Surveys in Geophysics

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 27–45 | Cite as

Earth’s Electromagnetic Environment

  • Catherine ConstableEmail author


The natural spectrum of electromagnetic variations surrounding Earth extends across an enormous frequency range and is controlled by diverse physical processes. Electromagnetic (EM) induction studies make use of external field variations with frequencies ranging from the solar cycle which has been used for geomagnetic depth sounding through the 10\(^{-4}\)–10\(^4\) Hz frequency band widely used for magnetotelluric and audio-magnetotelluric studies. Above 10\(^4\) Hz, the EM spectrum is dominated by man-made signals. This review emphasizes electromagnetic sources at \(\sim\)1 Hz and higher, describing major differences in physical origin and structure of short- and long-period signals. The essential role of Earth’s internal magnetic field in defining the magnetosphere through its interactions with the solar wind and interplanetary magnetic field is briefly outlined. At its lower boundary, the magnetosphere is engaged in two-way interactions with the underlying ionosphere and neutral atmosphere. Extremely low-frequency (3 Hz–3 kHz) electromagnetic signals are generated in the form of sferics, lightning, and whistlers which can extend to frequencies as high as the VLF range (3–30 kHz).The roughly spherical dielectric cavity bounded by the ground and the ionosphere produces the Schumann resonance at around 8 Hz and its harmonics. A transverse resonance also occurs at 1.7–2.0 kHz arising from reflection off the variable height lower boundary of the ionosphere and exhibiting line splitting due to three-dimensional structure. Ground and satellite observations are discussed in the light of their contributions to understanding the global electric circuit and for EM induction studies.


Electromagnetism Geomagnetic spectrum Ionosphere  Schumann resonance Sferics Lightning Magnetotellurics Audio-magnetotellurics 



I thank Ciaran Beggan, Steven Constable, Monika Korte, and Tom Nielsen for useful discussions, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for funding that supported this endeavor, and both administrative and research staff at GFZ, Potsdam for their hospitality, and collegial support. I would also like to acknowledge the unprecedented opportunity provided by the 2014 EM Induction workshop organizing committee to work on a review outside my usual area of expertise. I very much appreciated the useful comments on both clarity and content from two anonymous reviewers.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, Scripps Institution of OceanographyUniversity of California at San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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