Turbulent upwelling of the mid-latitude ionosphere: 2. Theoretical framework


  • Michael C. Kelley,

  • Shoichiro Fukao


In a companion paper, data from the MU radar have been presented which show that during sunspot minimum conditions in Japan the mid-latitude ionosphere is sometimes characterized by regions of rapid and turbulent upwelling. In this paper we explore possible mechanisms for these events. The most likely process seems to be the instability of the equilibrium which occurs when the mid-latitude plasma is supported against gravity either by an eastward electric field component or by a southward neutral wind, as was proposed by Perkins (1973). We show, for example, that the growth rate determined by Perkins is considerably higher in sunspot minimum conditions than at sunspot maximum for comparable altitudes of the ionospheric F layer. The growth rate is not very large, however, and we argue here that the observed structures must evolve from preexisting undulations of the bottomside of the F region which are generated by gravity waves. That is, the gravity waves create finite amplitude structures which are amplified by the plasma instability. An intriguing feature of the gravity wave role in this process is that the echoing patches detected by the MU radar and the height bands detected by the Arecibo radar, which we believe to be related phenomena, all seem to propagate to the west. This is the same direction reported for the angle-of-arrival measurements of classic mid-latitude spread F by a number of researchers using ionosonde techniques. Since the MU radar detects the upwelling regions from nonthermal 3-m irregularities there must be mechanism to create such tracers. We propose that secondary structures are created at intermediate scales via the E×B instability operating on the dome of the upwelling structure and by the neutral wind-driven process on either the west or the east wall of the structure, depending on the direction of the zonal wind. The 3-m waves are then created in a cascade process which brings energy into a range of k space in which the structures are linearly damped. Finally, we discuss the fine structure of the echoing patches and suggest several plausible mechanisms, two of which involve E region coupling and one which deals with the vertical structure of the gravity wave seeding process.