When high-energy cosmic rays interact with molecules in the atmosphere, they produce muons, negatively charged elementary particles that can be detected at ground level or underground. The rate of these muons detected by underground detectors has been found to correlate strongly with temperature changes in the upper air.
Reporting in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, Osprey et al. compare cosmic ray muon rates from the Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search (MINOS) underground neutrino detector in Soudan, Minnesota, with upper air temperature data from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts during the winters from 2003 to 2007. They find a strong positive correlation between muon rate and temperature.
For instance, both muon rate and temperature showed a sharp rise and fall over a period of about 2 weeks in February 2005, corresponding to a sudden stratospheric warming event.
If other underground detectors show matching effects, the authors suggest that the correlation between muon rate and upper air temperature raises the possibility that cosmic ray muon data could potentially be useful for calibrating long-term temperature trends or independently measuring meteorological conditions.
The authors include: S.Osprey: Department of Physics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK, and collaborators (for complete list see online abstract at link below).
- Osprey et al. Sudden stratospheric warmings seen in MINOS deep underground muon data. Geophysical Research Letters, 2009; 36 (5): L05809 DOI: 10.1029/2008GL036359
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