High-frequency radio waves from a Russian research facility are capable of causing sudden and significant temperature increases in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Chinese and Russian researchers reached this conclusion by analyzing a series of joint experiments carried out by their countries in June. A recently launched Chinese satellite was used to monitor conditions in the ionosphere as it passed over the Sura Ionospheric Heating Facility.

The facility is located near Vasilsursk, Russia. It was created to help Russian researchers better understand the ionosphere, which covers the parts of the atmosphere from approximately 60 to 1,000 kilometres in altitude.

Conditions in the ionosphere can significantly impact satellite communications and air travel. Its weather patterns are different than those closer to the planet’s surface, and much more difficult to forecast.

Those conditions changed rapidly during one of the five experiments carried out in June, the researchers found.

On the night of June 12, the satellite was able to register a brief period during which the temperature of ions in the ionosphere increased by 100 C.

“The detection of plasma disturbances on June 12 … provides evidence for likely success of future related experiments,” the researchers said.

The other four tests did not result in any unusual phenomena that could be observed from the satellite.

Still, the one successful finding was not entirely unexpected. Scientists have previously found “interesting phenomena” in the ionosphere including raised electron temperatures caused by high-frequency heating from facilities such as Sura.

The researchers say they hope their success will lead to further study of the effects Sura’s radio waves can have on the ionosphere.