Space Physics News

Solar Tsunamis research results operationally used in the May 2024 Gannon storm

In early May 2024 the giant sunspot complex AR3664 launched ~6 Coronal Mass Ejections towards the Earth, which triggered the G5 “Gannon” geomagnetic storm. This disturbance lasted from ~17 UT on 10 May 2024 to ~9UT on 12 May 2024, producing auroral displays to comparatively low latitudes, and appears to be the largest geomagnetic disturbance in the last ~20-30 years. Early in the Gannon storm the magnetic disturbance reached the threshold of G5 intensity. This caused the New Zealand power grid system operator, Transpower New Zealand Ltd, to enact the “All of New Zealand” GIC mitigation strategy. This mitigation approach was developed in mid-2022, building on our Solar Tsunamis research programme work and particularly the PhD results of Dr. Daniel Mac Manus. This strategy was declared operational in 2023, following training of control room staff. It was the result of many years of industry-research collaboration which has culminated in the MBIE-funded Solar Tsunamis programme. The mitigation remained in place until 16UT on 12 May 2024, after which the circuits were restored. There was no impact to New Zealand’s electrical supply from this storm. The Gannon storm and Transpower’s response produced a lot of media coverage – partly because aurora was seen all over New Zealand, but also because Transpower publically announced their actions during the solar storm. [14 May 2024].

Recent News

Solar Tsunamis Year 4 Meeting Held in Christchurch

In late February 2024 the “Year 4” meeting of the Solar Tsunamis research programme was held in Wellington, hosted by our colleagues from the University of Canterbury. The meeting was held on campus – our time together included a tour of the High Voltage Laboratory. As well as well New Zealand researchers we had team members attend in person from BAS and the University of Michigan. Our industry partners from Transpower sent a team of 3! One of the team pictures is available online [7-9 February 2024].

Daniel’s GIC mitigation paper a EOS research spotlight

Daniel has recently had a paper accepted on the mitigation of Geomagnetically Induced Currents in the New Zealand electrical grid. This was submitted after Daniel’s PhD, but based on work in his thesis. This research work involved us travelling to Wellington to work alongside Transpower NZ control room staff to develop the new operational plan to respond to a very large geomagnetic disturbance. The plan involves removing redundant power lines from the NZ electrical network to decrease the GIC entering transformers. Operational mitigation strategies are not often discussed in the literature. Probably because of this, Daniel’s paper was selected Research Spotlight highlight by the editors of the American Geophysical Union journal Space Weather, described in the American Geophysical Union’s EOS magazine, as well as being featured in the AGU Space Weather Quarterly for December 2023. [10 December 2023].

Craig, Annika, and Daniel head to Europe (and back)

In mid-November Craig and Daniel Mac Manus left Dunedin to travel to Europe. The main focus of the trip was the 19th European Space Weather Week (ESWW2023) which occurred in Toulouse, France. Craig and Daniel both presented posters – Craig’s on the Solar Tsunami’s research project, and Daniel on GIC mitigation. The Solar Tsunami’s research team had many talks at ESWW2023, and the GIC session was very strong. After the meeting Daniel took the opportunity to do a brief whirlwind holiday of 3 European capitols. Craig went north to Finnish Lapland, and joined the CHAMOS workshop in a large log cabin on the edge of the village of Luosto. Annika Seppala also flew to Europe from Dunedin for the CHAMOS workshop, we Otago was well represented there [4 December 2023].

Hannah’s Nature Communications paper an Editors Highlight

We were thrilled to have Hannah Kessenich’s paper on ozone hole trends accepted in Nature Communications in mid-November. This was the first paper from his PhD work, and thus a great success! We later found out that the paper had been selected as an Editors’ Highlight. The associated media press release also had a large international impact. [29November 2023].

