Published: Sept. 30, 2011

The National Science Foundation has awarded a five-year, $4.5 million grant to a team led by the University of Colorado Boulder to better understand the electrical processes that connect the Earth with the atmosphere and with space.

The award, made to a team led by CU-Boulder Professor Jeffrey Forbes, chair of the aerospace engineering sciences department, is one of seven awards totaling $33 million made by the NSF today as part of its new Frontiers in Earth-System Dynamics program. Among the program's goals are to improve data resolution and modeling capabilities to more realistically simulate complex processes and forecast disruptive or "threshold" events that may affect the Earth environment.

Forbes is collaborating with CU-Boulder Associate Professor Jeff Thayer, Victor Pasko of Pennsylvania State University, and Art Richmond and Wiebke Deierling of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The team will study the processes controlling the charge and discharge of electrified clouds, the electrical coupling between the atmosphere and ionosphere, and the flow of electrical current throughout the system. The effort will include satellite-based measurements of magnetic perturbations, studies of clouds and cloud types, aerosol distributions, and studies of the ionosphere, which is a region of electrons and electrically charged particles that surrounds Earth between 30 miles to 600 miles in altitude.