Action brief description
An atmospheric electric field (AEF) of 100 V/m to several kV/m exists in the atmosphere, resulting from a global electric circuit extending from the surface to the lower ionospheric layers. The study of many environmental processes can benefit substantially by the inclusion of atmospheric electricity. Such processes include, but are not limited to, earthquakes, aerosols / clouds and climate, sun-earth interactions, air pollution, lightning etc. Further, there is emerging evidence that AEF variations may interfere with biological processes, including human brain function. To overcome the lack of coordination of different research efforts in these fields, the Action aims to involve and integrate existing resources in the field of atmospheric electricity, create a network, enhance interaction and create the necessary critical mass of researchers and facilities and thus contribute to the improvement of our understanding of a number of processes that lie at the interface of solid earth, environmental, biological, climatic and solar/terrestrial sciences.
The earth system is like a giant capacitor, its two plates being the ionosphere and earth’s surface. There is a constant vertical potential difference between these two plates in the earth’s atmosphere, named the Potential Gradient (PG), which is around 100-200 V/m near the surface of the earth during fair weather conditions, but can exceed 10,000 V/m during thunderstorms. PG can be influenced by, among others, natural ionizing radiation (e.g. from radon), various solar events (which change the ionospheric currents), air pollution, dust, volcanic ash etc. During the last decade, a number of studies also linked fluctuations in PG, VLF/ELF EM fields, and ionospheric perturbations with earthquake precursor signals. Further, the PG can influence a number of very important climate-relevant processes, namely the nucleation rate of atmospheric aerosols, also those acting as cloud condensation nuclei (CCN), and hence has the potential to interfere with the climate system. Within this natural electromagnetic field, there is a set of extremely low frequency (ELF) spectrum peaks called Schumann Resonances (SR), which are very close to the spectrum peaks of the neural activity of the human brain. There are a number of studies pointing to PG and SR influence on human well-being (depressions, etc). Further, there are studies linking bee and other animal activity to electric fields.
Despite the relevance of AEF to these important processes, which are relevant also for the European citizen, it remains poorly studied. There are some groups in Europe involved in the study of atmospheric electricity, each focusing on only one or two aspects of its coupling to the Earth and climate system. Integrating all their research and knowledge is essential in order to progress this promising field of research. Additionally, PG is a global phenomenon linked to the global electric circuit, therefore it’s essential to have a wide variety of measurements at a number of locations around the world in order to understand its temporal and spatial evolution.
This COST Action is launched in order to exploit existing human and facility/instrumental potential available in Europe for the study of the atmospheric electric field and its connections with environmental radioactivity, atmospheric aerosols/clouds and climate, the human well-being and other biological proccesses, as well as various natural or man-made hazards such as thunderstorms, earthquakes, pollution episodes, volcanic ash, fire and dust plumes, nuclear accidents and solar impacts. As outlined above, a number of studies in the past 20 years have demonstrated the use and/or potential of the atmospheric electric field as a pollution proxy, a means for atmospheric radioactivity detection, solar activity monitoring, earthquake precursor, volcanic ash detection and thunderstorm recognition. Despite this, and despite the fact that there is great unexplored potential from synergistic studies of atmospheric electricity with other interdisciplinary environmental processes, progress has been rather slow. This is due, on the one hand, to the fragmentation in the research landscape, and on the other hand, the limited, up to now, EU-level funding in the area, the latter resulting from the former. Another reason might be the great level of interdisciplinarity in the involved research issues, which, in the context of the European Research Area (ERA), is an important advantage.
The main objective of ELECTRONET is to improve knowledge of the multiple effects and interconnections of the atmospheric electric field, including those on biological systems, and its interconnections with other important components of the earth system by enhancing the interactions between national research teams and projects, exploiting the European-level potential and creating a EU-level network AEF facility.