On the same day energy from a coronal mass ejection (CME) arrived on Earth from a solar blast, NOAA’s National Weather Service has transitioned a new computer model into operations to increase its understanding of space weather events and improve space weather forecasting capabilities for the U.S. and abroad. This new computer model will be the first time a model will predict how the Earth’s upper atmosphere will respond to solar events and geomagnetic storms; it’ll also project perturbations from the lower atmosphere.
Known as the Whole Atmosphere Model and Ionosphere Plasmasphere Electrodynamics Model (WAM-IPE), the Space Weather Prediction Center will now include it in their forecast toolbox. This capability upgrade includes Total Electron Content and Maximum Usable Frequency products; these will help those relying on communication and navigation systems which could be interfered with by space weather conditions. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)’s global aviation space network relies on such data for flights around the world. The capability update also operationalizes a new neutral-density product that could be used by satellite operators and ground-tracking systems for space traffic management. The real-time neutral density fields will be available for orbit prediction and space situational awareness purposes too.
Beyond informing the public of space weather dangers, these technological advances will help mitigation actions across economic sectors, including communications, satellite and airline operations, human space flight, and navigation and surveying.
“The new model will help our forecasters deliver better and more timely space weather forecasts and warnings, and it demonstrates NOAA’s commitment to advancing space weather forecasting,” said Michael R. Farrar, director, NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Prediction. “The WAM-IPE Model will be an asset as we prepare for an increase in space weather expected during Solar Cycle 25.”
The model will augment the existing WSA-ENLIL solar wind propagation model and the Geospace Model in SWPC operations, adding an important link in the “Sun-to-Earth” space weather modeling continuum. Space weather is caused by a series of interconnected events, beginning at the Sun and ending in the near-Earth space environment. “Our ability to predict conditions and events in space depends on our understanding of these connections, and more importantly, our ability to predict the details,” said NOAA in a statement announcing the model becoming operational.
The National Weather Service will continue to improve the WAM-IPE Model with plans to work with the larger space weather enterprise to incorporate data from satellites used in the COSMIC-2 and GOLD missions as well as other commercial satellite providers.
The WAM-IPE Model was developed by scientists from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center and Environmental Modeling Center.
“Our collaboration with CIRES over the past 15 years, has lead to numerous improvements, including our ability to process and maintain enormous amounts of data integral to space weather forecasting, developing an international space weather advisory system, and today, bringing a new space weather forecast model into operations,” said Clinton Wallace, director, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.
While typically known for their weather forecasts, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its National Weather Service (NWS) is also responsible for “space weather.” While there are private companies and other agencies that monitor and forecast space weather, the official source for alerts and warnings of the space environment is the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). The SWPC is located in Boulder, Colorado and is a service center of the NWS, which is part of NOAA. The Space Weather Prediction Center is also one of nine National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) as they monitor current space weather activity 24/7, 365 days a year. Through the SWPC, NOAA plays a leading role in implementing the National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan which calls for improved space weather models and forecasts to protect the Nation from space weather hazards.
— the Weatherboy (@theWeatherboy) April 30, 2021