Expedition 15 gets back from Antarctica

Late last night James Brundell and Daniel Mac Manus landed in Christchurch coming back from Scott Base, Antarctica. As so often happens with Antarctic travel, the original plan was different from what actually happened – we expected them to go South on Monday 30 October and return on 6 November 2023, in the end they go to Scott Base on 1 November and returned on 9 November. There were a number of “firsts” in this trip, including the USAF C17 “boomeranging” back to Christchurch on Monday 30 October , and also James experiencing weather “Condition 1” (which is really nasty weather). Welcome home, Expedition 15! [10 November 2023].

Expedition 15 heading to Antarctica

Today James Brundell and Daniel Mac Manus took off from Christchurch heading for Scott Base, Antarctica. James and Daniel make up Otago Space Physics Expedition 15, which we hope will involve only a short trip to Scott Base. The main goal is to examine noise levels on our VLF electric field antenna near Scott Base, but also to collect high resolution data, undertake calibrations, and do other maintenance tasks on this antenna and our AARDDVARK antenna at Arrival Heights. This is James’ 14th trip to Antarctica, and Daniel’s 2nd. The departure today was their second attempt to go south for this trip – Expedition 15 first left New Zealand on Monday 30 October 2023, got within 1 hour of arriving on the ice, and then “boomeranged” back to Christchurch due to mechanical issues on the USAF C17 they were onboard. They arrived in Antarctica late on the afternoon of 1 November 2023 [1 November 2023].

Solar Tsunamis Team welcomes Lisa!

Dr Lisa Evans has now taken up the position of Solar Tsunami’s Programme Project Manager. She has a background in Physics and Astronomy, and a PhD from Murdoch University in which she undertook “serious games” design around climate change. Lisa has worked in the “citizen science” field for the Perth-based International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research and the Australian Citizen Science Association. Our previous project manager,  Devlin Lynden, left mid-year to take up a new role with the New Zealand MetService. We are excited to welcome Lisa, and looking forward to the help she will provide to continuing making the Solar Tsunamis research a success! [17 October 2023].

Welcome to Xinhu Feng

The Space Physics research group is happy to welcome Mr. Xinhu Feng who is joining us as a new PhD student. Xinhu is going to be supervised by Prof. Craig Rodger, working on reactive power during space weather events. He is funded through the Solar Tsunami’s Programme. Welcome to Xinhu, both to our research group, and to Dunedin! While Mr Feng has joined us from China, his previously qualification was from the University of Edinburgh, in Dunedin’s sister city [1 October 2023].

Public Talks on Aurora and Space Weather

In late June/early July a joint team of speaker from Otago Museum and the Space Physics group research group travelled around the South Island giving public talks. The focus was on Aurora and Space Weather. Craig was one of the 3 speakers, with Toni Hoeta and Dr. Ian Griffin the other two presenters. We visited Invercargill, Queenstown, Wanaka, Twizel, Christchurch, and Dunedin [2 July 2023].

Malcolm’s MSc Examination Ends

Today Malcolm Crack‘s MSc examination ended – with a very strong grade as one would hope! Malcolm looked at Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) data, observed during geomagnetic storms across New Zealand. This data was provided by our industry partner Transpower New Zealand, and has hoped us better understand the production of harmonics during space weather events. Malcolm submitted his thesis at the end of March 2023, and the time taken for the examination process was not a reflection on the quality of his work! During Malcolm’s time in the Space Physics group he undertook an Honours project, two summer bursary research projects, as well as the MSc. He also travelled to Scott Base as part of Otago Space Physics Expedition 14. Malcolm plans to join the RNZAF. Well done Malcolm! [19 July 2023].

Daniel PhD Examination Ends

Today Daniel Mac Manus‘ PhD examination ended as one would hope – with his thesis accepted and the awarding of a PhD degree. The minor amendments to his PhD thesis were satisfactorily completed and accepted by the Convenor of Examiners. Daniel is still in the Space Physics research group, working as a Postdoctoral fellow inside the Solar Tsunamis project – he continues to communicate closely with Transpower New Zealand around mitigating the likely impacts of extreme space weather. Congratulations Daniel, soon to be Dr. Mac Manus (he plans to graduate in August) [22 June 2023].

