Off the radar: Storm damages 30-antenna SuperDARN ionosphere mapping installation, repairs likely won’t occur until next summer

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A state-of-the-art installation on a mountainside near Longyearbyen that collects ionosphere data suffered severe damage due to stormy weather Tuesday morning and will likely be inoperative until at least next summer, according to officials at The University Centre in Svalbard.

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A map highlights the location of the SuperDARN radar facility next to the Kjell Henriksen Observatory and the EISCAT Svalbard radar on Breinosa mountain just outside Longyearbyen. Map courtesy of The University Centre in Svalbard.

About 30 antennas that are part of the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN) on Breinosa collapsed, apparently due to heavy icing and strong winds, according to a press release issued Tuesday. Employees from the UNIS Department of Geophysics assessed the damage during the day and began the process of removing antennas, wires and other debris from the area.

“The power to the antennas is now shut down, but due to wind and any loose parts, UNIS is asking that people do not enter the area until we have cleaned up,” the release states.

A container housing the bulk of the electronics for the radar installation is undamaged, but installing new antennas will cost about 800,000 kroner and may not happen until next summer, according to the university.

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UNIS associate professor Lisa Baddeley, department leader Frank Nilsen and professor Dag Lorentzen at the SuperDARN site during its opening in 2016. Photo by Eva Therese Jenssen/UNIS.

SuperDARN is an international network of 35 installations that are used primarily to map upper atmosphere plasma activity, which is controlled by the interaction between the solar magnetic field and Earth’s magnetic field. Among the uses for the data is tracking possible disruption of communications signals, power grids and satellites.

The radar at the UNIS installation, which officially opened in October of 2016, has a 3,000-kilometer tracking range, allowing it to “see” over the North Pole. The project took five years from planning to completion and cost 10 million kroner.

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