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[1] Recent ionospheric modification experiments with the 3.6 MW transmitter at the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) facility in Alaska led to discovery of artificial ionization descending from the nominal interaction altitude in the background F-region ionosphere by ∼60 km. This paper presents a physical model of an ionizing wavefront created by suprathermal electrons accelerated by the HF-excited plasma turbulence.

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[2] High-power HF radio waves can excite electrostatic waves in the ionosphere near altitudes where the injected wave frequency f_{0} matches either the local plasma frequency f_{p} ≈ 9 kHz (the density n_{e} in cm^{−3}) or the upper hybrid resonance f_{uhr} = (f_{c} is the electron cyclotron frequency) [e.g., Gurevich, 1978]. The generated waves increase the bulk electron temperature to T_{e} = 0.3–0.4 eV, while some electrons are accelerated to suprathermal energies ɛ = mv^{2} up to a few dozen eV [e.g., Carlson et al., 1982; Rietveld et al., 2003]. Upon impact with neutrals (N_{2}, O_{2}, O), suprathermal electrons excite optical emissions termed Artificial Aurora (AA) [e.g., Bernhardt et al., 1989; Gustavsson and Eliasson, 2008].

[3] Heating-induced plasma density modifications are usually described in terms of chemical and transport processes [e.g., Bernhardt et al., 1989; Djuth et al., 1994; Dhillon and Robinson, 2005; Ashrafi et al., 2006]. However, Pedersen et al.'s [2009, 2010] discovery of rapidly descending plasma layers seems to point to additional mechanisms. Pedersen et al. [2010, hereafter P10] suggested that the artificial plasma is able to sustain interaction with the transmitted HF beam and that the interaction region propagates (downward) as an ionizing wavefront. In this paper, the formation of such downward-propagating ionizing front is ascribed to suprathermal electrons accelerated by the HF-excited plasma turbulence.

2. Ionizing Wave

[4] The descending feature is evident in Figure 1, which is representative of P10's Figure 3 with the regions of ion-line (IL) radar echoes from the MUIR incoherent scatter radar located at HAARP (courtesy of Chris Fallen) overlaid [cf. Oyama et al., 2006]. Shown are sequential altitude profiles of the green-line emissions (λ = 557.7 nm, excitation potential ɛ_{g} ≈ 4.2 eV) observed from a remote imager looking over HAARP on 17 March 2009. Here, the O-mode radio beam was injected into the magnetic zenith (MZ), i.e., along the magnetic field B_{0}, at the effective radiative power P_{0} [MW] ≈ 440 and frequency f_{0} = 2.85 MHz (2f_{c} at h_{2fc} ≈ 230 km). The contours of f_{p} = f_{0} or n_{e} = n_{c} ≈ 10^{5} cm^{−3} (cyan) and f_{uhr} = f_{0} (violet) are inferred from ionograms acquired from the HAARP site at 1 min intervals (P10, Figure 3). The regions of enhanced IL are shown in green color. As seen from another imager located at HAARP, the blue-line emissions at 427.8 nm (not shown) coincided with the green-line emissions (see Figure 1 of P10); remote-location 427.8 nm optical data are not available.

[5] During the first 2 min in the heating, the artificial plasma is confined to the bottomside of the F layer at altitudes h > 180 km. The corresponding descent of the IL scatter is similar to that described by Dhillon and Robinson [2005] and Ashrafi et al. [2006]. A sudden brightening of AA and increased speed of descent of the artificial plasma ‘layer’ (patch) in the HF-beam center occurs near 180 km, while its peak plasma frequency foFa reaches f_{0}. In fact, the optical data shows [P10] that this patch is fairly uniform near ∼180 km but then becomes a ∼20-km collection of (∥ B_{0}) filaments a few km in diameter. While the degree of inhomogeneity of the descending patch increases, its speed, V_{obs} ≃ 0.3 km/s, appears to be constant until ≈160 km. Then, the artificial plasma slows down, staying near the terminal altitude h_{min} ≈ 150 km before the emissions retreat in altitude near the end of 4-min injection pulse. During a continuous ‘on’ period, the artificial plasma near h_{min} was quenched several times, initiating the process over again from higher altitudes.

[6] Hereafter, we focus on the descending feature at h ≤ 180 km where foFa ≥ f_{0} or n_{e} ≥ n_{c}. Enhanced 427.8-nm emissions indicate the presence of electrons with energies ɛ > ɛ_{b} ≈ 18.7 eV, exceeding the ionization energies of N_{2}, O_{2}, and O. The ionization rate q_{a} is given by

where ν_{ion} is the ionization frequency, and 〈…〉 means averaging over the accelerated distribution of the density n_{a}. Hereafter, we employ Majeed and Strickland's [1997] electron impact cross-sections and Hedin's [1991] MSIS90 model for the densities [N_{2}], [O], and [O_{2}] on 17 March 2009.