Solar Tsunamis Team welcomes new Programme Manager

Monday this week we welcomed a new Solar Tsunamis project manager to join the team. Devlin Lynden started that day, and has hit the ground running getting reporting templates out to the team and updating our project website. Our previous project manager, Anna Tarr, left in early January 2023 to take up a new role with a Dunedin-based science applications company. We are grateful for all her hard work, and for Devlin to joining us to continuing in making the research programme a success! [20 February 2023].

Expedition 14 have returned (from Antarctica)

Late on Wednesday night James Brundell and Malcolm Crack landed in Christchurch having returned from for Scott Base, Antarctica. They spent 9 days away from New Zealand, preparing our VLF experiments around Scott Base for the upcoming Scott Base Rebuild. In their spare time they walked every open walking track around the wider base area, visited the US Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, and saw Emperor Penguins. They flew back on a US Air Force C17, with their return marking the end of Otago Space Physics Expedition 14. This was James’ 13th trip to Scott Base, but with the exception of a 2 day delay in leaving New Zealand, everything went to plan [17 February 2023].

Expedition 14 heading to Antarctica

Today James Brundell and Malcolm Crack took off from Christchurch heading for Scott Base, Antarctica. James and Malcolm left on a US Air Force C17 this morning, after a two-day delay on what seemed to be a very full plane. Malcolm and James make up Otago Space Physics Expedition 14. The main goal of Expedition 14 is to prepare our experiments for the disruption expected around the Scott Base Rebuild. They should be returning mid next week [6 February 2023].

Solar Tsunamis Year 3 Meeting Held in Wellington

In late January 2023 the “Year 3” meeting of the Solar Tsunamis research programme was held in Wellington, hosted by our colleagues from GNS. The meeting was held in the conference facilities in Te Papa, and included visits to GNS (including the National Geohazards Monitoring Centre for New Zealand), and Transpower (including their Control Room). Our research programme has been running for ~2.25 years already, but due to COVID restrictions this was the first meeting where our international collaborators could attend. As such team members from BGS, BAS, and the University of Michigan joined us in Wellington! One of the team pictures is viewable online [30-31 January & 1 February 2023].

Daniel submits his PhD thesis

Today Daniel Mac Manus submitted his PhD thesis – a great way to start 2023! Daniel has been working on his thesis research for a little under 4 years, which has involved some strong collaboration with our industry partners from Transpower New Zealand. The upshot of that was a recent paper in AGU’s Space Weather journal, looking at the likely impact of an extreme geomagnetic storm on the NZ electrical transmission network. After a few days reset Daniel will start a publication bursary, turning a chapter of his thesis into a scientific paper. We hope that will also be a very interesting work, as it involved us travelling to Wellington to use the Transpower control room simulator to build a practical mitigation switching plan (to decrease geomagnetically induced currents at “hot spot” transformers while keeping the network stable and able to deliver power). Well done Daniel for all this fine work!

A picture of Daniel ringing the University of Otago bell, a tradition for PhD student submissions, is available online. [4 January 2023]

Jono wins multiple awards

The research work of space physics academic Dr Jono Squire has been recognised in multiple ways lately. In September he travelled to the USA to be awarded the Thomas H Stix Award by the American Physical Society. The Stix Award is for outstanding early career contributions to plasma physics research. Following on from this, the Sciences Division at the University of Otago also recognised the quality of Jono’s work; in early December he was presented the Outstanding Early-Career Researcher Award. The caption of the Sciences Division Award is copied below. But you can also read about Jono’s success through the Otago Daily Times (our local newspaper), or through the website of the American Physical Society [9 December 2022].

Outstanding Early-Career Researcher Award: Jonathan’s research focuses on advancing theories of astrophysical turbulence and resonant drag instabilities, a phenomenon which he discovered. New theories for turbulence of weakly interacting plasmas have led to a breakthrough in the understanding of the solar corona heating and observed properties of the solar wind. His discovery of a new class of instabilities in fluids containing particles, have led to clumping of the particles and brought new clarity to planetary formation dynamics. Jonathan’s work on both these areas has received significant attention in the media aimed at the general public. He is also active in outreach initiatives including putting a huge amount of time into running an NCEA Scholarship Physics initiative that’s extremely popular with New Zealand high school teachers. We also congratulate Jonathan on his recent success for leading a Marsden grant project. His research work is of global significance and Jonathan is on a trajectory to be one of the most significant physicists in New Zealand.

