HF ground scatter from the polar cap: Ionospheric propagation and ground surface effects

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Abstract

[1] In addition to being scattered by the ionospheric field-aligned irregularities, HF radar signals can be reflected by the ionosphere toward the Earth and then scattered back to the radar by the rugged ground surface. These ground scatter (GS) echoes are responsible for a substantial part of the returns observed by HF radars making up the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN). While a GS component is conventionally used in studying ionosphere dynamics (e.g., traveling ionospheric disturbances, ULF waves), its potential in monitoring the state of the scattering surface remains largely unexploited. To fill this gap, we investigated diurnal and seasonal variation of the ground echo occurrence and location from a poleward-looking SuperDARN radar at Rankin Inlet, Canada. Using colocated ionosonde information, we have shown that seasonal and diurnal changes in the high-latitude ionosphere periodically modulate the overall echo occurrence rate and spatial coverage. In addition, characteristics of GS from a particular geographic location are strongly affected by the state of the underlying ground surface. We have shown that (1) ice sheets rarely produce detectable backscatter, (2) mountain ranges are the major source of GS as they can produce echoes at all seasons of the year, and (3) sea surface becomes a significant source of GS once the Arctic sea ice has melted away. Finally, we discuss how the obtained results can expand SuperDARN abilities in monitoring both the ionosphere and ground surface.

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