Atmospheric physics

Atmospheric physics aims at studying the atmosphere of planets with an emphasis on the Earth’s atmosphere. The corresponding work includes quantitative characterization of the physical properties of this region, understanding and interpretation of the processes there using the laws of physics, accommodation of the experiences in the complex system of nature as a whole, and seeking possibilities of utilization of the new information for the benefit of mankind.

Actual research in the institute focuses on electromagnetic (EM) phenomena occurring below ca. 100 km height in the Earth’s atmosphere with an emphasis put on phenomena related more closely to the so called global electric circuit.

Specific topics are (1) parameters and variations of the quasi direct-current (DC) electric field between the Earth’s surface and the ionosphere; (2) extremely low frequency (ELF, here 3-30 Hz) EM waves in the EM waveguide enclosed by the ground and the lower ionosphere: production (primarily by lightning), propagation, and Schumann resonance (SR, global EM resonances in the closed waveguide); (3) transient luminous events (TLE), e.g., red sprites, blue jets.

These phenomena can be utilized both to characterize the electrical state of the near-Earth space and to study other environmental factors which are coupled to the changes of that state. This enables getting information indirectly on the solid Earth (e.g., earthquakes), on chemical and biological systems (e.g., on the composition of air or on the effects of environmental EM fields on the biosphere), on climate change (e.g., on the distribution, frequency, and intensity of thunderstorms), and on space weather events (e.g., on the intensity of ionizing radiation, impact of solar flares and geomagnetic storms).

A significant fraction of research work in the institute is based on measurements managed locally. These include monitoring of SR and the near-surface DC electric field, as well as optical observations of TLEs in Central Europe.

The global electric circuit

Lightning and red sprites in the Earth’s atmosphere