Craig heads to Lapland for the the 10th VERSIM workshop and 1st VERSIM school

While PhD student Daniel Mac Manus went back to New Zealand after the 18th ESWW (to write his PhD), Craig stayed in Europe. After a short holiday in Zagreb, he flew north to Finland. His first stop was to see collaborators at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, whom he had not seen in person since mid-2019! Then Craig went to Arctic to Finnish Lapland.

He went to the Arctic to attend the 10th VERSIM workshop which was hosted at the Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory (Sodankylä, Finland, 7-11 Nov 2022). Immediately before the 10th workshop the organisers ran the 1st VERSIM School at the same location, from 5-6 November 2022. As a previous chair of the VERSIM community, Craig gave the first presentation at the school, as well as a couple of talks in the main workshop (one invited). The first and second VERSIM workshops were held in Sodankylä many years, so this was a return to our communities roots.

European Space Weather in Zagreb

In late October Space Physics PhD student Daniel Mac Manus and Craig Rodger flew to the capital of Croatia, Zagreb. They travelled to join the 18th European Space Weather Week (ESWW, 24-28 October 2022), the main global space weather conference. Until recently this meeting was always held in Belgium, but it has recently started moving inside Europe, with the second non-Belgium meeting being hosted in Zagreb. This was Daniel and Craig’s first chance to attend an international in-person conference since the 2019 ESWW, due to COVID border closures.

Daniel Mac Manus gave an oral presentation based on his recent PhD research where he used “reasonable” extreme storm scenarios (based on UK estimates) to model the time-varying Geomagnetically Induced Currents (GIC) expected in the New Zealand power grid. These GIC values were combined with industry-provided current threshold danger levels in a world-first determination of the hazard to our power grid.

Craig gave a talk on behalf of Otago research fellow Mikhail Kruglyakov, who did not attend, and presented a poster on our research work with Transpower investigating harmonic distortion in the New Zealand power grid during geomagnetic storms. All of this research and travel is part of the Solar Tsunamis research programme.

Yuki returns to Dunedin and her Middlemarch magnetometer

Yuki Obana has returned to Dunedin (Yuki was formally of the University of Electro-Communications (Osaka), but is now from Kyushu University). More than 10 years ago Yuki installed a magnetometer near Middlemarch, an hours drive from Dunedin. She last visited us in March 2020, shortly before New Zealand closed its borders due to COVID-19. As the New Zealand boarders have re-opened, and Japanese travel restrictions have softened, Yuki came to New Zealand to work on her instrument again. During her visit we had lunch together in the University of Otago Staff Club 5 [October 2022].


From left to right: Mark Clilverd (British Antarctic Survey), Yuki Obana (Kyushu University), Aaron Hendry, Anna Tarr, and Craig Rodger.

ISSI School in Italy, then Mark Clilverd returns to Dunedin

Yesterday Craig Rodger returned from L’Aquila in Italy, where he taught at the International School of Space Science at the University of L’Aquila. The theme of the school was Radiation Belt Dynamics and Remote Sensing of the Earth’s Plasmasphere, and many of the lecturers in the school were collaborators of the Otago Space Physics group – a significant number of the speakers were from the scientific team of the European Union Framework Project 7 PLASMON research project, including Janos Lichtenberger, Mark Clilverd, Massimo Vellante, Balázs Heilig, and Anders Jorgensen (as well as Craig). Craig spoke on “Electron precipitation from the radiation belts into the atmosphere”, and immediately afterwards Mark Clilverd gave his presentation entitled “The role of plasmaspheric dynamics in electron precipitation occurrence”.

