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Powerful Disturbances Effects on Atmosphere and Ionosphere


Response of the Atmosphere and Ionosphere to Impacts of Large Meteoroids and Powerful Natural and Technogenic Impulsive Disturbances (Chemical and Nuclear Explosions, Volcano Eruptions, Active Geophysical Experiments)

Tech Area / Field

  • ENV-MRA/Modelling and Risk Assessment/Environment
  • OBS-NAT/Natural Resources and Earth Sciences/Other Basic Sciences

3 Approved without Funding

Registration date

Leading Institute
Institute of Dynamics of the Geosphere, Russia, Moscow

Supporting institutes

  • VNIIEF, Russia, N. Novgorod reg., Sarov


  • University of Bologna/Department of Physics, Italy, Bologna\nColorado School of Mines, USA, CO, Golden\nSandia National Laboratories, USA, NM, Albuquerque\nDeutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V. / Institut fur Weltraumsensorik und Planetenerkundung, Germany, Berlin\nCNRS / Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, France, Gif-sur-Yvette Cedex

Project summary

The atmosphere is essentially heterogeneous, nonlinear, dissipative, non-steady-state medium. Powerful disturbances of this medium can arise under action of various natural and antropogenic sources, nuclear and chemical explosions (in accidents and in mining), volcano eruptions, impacts of large cosmic bodies, solar flashes, etc.

The goal of this project is to investigate atmospheric and ionospheric response to these disturbances. Urgency of the project is dictated by environmental consequences of catastrophic phenomena and their action on the infrastructure of the modern civilization. The life of the humankind is to a great extent dependent on the normal functioning of the information system which can be destroyed, for example, due to losses or distortions of radio signals. The atmospheric and ionospheric disturbances bring interference in detection and identification of nuclear explosions and tests of other kinds of the modern armament.

In this project, the term large meteoroids implies cosmic bodies with entry kinetic energy above 1 — 10 tons TNT. Note that the modern satellite optical systems of observations register about 25 atmospheric impacts of bodies with average energies from 1 to 10 kilotons TNT per year. This is in agreement with ground based acoustic observations.

Much attention in the project is given to comprehensive investigation of the 30 June 1908 Tunguska catastrophe. This unique event is similar to superpowerful nuclear explosions in energy, characteristic dimensions and times. It seems likely that impacts of such bodies (not exotically rare and considerably devastating) determine to a great extent the asteroidal hazard, the disturbances of the information channels are among the dangerous consequences of the impacts. And yet many important aspects of the meteoroid interaction with the atmosphere, electric and electromagnetic phenomena which are likely to have happened in the Tunguska event are poorly investigated.

The following problems are expected to be solved in the course of the project execution:

- Investigation of behavior of large bodies during their passage in the atmosphere;
- Investigation of action of large meteoroids on the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface, including the influence of the Tunguska event on the atmosphere state in the summer of 1908;
- Elucidation of nature and role of electric and electromagnetic phenomena accompanying meteoroid falls, including investigation of the geomagnetic storm registered after the Tunguska explosion;
- Investigation of evolution of meteoroid material after the entry (state and area of propagation);
- Study of light impulses and infrasonic signals caused by meteoroid entry to the atmosphere, and comparison with signals from other sources of different type and energy including chemical explosions and volcano eruptions;
- Investigation of instability of the geophysical medium against the high-energy impulses;
- Comparison of atmosphere responses to meteoroid falls and nuclear explosions at altitudes;
- Investigation of atmospheric and ionospheric disturbances resulted from injection of high-velocity jets in the active geophysical experiments made and planned in the future in the atmosphere and ionosphere;
- Assessment of risk degree and environmental consequences of large meteoroid impacts, determination of their role in the Earth’s evolution and similarity to other catastrophic events.

The project participants, being specialists in explosion physics, plasma physics and physical hydrodynamics, were previously involved in investigations of action of the nuclear explosion which is in many relations a typical example of powerful action on the atmosphere. Recently, the project participants theoretically investigated phenomena quite close to the explosions in character — meteoroid impacts onto the Earth’s and Venusian atmospheres, the impact of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet on Jupiter, meteoroid impacts on the Moon and Mars, the underwater eruption of the Akademiya Nauk volcano. They developed and tested powerful explosive cumulative generators of high-velocity plasma jets which offer a possibility to model physico-hydrodynamic processes happened during meteoroid impacts onto the Earth’s atmosphere. Optical, acoustic and magnetic signals have been registered after injection of these jets in the atmosphere at high altitudes. An analysis of the atmospheric response to such calibrated action has begun. A series of the works on these problems has been published in Russian and international journals.

The submitted project will enable participants to turn their activity to peaceful purposes in the same fields of science in which they were involved before. A great interest of scientists and mass media of many countries to the considered phenomena and to the Tunguska event will promote integration of the project participants to the international scientific community.

The main results, as is anticipated, will provide deeper insight into mechanisms of powerful-disturbance actions on the atmosphere and ionosphere, will make possible to assess environmental consequences of the various catastrophic phenomena and their action on the objects of the human civilization, will enable us to construct physical-mathematical models for definite natural phenomena including the Tunguska catastrophe.

As amount of work which is suggested to do is quite extensive and includes elaboration of models, fulfillment of estimates, approximate computations and detailed modeling of many physical aspects of the phenomena the most important of which are mechanical and gasdynamical problems of motion of fragmented meteoroid material in the atmosphere, mechanics of propagation and interaction of shock and acoustic waves, processes of radiation transfer, vaporization and condensation of the material, mechanisms of dust particle spreading in the atmosphere, chemical reactions in the atmosphere, electric and electromagnetic phenomena, action of the catastrophic events on the geophysical fields and the planetary state.

The distinctive feature of this project is its comprehensive and compound character. Though different dynamical geophysical phenomena or their separate aspects will be considered using special methods, it would be difficult and inefficient to consider them fully independently because they are actually interrelated. Results of different parts of the Project will be used essentially in its other parts.

The novelty of the work is both in setting of the overall problem and in study of poorly investigated processes, for example, such as electromagnetic phenomena and infrasound waves caused by meteoroid falls and their successive fragmentations, by sequences of chemical explosions and volcano eruptions. The novelty is in using not only all the body of the observational data but also the data on the special active geophysical experiments.

Novel and important is a correlation to be made between all the perturbation sources and suggestion to be put forward for identification of different phenomena on evidence derived from registrations.

The collaborators - a group of scientists from the Colorado School of Mines - are making efforts for study of the Tunguska event making emphasis on the field investigations of the catastrophe marks. The collaborators - a group of scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory - are studying acoustic signals from meteoroid impacts onto the atmosphere. The collaborators - a group of scientists from the Sandia National Laboratories - are analyzing flashes caused by the impacts and, in particular, light flashes registered by the satellite system. The theoretical investigations in the framework of this project will be advantageous for scientific collaboration which is planned to be done via scientific information exchange, check of results, mutual correction of plans and conduction of joint meetings and workshops.


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