A study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Space Physics reveals a possible connection between the strange Weddell Sea anomaly and aurora phenomena.
Scientists have long wondered what the cause of an anomaly in the atmosphere above the Weddell Sea was, and researchers now believe that auroras may unlock the cause. Up until the release of the study on June 5th this year, scientists have assumed the anomaly was a result of tilting magnetic fields.
What is the Weddell Sea anomaly?
An anomaly exists in the atmosphere above the Weddell Sea, which sits between Antarctica and the southern most tip of South America. 80 kilometers above the earth lies the ionosphere, which, strangely, behaves differently in this part of the world.
When x-rays and solar ultraviolet winds bombard the earth, they create this ionosphere. They do this by stripping the atoms and molecules of their electrons, causing them to become charged. What results from this in the North and South Poles is the stunning light display in the skies that we call the aurora.
Additionally, humans have made good use of the ionosphere since the invention of the radio. Radio waves bounce back down from the ionosphere. Consequently, the ionosphere enables people to send radio messages from one part of the earth to another.
However, above the Weddell Sea, radio waves behave differently. This difference leads to critical transport and security communications not reaching their destinations. This anomaly was first noticed in the 1950s when scientists in Antarctica decided to measure the phenomena with an ionogram, which uses high-frequency radio signals.
In the rest of the world, the electron density in the ionosphere peaks at midday when the sun is strongest. However, mysteriously, above the Weddell Sea, the electron density peaks at midnight.
Initially, scientists wondered if there was a connection between the anomaly and the tilting magnetic fields.
The magnetic fields intensify the effectiveness of the region’s neutral winds. But there were some researchers who did not feel convinced by the theory. They believed that this wasn’t creating the Weddell Sea anomaly. They felt that these magnetic field changes were just not strong enough and usually canceled one another out.
Consequently, a combined team of American and Taiwanese researchers set out to test another theory. The group gathered approximately 50 years’ worth of ionosonde recordings and compared them with data collected from six microsatellites. What they discovered convinced them that the magnetic fields indeed played little to no part in the Weddell Sea anomaly.
The scientists observed that this anomaly exists only in an area that is close to the auroral energy input. This auroral location also affects the longitudinal changes in neutral wind and densities. In other words, this could explain why the electron density level could be similar at midnight above the Weddell Sea, as it is at midday elsewhere.
Scientific explanation for everything
Researchers also hope this explanation will give insight into other unexplained anomalies found around the globe. Many people appropriate unexplained phenomena on Earth and erroneously attribute it to things like paranormal activity. However, science usually will provide an entirely rational solution.
Also, scientists hope to be able to use this breakthrough scientific theory to bring clarity to other unexplained events. For example, anomalies that occur during solar flares. This information could also help to prevent serious interruptions to critical communications sent via satellite or radio signal.