At the end of the school Craig and Mark went their separate ways – but only for a few days. About 20min after Craig landed in Dunedin, Mark Clilverd also landed in Dunedin airport, to start a ~2 week visit – his first to Dunedin after 2.5 years due to the COVID travel restrictions. It is very welcome to have him back! [4 October 2022]

Heading to the Chatham Islands

Last week Aaron Hendry and Craig Rodger travelled to the Chatham Islands as part of the Solar Tsunamis research programme. Our goals were two-fold: to deploy a magnetic field instrument in the Chatham’s, and do outreach alongside our partners from Otago Museum during the Chatham’s Island Science Festival. Both activities went very well. The magnetometer was deployed at by the Whareweka Science House on the edge of Te One, who are hosting our instrument. In terms of outreach both of the two schools on Chatham Island were visited, but weather stopped the planned trip to the school at Pitt Island. We also ran a community science day at Kōpinga Marae, Craig gave 3 public talks, and was also MC of a science pub quiz at the Waitangi village pub/hotel (the Hotel Chathams).

The installation of the magnetometer was featured on the 6pm TV3 News on Saturday, and Radio New Zealand did a couple of interviews about the outreach activities. All and all, a very interested trip to the Chathams [12-23 August 2022].

Mitigation Planning with Transpower

Space Physics PhD student Daniel Mac Manus and Craig Rodger went to Wellington in early August to work alongside Transpower control room staff – the work we undertook made use of Daniel’s modelling of the expected geomagnetically induced currents (GIC) in the New Zealand power network during an extreme storm. We worked with the Transpower control room staff to develop mitigation protocols which could help protect the most at-risk substations [10 August 2022].

Visiting First Gas in New Plymouth

In early June a team of Otago University, Victoria University, and GNS staff met in New Plymouth with engineers from First Gas Limited. From the Otgao Space Physics group Anna Tarr and Craig Rodger travelled to New Plymouth, and Daniel Mac Manus participated online. We met to talk about our Solar Tsunamis research project, with a particular focus on the gas pipeline analysis we are undertaking to support First Gas [8 – 9 June 2022].

Variometer installed in the King Country

In early May Aaron Hendry and Anna Tarr travelled to the King Country to install a magnetic field variometer. This instrument will be monitoring the impact of geomagnetic storms, as part of the Solar Tsunamis MBIE programme.  [3 May 2022]

Solar Tsunamis Year 2 meeting

In early 2022 we hosted the Year 2 Meeting of the Solar Tsunamis research programme, spanning 1-3 February 2022. The meeting was held in person at the Otago University campus, and we were planning to include our international collaborators through online linkages. Unfortunately, shortly before the meeting, New Zealand moved to the “red” COVID protection level traffic light setting, because the omicron variant of the disease had leaked into the wider community. Due to this a number of NZ-based people didn’t attend the meeting, and participated by zoom. We had a team photo of both the in-person and on-line participants.

   In person version. Present (left to right, top to bottom): Aaron Hendry (OU), Lara Najim (OU), Ting Wang (OU), Matt Parry (OU), Craig Grant (OM), Wiebke Heise (OU), Mikhail Kruglyakov (OU), Jessa Barder (OM), James Brundell (OU), Malcolm Crack (OU), Kristin Pratscher (VUVW), Toni Hoeta (OM), Craig Rodger (OU), Tim Divett (VUVW), Yuna Barbenel (OU), Anna Tarr (OU), Daniel Mac Manus (OU).

   Online version. Present (left to right, top to bottom): Ciaran Beggan (BGS), Fernanda Da Silva Tatley (OU), Merijn Thornton (GNS), Malcolm Ingham (VUW), Gemma Richardson (BGS), Tanja Petersen (GNS), Anna Davison (GNS), Mark Clilverd (BAS), Giovanni Pradel (GNS), Ellen Clarke (BGS), Stewart Hardie (UC), Samual Mora (UC), Mike Dalzell (TP), Andrew Lapthorn (UC), Dan Welling (UTA), Elizabeth Vandegriff (UTA)and Andy Smith (UCL).