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Satellites & Climate Change

Industry 4.0, also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is the implementation of advanced technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and robotics in the manufacturing sector.


Aurora australis and trails of SpaceX satellites
A photo taken from the space station shows the aurora australis and trails of SpaceX satellites. Source: NASA/M.Langbroek

For the implementation of Industry 4.0, the satellite industry plays a significant role by providing connectivity and enabling various applications of advanced technologies. Satellites facilitate the transfer of data and communication across remote and distributed systems, ensuring seamless connectivity and enabling real-time analytics and decision-making.


Industry 4.0 Emerging & Disruptive Trends.
Industry 4.0 Emerging & Disruptive Trends. Source: ProfHvS, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Further, for the successful implementation of Industry 4.0, integrating advanced technology like 5G networking with satellite systems is considered crucial. The 5G networks enable faster and more reliable data transfer, low latency, and increased capacity.


Satellites & Climate Change

This combination of 5G and satellite technology offers significant potential for supporting the diverse applications and requirements of Industry 4.0, such as smart factories, asset tracking, and autonomous systems.


Satellites Supporting the 5G Differentiators.
Satellites Supporting the 5G Differentiators.

However, the rise of data transmission and satellite connectivity can affect the ionosphere. The ionosphere is the uppermost part of Earth's atmosphere that contains charged particles (ions and free electrons) generated by knocking electrons from atmospheric gas by the ultraviolet (UV) photons from the Sun.


The day-and-night Differences in the Layers of Earth's Ionosphere.
The day-and-night Differences in the Layers of Earth's Ionosphere. Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

As these effects can vary depending on the frequency, power, and type of transmitted signals, the environmental impact assessment and quantification becomes difficult.


The ionospheric influence on radio waves.
The ionospheric influence on radio waves. Source: GLONASS.

Moreover, based on our understanding, the effects are directly linked to climate change and the environment. The following are our findings showing the impacts of prolonged signal transmission on the environment.


Ionospheric Heating

High-frequency signals, such as those used in radar and some communication systems, can heat the ionosphere through a process known as ionospheric heating. This heating can cause temporary changes in the ionospheric electron density, leading to alterations in the propagation of radio waves through the ionosphere.

The ionospheric heating heats the atmosphere due to the energy deposition by charged particles precipitating down from the ionosphere. This energy deposition can affect atmospheric dynamics and cause heating in the polar regions of the atmosphere, affecting wind patterns and producing changes in atmospheric circulation.


Joule Heating, Pedersen Conductivity & Electric Potential at peak of St. Patrick’s Day Storm, 17 March 2015, 13:55 UT.
Joule Heating, Pedersen Conductivity & Electric Potential at peak of St. Patrick’s Day Storm, 17 March 2015, 13:55 UT. Source: Theodore et al., 2023. Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences. 9. 1048318.

Still, ionospheric heating was generally considered safe for the environment because the energy levels of signal transmission are relatively low compared to the natural energy levels in the ionosphere. However, the prolonged transmitted signals interact with the charged particles (free electrons) in the ionosphere, leading to electron heating, artificial auroras, and the creation of artificial ionospheric anomalies.


Ionospheric Anomalies

Prolonged signal transmission can create ionospheric anomalies, particularly in regions of high electron density variability. These ionospheric anomalies and lower atmosphere changes due to greenhouse gas emissions can influence the absorption and emission of radiation in the upper atmosphere, affecting ionization levels. Moreover, the absorption and emission of radiation in the upper atmosphere can shift the distribution of greenhouse gases in the lower atmosphere. While the direct impact of ionospheric anomalies on climate is relatively minor, they can be part of complex feedback loops.


Ionospheric Scintillation & Fountain Effect.
Ionospheric Scintillation & Fountain Effect. Source: Inside GNSS.

These complex feedback loops can directly influence factors like solar variability, greenhouse gas concentrations, and oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns, consequently influencing climate changes.

The ionosphere and climate change are coupled and interact with each other with a complex set of factors.

Was the relationship between the ionosphere and the climate considered during the implementation of satellite internet services provided by Starlink, Hughesnet, Viasat, OneWeb, Geospace, Telesat, Freedomsat, Telstra, and the European Union?


Interaction of Lower Atmosphere and Ionosphere.
Interaction of Lower Atmosphere and Ionosphere. Source: University of Colorado, Boulder.

The connection between ionospheric anomalies and climate change is still an active area of research, and for more details on the mechanisms and extent of ionosphere and lower atmosphere interactions, reach us at www.envirochems.com

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