• Photo by Nicolas J Leclercq on Unsplash
  • Photo by Nicolas Tissot on Unsplash
  • Photo by NASA on Unsplash
  • Photo by USGS on Unsplash

Magnetospheric Phenomena : IAGA Division III

Dr. Simon Wing is the Division Chair for IAGA Division III : Magnetospheric Phenomena. Here, he answers some of our questions about himself and his division.

1) Could you please tell us something about yourself?

I am a space physicist at the Johns Hopkins University.  I study solar wind entry into the magnetosphere, plasma transport in the planetary (Earth, Jupiter, Saturn) magnetospheres, magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling, radiation belts, solar dynamo, and space weather. Recently, I have been applying information theory to space data to establish linear and nonlinear relationships and causalities. 

2) What are the basic research questions of the IAGA division you head?

There are many, perhaps too many to list here.  IAGA Div III research questions include how the Sun transfers mass and energy to the planetary (including Earth’s) magnetospheres and ionospheres?; what are the magnetospheric responses to the solar wind driving, e.g., storms and substorms?; how do electromagnetic waves interact with ions and electrons?; what are the roles of plasma turbulence in magnetospheric dynamics?; where and how does magnetic reconnection occur and what are its impacts in the magnetosphere? etc. This is by far an incomplete list and a rather simplistic description of very complex research questions and problems that Div III tries to solve.  

Flow of plasma energy around Earth's magnetosphere. Solar energy absorbed through the magnetopause circulates in the magnetosphere and becomes energy that generates the radiation belt and auroras. (from JAXA)

3) Who are your main collaborators within IAGA and outside?

In the last five years, I have collaborated with about 20-30 scientists within and outside IAGA.

4) What are the past important results of this division?

This is a difficult question to answer because there are too many. It would be difficult to come up with a complete list. Rather than trying to enumerate them all, I would say that Div III has made a lot of progresses in the list of questions listed above. 

At each IAGA conference, Div III presents a rather unique session called Reporter Review.  This session highlights the progresses in the fields in the last few years. So, the readers who are interested to learn about recent important results in the Div III are encouraged to attend this session. 

( IAGA-IASPEI 2021 conference can be followed here : http://iaga-iaspei-india2021.in )

5) What do you think would be the future applications or impacts through this research?

Space weather can adversely affect our technological infrastructures and lives on Earth and in space. Div III research has huge potential impacts on and applications for space weather.   

IAGA... What's that?


You must have seen a number of sci-fi movies and wondered what so many people shown sitting in the cubicles do! Wonder no more, for I’m about to explain the basic topics some of those scientists deal with.

IAGA is the International Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy, one of the eight semi-autonomous Associations of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG), which in turn is one of the forty unions of the International Science Council. IUGG is an international scientific organisation established in 1919 and dedicated to advancing, promoting and communicating knowledge about the Earth and its environment in space. The ‘AIGA’ part attached is the French name abbreviation (because we like things fancy).

It is a non-governmental body that focusses on the study of the magnetic and electrical properties of the Earth and other planets, the Sun and its phenomena, and interplanetary bodies. It is funded through the subscriptions paid to IUGG by its Member Countries. It encourages free exchange of scientific information and facilitates international collaboration. There is a General/Scientific Assembly every two years, with the IAGA-IASPEI Joint Scientific Assembly 2021 happening virtually at http://iaga-iaspei-india2021.in/index.html from the 21st-27th August.

There are six Divisions- each dealing with a different science, with some forming their own Working Groups (WG) in specific topics- and four Interdivisional Commissions on Developing Countries, History, Education and Outreach, and Space Weather. Each Division and Commission is led by a Chair and a Co-Chair, and has an Early Career Liaison Person. 

IAGA also has two Inter-Association Activities and six Union Commissions. It is administered by an Executive Committee (EC) - consisting of a President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer - on behalf of the IUGG Member Countries. 

The different divisions of IAGA:

Division I is primarily concerned with the internal magnetic field of planetary bodies, using measurements from satellites and observatories, and analysis of magnetic field from rocks as well as seismic, gravitational and other data. Theory of conducting fluid cores is studied to better comprehend the core field of planets, and palaeomagnetic data is analysed to understand the geomagnetic field. But in layman terms, if you like rocks, you like Division I.

Division II deals with the understanding of the lower atmosphere of the Earth, other planets and their satellites. This includes the dynamics of the middle atmosphere, the ionospheric waves, fields, its meteorological effects and interactions in polar regions, and the long term trends of the different layers of the atmosphere. It aims at improving the atmosphere-ionosphere understanding. Anyone fascinated by the Aurora Borealis and Australis should definitely check out the research of Division II.

Division III also deals with the atmosphere, but the upper atmosphere and magnetosphere through satellite and ground based data. It answers how the Sun and the solar wind influence the Earth’s and other planet's magnetospheres. It also researches on the magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling, the radiation belts, ring currents, plasmasphere and magnetic storms. If solar storms are something that interests you, this is for you. 

Division IV focusses on all phenomena related to the Solar Wind and the Interplanetary Magnetic Field. This is the study of enormous energy produced and released by the Sun due to motion inside it, the plasma that is emitted and the resulting consequences of these phenomena within the Solar System. Do you like everything about the sun, including its turbulent motions, and all physics related to it? Look no more.

Division V analyses magnetic observation data to identify its sources and produces indices and models from it. It takes care of the geomagnetic observatories all over the world, sets standards for data measurement, processing and exchange. Everyone’s interested about setting up instruments and sending satellites to space, but that’s half the picture. The other half happens after that. This Division takes care of the data that are observed from those and processes it.

Division VI research involves the investigation of theoretical and practical aspects of distribution of electrical properties within the Earth's and planetary interiors. In particular, it works on electrical conductivity and its relationship with other physical parameters to understand geological structures and processes ranging from meter to mantle scale. This Division makes basic classroom physics concepts like electromagnetic induction come alive in gigantic planetary bodies.

If you are interested in the workings and research of any specific Division, look out for the blogs of the coming weeks!

IAGA invites young scientists and scientists throughout the world to participate in the Association’s activities. There are no membership formalities or fees. It serves scientists and decision-makers in research establishments, government and intergovernmental bodies, universities and private enterprises.

For more information on IAGA, please visit http://www.iaga-aiga.org/.

Images: (1) Lunar and Planetary Institute, USRA. (2),(3) NASA. (4) ESA.

Shivangi Sharan is a second year PhD student at the Laboratory of Planetology and Geodynamics in France. Her research focusses on the study of the magnetic field of Mars and to infer its internal structure from it. She is an active member of the IAGA Blog Team and can be contacted via e-mail here.