 – Data and product dissemination and sustainability, education and public outreach

AFFECTS is publicly providing its space weather services for free through the project and partner websites and through the developed mobile phone Apps.

Potential Impact:
AFFECTS main impacts

WP2 – Data, calibration, maintenance, and instrumentation

The consolidated channelling of data from a wide variety of instruments into repositories resulted in information being visible to a wider audience than just users within the AFFECTS framework. SWACI and STAFF in particular are easily accessible interfaces for anyone, amateur and professional alike, interested in space weather, historical time series of solar-terrestrial observables and impact of solar activity on terrestrial infrastructure.

WP3 – Early Warning System

The improved flare, dimming and EUV wave detections by Solar Demon and the CME detection and characterization by UGOE provide added value to space weather forecasters. The powerful data viewing possibilities offered by STAFF are also a most valuable tool for scientists and space weather forecasters.
The space weather forecast verification analysis conducted at ROB helps to identify weak points in ROB's space weather forecasts and to further improve those forecasts.
Together with the abovementioned efforts, the CME forecast system set up at the University of Göttingen are helping to better estimate the geomagnetic consequences of CMEs early on, which in turn allows affected users to implement better mitigation schemes.
The Early Warning Message for GNSS Users, developed at DLR, is especially directed to customers of space based radio systems used in telecommunication, navigation, positioning, and remote sensing. The warning informs customers and operators of GNSS on approaching space weather events. Thus, GNSS customers and service providers will be aware of potential performance degradation of their systems due to space weather impacts. Based on the early warning, customers will be prepared to undertake efforts to help mitigate the space weather impacts on the operated systems.

WP4 – Forecasting tools and modelling

The developed forecast services are operationally used by duty forecasters at RWC Belgium enhancing their ability to correctly predict space weather. A chain of forecast models has been established at DLR as Forecast System Ionosphere generates warnings for GNSS users. The forecast tools were developed with the integrated solar-terrestrial model chain in mind, which will provide a breakthrough in forecast lead time and accuracy. It is planned to implement this model chain in the follow-up project. The services were made publicly available through web interface at DLR's SWACI website ( SIDC's STAFF viewer ( and the websites of individual institutes. The links to these services can be found at the main project website ( In addition, all the developed services are available via the AFFECTS Space Weather Mobile Phone Apps and multimedia show and brochure. The L1 alerts based on space weather analyses are provided through the AFFECTS website have reached a major audience.

WP 5 - Forecast System Ionosphere, user interfaces

An active warning system via mail has been established to allow a fast and direct flow of information about ionospheric disturbances to GNSS user groups and service providers.
The Forecast System Ionosphere has the potential to mitigating or even avoiding damages due to space weather events in Europe. Especially GNSS users are informed due to the FSI about the present status of the ionophere and possible performance degradations of their system in case of space weather events.

WP6 – Data and product dissemination and sustainability, education and public outreach

Major AFFECTS dissemination, education and public outreach products are:

- The development of the main AFFECTS website, and the harmonization of the AFFECTS partner websites
- The organization of an International User Workshop on February 28, 2013
- The L1 solar wind, aurorae, Kp and GNSS-error automatic alerts, delivered through RSS
- The development of the STAFF viewer and database, which provides easy online access to space weather and solar activity time series
- The development of mobile phone apps
- The developed AFFECTS trailer
- The AFFECTS brochure and multimedia show
- Presentation of AFFECTS in the Hamburg Planetarium Shows
- DVD and bluray advertsing AFFECTS
- Collaboration with German high school on project SIMONE, UN ISWI
- Numerous TV, radio and print contributions
- The AFFECTS youtube channel
- Glossy project posters
- Flyers
- Presentations at the European Space Weather Week fairs

Provision of AFFECTS services and system functionality will be continued after official project lifetime by all partners, including use of extra resources, e.g. to maintain the main website at UGOE. It is foreseen to prototype the AFFECTS services in the framework of the ESA SSA activities.

List of Websites:

Dr. Volker Bothmer

Georg-August-University Göttingen
Institute for Astrophysics
Friedrich-Hund-Platz 1
D-37077 Göttingen
Phone: +49 (0) 551 39 5044
Fax: +49 (0) 551 39 5043