• composition;
  • geomagnetic activity;
  • helium;
  • mass density;
  • thermosphere

[1] High-resolution mass density observations inferred from accelerometer measurements on the CHAMP and GRACE satellites are employed to investigate the thermosphere mass density response with latitude and altitude to geomagnetic activity during the recent solar minimum. Coplanar orbital periods in February 2007 and December 2008 revealed the altitude and latitude response in thermosphere mass density for their respective winter hemispheres was influenced by the relative amount of helium and oxygen present. The CHAMP-to-GRACE (C/G) mass density ratio depends on two terms; the first proportional to the ratio of the mean molecular weight to temperature and the second proportional to the vertical gradient of the logarithmic mean molecular weight. For the relative levels of helium and oxygen in February 2007, the winter hemisphere C/G mass density response to geomagnetic activity, although similar to the summer hemisphere, was caused predominantly by changes in the vertical gradient of the logarithmic mean molecular weight. In December 2008, the significant presence of helium caused the mean molecular weight changes to exceed temperature changes in the winter hemisphere leading to an increase in the C/G ratio with increasing geomagnetic activity, in opposition to the decrease observed in the summer hemisphere that was caused primarily by temperature changes. The observed behavior is indicative of composition effects influencing the mass density response and the dynamic action of the oxygen to helium transition region in both latitude and altitude will lead to complex behaviors in the mass density at GRACE altitudes throughout the extended solar minimum from 2007 to 2010.