Saturation of the ionospheric polar cap potential during the October–November 2003 superstorms



[1] The question of whether the cross polar cap potential drop in the Earth's ionosphere saturates under conditions of extreme electric field in the solar wind has been tested observationally during the past several years. The challenge to proving the existence of this phenomenon is that periods of such extreme electric fields in the solar wind are relatively rare. The three superstorms of October and November 2003 provided ideal cases for testing this idea. We first review the earlier evidence of the saturation seen by the DMSP-F13 spacecraft during the 31 March 2001 superstorm and other storm events during the 1998–2002 time period. Then we present observations from the DMSP-F13 spacecraft during the October and November 2003 superstorms that show definite evidence of this saturation. In addition, some of the electric fields during these superstorms were almost twice as large as the largest fields previously studied, thus increasing the range of our sample set and further increasing our confidence in the existence of the saturation phenomenon. The data are compared with the saturated potentials predicted by the Hill-Siscoe model to test its validity. The DMSP measurements indicate that the saturation limit of the cross polar cap is about 260 kV.