[7] At each time step t_{i}, artificial ionization occurs near the critical altitude h_{c}(t_{i}), defined from the condition n_{e}(h_{c}) = n_{c}. The density profile just below h_{c} is represented as follows

Here x = ξ/L_{∥}, ξ = (h_{c} − h)/cos α_{0} is the distance along B_{0}, α_{0} is the conjugate of the magnetic dip angle (≈15° at HAARP), and L_{∥} is the (∥B_{0}) extent of the ionization region. Ψ(x) is a monotonic function satisfying the conditions Ψ(0) ≥ 1 and Ψ(x) ≪ 1 at x > 1, since the ambient plasma density n_{0} ≪ n_{c} at h ≤ 180 km. As the ratio δ_{e}(ɛ) of inelastic (ν_{il}) to elastic (ν_{el}) collision frequencies is small, the accelerated electrons undergo fast isotropization due to elastic scattering and thus L_{∥} ≃ 〈l_{ion}〉, where l_{ion} = v/ν_{ion} [cf. Gurevich et al., 1985].

[8] Evidently, as soon as at some point x_{i} ≤ 1 the density n_{e}(x_{i},t_{i} + Δt) ≃ q_{a}(ξ_{i}) · Δt reaches n_{c}, the critical height shifts to this point, i.e., h_{c}(t_{i+1}) ≃ h_{c}(t_{i}) − L_{∥} · x. These conditions define the ionization time, T_{ion}^{−1} ≃ q_{a}/n_{c}, and the speed of descent

[9] Note, equation (3) contains no dependence on the total neutral density N_{n} and hence predicts V_{d} ≃ const(h), if the same distribution of accelerated electrons is created at each step. As 〈δ_{e}^{1/2}v〉 ≃ 1.5 · 10^{6} m/s, we get from equation (3) that the value of V_{d} (3) matches V_{obs} at n_{a} = n_{a}^{(d)} ≃ 6 · 10^{−4}n_{c} or n_{a}^{(d)} ≃ 60 cm^{−3}.

3. Discussion and Conclusions

[10] We now turn to justify this acceleration-ionization-descent scenario. Enhanced IL echoes, like in Figure 1, usually result from the parametric decay instability (PDI_{l}) and oscillating two stream instability (OTSI) of the pump wave near the plasma resonance [e.g., Mjølhus et al., 2003]. The latter develops if the relative pump wave energy density _{0} = ∣E_{0}^{2}∣/8πn_{c}T_{e} exceeds _{th} ≃ + , where k is the plasma wave number, ν_{T} is the collision frequency of thermal electrons, and L_{n}^{−1} = ∣∇ln n_{e}∣. The free space field of the pump wave is E_{fs} ≈ 5.5/r ≈ 0.65 V/m at r = 180 km (at the HF-beam center) or _{fs} ≃ 5 · 10^{−4} at T_{e} = 0.2 eV. For incidence angles θ < arcsin ( sin α_{0}), the amplitude in the first Airy maximum is E_{A} ≈ (2π/sin α_{0})^{2/3} (f_{0}L_{n}/c)^{1/6}E_{fs} [e.g., Mjølhus et al., 2003] or _{A} ≈ 0.1(L_{n}/L_{0})^{1/3}, where L_{0} = 30 km. For injections at MZ, following Mjølhus et al. [2003] one gets _{A}^{(mz)} ≈ _{A}/4.

[11] As _{A}^{(mz)} ≫ μ (the electron-to-ion mass ratio), we get k ≃ r_{D}^{−1} (μ_{A}^{(mz)})^{1/4} [e.g., Alterkop et al., 1973] or kr_{D} ≃ 1/40 (r_{D} is the Debye radius) yielding _{th} ≃ 10^{−4}(L_{0}/L_{n}). The ‘instant’ gradient-scale of the artificial layer is L_{n} ≃ 3 → 1 km at 180 → 150 km (see below) gives _{th} ≈ (1 → 3) · 10^{−3}. Thus, OTSI can easily develop in the first Airy maximum. In turn, PDI_{l} can develop in as many as ≃30 Airy maxima over a distance l_{a} ≃ 1 km [cf. Djuth, 1984; Newman et al., 1998]. At T_{e}/T_{i} < 4, PDI_{l} is saturated via induced scattering of Langmuir (l) waves, piling them up into ‘wave condensate’ (k → 0) [e.g., Zakharov et al., 1976]. The condensate is subject to OTSI, thereby leading to strong (cavitating) turbulence and electron acceleration [e.g., Galeev et al., 1977].

