Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics

Testing the thermospheric neutral wind suppression mechanism for day-to-day variability of equatorial spread F


  • Michael Mendillo,

  • John Meriwether,

  • Manfred Biondi


The determination of the physical processes that cause the day-to-day variability of equatorial spread F (ESF) has long been one of the outstanding problems in terrestrial space physics. Within the context of the Rayleigh-Taylor instability model for ESF, mechanisms that either enhance or inhibit the growth of a seed perturbation offer potential sources of variability that can be tested. In this study the hypothesis that enhanced thermospheric meridional winds play a critical role in suppressing ESF is examined during the Multi-Instrumented Studies of Equatorial Thermospheric Aeronomy (MISETA) campaign of September 1998. New, high-time-resolution Fabry-Perot interferometer (FPI) observations at 6300-Å nightglow made at Arequipa (Peru) provided the neutral wind measurements during the critical postsunset hours that had been sampled only sparsely in earlier morphology studies. Evidence of local ESF activity was obtained using GPS-based observations of phase fluctuations (Fp) and 6300-Å all-sky optical images from the same site. Additional GPS measurements of Fp and total electron content (TEC) from Bogota (Colombia) and Santiago (Chile) were used to determine the full flux tube development of ESF plumes and to characterize the F region morphology of the interhemispheric Appleton anomaly. Correlative studies between the nightly magnitudes of the meridional winds (Um), ESF activity (Fp), and indices describing the strength (Is) and asymmetry (Ia) of the Appleton anomaly offered no convincing evidence for the wind suppression mechanism. The best available precursor for premidnight ESF appeared to be the strength of the electrodynamically driven Appleton anomaly pattern at sunset. If one assumes that the required seed perturbation for ESF onset is essentially always available, then for all practical purposes, the magnitude of the eastward electric field that causes upward drift is both the necessary and sufficient parameter to forecast ESF with reasonable success. These results reconfirm 60 years of study pointing to the dominance of electrodynamical processes in the onset and growth of plasma instabilities at low latitudes.