Increase of Ionizing Radiation at the Pfotzer Maximum over the Southern Appalachians

Michele Kay Carmichael-Coker


Verso l’alto is a multi-disciplinary research and development project whose goal is to gain insight into the upper atmospheric electromagnetic environment above the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Using high altitude weather balloons, Verso l’altos’ payload carries scientific equipment in order to record cosmic radiation fluctuations and locate gamma rays that produce terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs). TGF’s commonly form in high electrical fields within and above thunderstorms and snowstorms in the troposphere and tropopause; where they produce a shot of intense gamma radiation that is hurled into space. Four successful launches have been completed from October 2012-November 2013. A high-speed camera is also included within the payload to capture images of the region. Live tracking and telemetry of the flight is performed by an amateur radio communications payload, and beacon coordinates are uploaded to for real-time access online. The chase teams consist of three or more licensed mobile amateur radio operators who track and retrieve the payload. New scientific equipment flown in November provided a broader range of data collection, including a temperature sensor and effected radiation dose rate per hour in Sieverts. Data from the November flight concludes that fluctuation peaks within the tropopause was due to the Pfotzer maximum, where incoming primary cosmic radiation components decrease upon entering the tropopause and secondary components increase and radiate near altitudes of 15-20 km. This finding is important to atmospheric space physics, where the maximum spikes in counts are confined to lower altitudes below the stratosphere. This impacts the exposure rate of ionizing radiation to airline travelers, and high altitude scientific airline flights. Atmospheric mixing of solar radiation concluded that the geomagnetic field fluctuation coincides with the radiation counts and is directly related. All flights are coordinated on a specific date to ensure the retrieval of the project by the cooperation between local communities, scientific organizations and academic institutions. Future flights scheduled for 2014 include winter flights and spring thunderstorms. The goal of this project is to better understand the impact of cosmic radiation fluctuations from the ground into the mid-stratosphere, where direct observation is extremely limited. This project brings together interdisciplinary scientists, engineers and students, which further enhances multiple STEM fields throughout the region.


Atmospheric radiation, thunderstorms, cosmic rays

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