[12] At W_{l}/n_{0}T_{e} < (f_{c}/f_{p})^{2}, the acceleration results in a power-law (∥B_{0}) distribution at ɛ_{max} ≥ ɛ_{∥} = mu^{2} ≥ ɛ_{min} [Galeev et al., 1983; Wang et al., 1997]

where p_{a} ≃ 0.75–1. The density n_{a} and ɛ_{min} are determined by the wave energy W_{l} trapped by cavitons and the joining condition with the ambient electron distribution F_{a}^{∥} (ɛ_{min}) = F_{0}(ɛ_{min}). If F_{0} is a Maxwellian distribution, this gives ɛ_{min}^{m} ≈ 10T_{e} and n_{a}^{m} ≈ 10^{−4}n_{e}. When background suprathermal (s) electrons of the density n_{s} are present, then F_{0}(ɛ ≫ T_{e}) → F_{s}(ɛ) and ɛ_{min} ≃ 30(n_{s}T_{e}/W_{l})^{2/5} eV [e.g., Mishin et al., 2004], yielding ɛ_{min} ≤ 10 eV at n_{e} = n_{c}, _{l} ≃ 10^{−3}, and n_{s} ≤ 10 cm^{−3}. In the ionizing wave, a natural source of the s-electrons is ionization by those accelerated electrons that can propagate from ξ ∼ 0 to ξ ∼ L_{∥} (see Figure 2).

[13] We can now evaluate the excitation and ionization rates. The column 427.8-nm intensity in Rayleighs (R) is given by

Here σ_{b} is the excitation cross section of the N_{2}^{+}(^{1}N) state, A_{b} ≈ 0.19, Φ_{a} = F_{a} is the differential number flux, and F_{a}(ɛ) ≃ n_{a}v_{min}^{−3} is an isotropic distribution to which the accelerated distribution F_{a}^{∥} (4) is transformed at distances ∣ξ∣ > v/ν_{el} due to elastic scattering [cf. Gurevich et al., 1985].

[14] Integrating equation (5) over the energy range ɛ_{b} ≤ ɛ ≤ 10^{2} eV at p_{a} = 0.85 yields the brightness of a Δh-km column ΔI(h_{c}) ≈ 2.5 · 10^{−12}n_{a}[N_{2}(h_{c})] · Δh R near altitude h_{c}, given that Δh ≪ H_{n} ≃ 8 km (the atmosphere scale-height). Note, using p_{a} = 0.75 (0.95) increases (decreases) ΔI by ≈ 10% (15%). The total intensity I is defined by the vertical extent of the (excitation) layer Δ_{b}, where ɛ(ξ) ≥ ɛ_{b}. It can be evaluated using the Majeed and Strickland [1997] loss function L(ɛ) = L_{j}(ɛ) with j designating N_{2}, O_{2}, and O. Outside the acceleration layer, i.e. ∣ξ∣ > l_{a}, the energy of an electron of the initial energy ɛ_{0} at a distance ξ from the origination point h_{0} is

[15]Figure 2a presents the results of calculations of equation (6) for ɛ_{0} = 10, 15, … 10^{2} eV and h_{0} = 150, 160, 180, and 200 km. The altitude profiles at ɛ ≥ 5 eV and hence the layers of excitation/ionization are nearly symmetric about h_{0} at h ≤ 180 km. Figure 2b shows the half-widths Δ_{g} and Δ_{b} of the green- and blue-line excitation layers about h_{c} = 180 and 160 km as function of ɛ_{0}. The half-width of the ionization layer Δ_{ion} (not shown) is ≈Δ_{b} at ɛ_{0} > 20 eV. Since Δ_{b} < H_{n}, we can estimate the 427.8-nm intensity at h_{c} = 180 → 160 km as I∣_{hc} ≃ 5 · 10^{−12}n_{a} · [N_{2}(h_{c})] 〈Δ_{b}(h_{c})〉 ≃ (0.16→0.2) · n_{a} R. Comparing I∣_{hc} with the spatially-averaged intensities ≈ 10→5 R (P10, Figure 1) yields _{a} ≃ 60→25 cm^{−3}. Note that _{a} ≈ n_{a}^{(d)} at 180 km, in agreement with a uniform structure, while spatial averaging underestimates n_{a} inside the ∼km-scale filaments at 160 km.

