Ian C. McDade

Professor of Space Science

(416) 736-2100 x 22859




Ian McDade, Scottish Gaelic version Eóin Macdhaibhidh. was born in Derry, or Londonderry (he uses both names), Northern Ireland, in the mid-fifties of an Irish mother and a Scottish father. He went to primary and secondary school there and went on to do his Bacholor’s degree at the University of Cambridge (Queens’ College) in 1973. He returned to Ireland in 1976 to do his PhD in Physical Chemistry at The Queen’s University of Belfast in laser photochemistry of ozone graduating in 1979.

Before taking up his position at York University in 1993, he spent time working on laser photochemistry and rocket and satellite studies of the upper atmosphere at: The University of Wuppertal Germany; The University of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan; The Space Physics Research Laboratory of the University of Michigan and The Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, Ottawa.

He has contributed to our understanding of both the Airglow and the Aurora through his instrument concept studies; implementation of these instruments on rocket and satellite missions; and, the analysis and interpretation of the observations. Over the years his work has been supported by NASA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), The US National Science Foundation (NSF), the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council Canada (NSERC) and various Ontario funding initiatives. He has served as Chair of this Department; Chair of the Canada Association of Physicists Aeronomy Division; numerous NASA, CSA, NSF and NSERC panels and is a regular reviewer for the major research journals dealing his research areas.

Research Interests

Ian McDade’s research interests are primarily in the areas known as ‘Optical Aeronomy ‘ and ‘Space Physics’.   He uses ultraviolet, visible and infrared measurements made from the ground, rockets and satellites to study processes that produce light in Earth’s upper atmosphere – such as the ‘Nightglow‘ and the ‘Northern Lights’ aka the ‘Polar Aurora‘.  The Nightglow is light emitted by a glowing shell of Earth’s atmosphere about 100 km above the surface where the pressure is less than a millionth of the surface pressure and the temperature can drop below -173°C ~ 100 K.  Unlike the Polar Aurora which is sporadic and caused by fast electrons injected from above and most prevalent in polar regions, the Nightglow exists all over the globe, is fairly constant in intensity apart from tidal and gravity wave effects and is caused by chemical reactions in the very cold rarefied air.  It is sometimes referred to as the Permanent Aurora and actually occurs during the day as well when it is called the Dayglow. Unfortunately, the human eye is not sensitive enough to see the Nightglow from Earth but if our eyes were about ten times more sensitive we would be aware that the sky is pea green at night!  Astronauts, however, can clearly see the green Nightglow layer when they look toward the horizon where geometric effects amplify the brightness of the Nightglow by a factor of about a hundred.

His research focuses on attempts to understand the physics and the chemistry of the processes involved and the development of Remote Sensing techniques which exploit these phenomena to study, and monitor, the ever evolving state of Earth’s upper atmosphere. A current pet project of his is to make Toronto’s CN Tower the tallest sundial in the World.

Selected Publications

Kowalewski, S., von Savigny, C., Palm, M., McDade, I. C., and Notholt, J.: On the impact of the temporal variability of the collisional quenching process on the mesospheric OH emission layer: a study based on SD-WACCM4 and SABER, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 14, 10193-10210, doi:10.5194/acp-14-10193-2014, 2014.

Rahnama, W. Gault, I.C. McDade and G.G. Shepherd. Scientific Assessment of the SWIFT Instrument Design. Journal of Atmospheric & Oceanic Technology . Vol. 30, 9, p2081-2094, 2013

von Savigny, C., I.C. McDade, K.-U. Eichmann, and J.P. Burrows, On the dependence of the OH* Meinel emission altitude on vibrational level: SCIAMACHY observations and model simulations, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 12, 8813-8828, 2012.

P.E. Sheese, I.C. McDade , R.L. Gattinger, E.J. Llewellyn, Atomic oxygen densities retrieved from OSIRIS observations of O2 A-band airglow emission in the mesosphere and lower thermosphere, J. geophys. Res., 116, D01303, doi:10.1029/2010JD014640, 2011.

R.L. Gattinger, I.C. McDade, A.L. Alfaro Suzán, C.D. Boone, K.A. Walker, P.F. Bernath, W.F.J. Evans, D.A. Degenstein, J.-H. Yee, P. Sheese, and E.J. Llewellyn, NO2 air afterglow and O and NO densities from Odin-OSIRIS night and ACE-FTS sunset observations in the Antarctic MLT region, J. geophys. Res., 115, D12301, doi:10.1029/2009JD013205, 2010.

and ~ 200 more back to

McDade, I.C. and McGrath, W.D., IR-Laser Induced Changes in the UV Absorption Spectrum of Ozone. A New Technique for Vibrational Energy Transfer Studies, Chem. Phys. Letts. 72, 432-436, 1980.