[16] Calculating the ionization frequency in equation (1) with F_{a}(ɛ) gives 〈ν_{ion}〉 ≈ κ_{ion}* · ([N_{2}] + [O] + 0.95[O_{2}]) s^{−1}, where κ_{ion}* = 〈vσ_{ion}〉/n_{a} ≈ 1.8 · 10^{−8} cm^{3}s^{−1} is the coefficient of ionization of N_{2}. The total ionization rate q_{a}^{(d)} ∼ 10^{4} cm^{−3}s^{−1} greatly exceeds recombination losses ≈ 10^{−7}n_{c}^{2} ≈ 10^{3} cm^{−3}s^{−1} (the main ion component at these altitudes is NO^{+}). This justifies the use of equation (1) for evaluating the artificial plasma density. Taking an average energy loss per ionization ∼20 eV results in the column dissipation rate <0.1 mW/m^{2} or <10% of the 440-MW Poynting flux, consistent with P10's estimates.

[17] As Figure 3 shows, the coefficients of ionization and blue-line excitation by accelerated electrons decrease by a factor of ∼2 (10) between ɛ_{max} = 10^{2} and 50 (30) eV. The Liouville theorem predicts F(ɛ_{0} − Δɛ(ɛ_{0}, ξ), h_{0} + ξ) = F_{0}(ɛ_{0}, h_{0}), where Δɛ (ɛ_{0}, ξ) is given by the integral in equation (6). Thus, the gradient scale-length L_{n} of the artificial plasma is about the distance ξ_{50}, defined by the condition Δɛ(10^{2}, ξ_{50}) ≈50 eV. Numerically, we get ξ_{50} ≈ Δ_{b}(50) or L_{n} ≈ 3→1.5 km near h_{c} = 180→160 km and q_{a}L_{n}/n_{c} ≃ V_{obs}, as predicted by equation (3). Note that the artificial plasma density profiles derived from ionograms indeed have ∼1-km gradient scale-lengths near 150 km (cf. P10, Figure 2).

[18]Figure 1 shows that the descent slows down below 160 km and ultimately stops at h_{min} ≈ 150 km. The presence of IL and bright green-line emissions indicate that plasma turbulence is still excited and efficiently accelerates electrons above 4 eV. However, the blue-line emissions almost vanish [P10], thereby indicating only few accelerated electrons at ɛ ≥ ɛ_{b}. That this is in no way contradictory follows from the fact that inelastic losses increase tenfold between 10 and 20 eV. Acceleration stops at ɛ = ɛ_{max} ≪ 100 eV when ν_{il}(ɛ_{max}) exceeds the acceleration rate mD_{∥} (u_{max})/8πɛ_{max}, where D_{∥}(u) ≈ and k_{∥} = ω_{p}/u [Volokitin and Mishin, 1979]. The critical neutral density is roughly estimated as ∼5 · 10^{11} cm^{−3}, i.e N_{n} at ∼150 km. The fact that the artificial plasma stays near h_{min} indicates that ionization is balanced by recombination or q_{a}^{min} ∼ 10^{−7}n_{c}^{2} ≈ 0.1q_{a}^{(d)}, which at n_{a} ∼ n_{a}^{(d)} corresponds to ɛ_{max} ≈ 30 eV (Figure 3).

[19] A mechanism for generating km-sized filaments below 180 km could be the thermal self-focusing instability (SFI) near h_{c}, resulting in a broad spectrum of plasma irregularity scale sizes [e.g., Guzdar et al., 1998]. Significantly, ∼km-scale plasma irregularities grow initially but within 10s of seconds thermal self-focusing leads to smaller (10s to 100s meters) scale sizes. During descent, the critical altitude moves downward by several km within 10 s, thereby precluding further development of SFI, while the ∼km-scale irregularities have sufficient time to develop. When the descent rate drops, small-scale irregularities can fully develop and scatter the HF beam, thereby impeding the development of OTSI/PDI_{L} and hence ionization. As soon as the artificial plasma decays, SFI falls away and hence irregularities gradually disappear. Then, the artificial plasma can be created again. This explains why the artificial layer ceases and then reappears (Figure 1).

[20] In conclusion, we have shown that the artificial plasma sustaining interaction with the transmitted HF beam can be created via enhanced ionization by suprathermal electrons accelerated by Langmuir turbulence near the critical altitude. As soon as the interaction region is ionized, it shifts toward the upward-propagating HF beam, thereby creating an ionizing wavefront, which resembles Pedersen et al.'s [2010] descending artificial ionospheric layers.

Acknowledgments

[21] This research was supported by Air Force Office of Scientific Research. HAARP is a Department of Defense program operated jointly by the U. S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. We thank Chris Fallen for providing the MUIR ion line data.