The role of the equatorial electrojet in the evening ionosphere


  • G. Haerendel,

  • J. V. Eccles


This paper focuses on the role of the equatorial E region in the electrodynamics of the evening ionosphere. The influence and reaction of the electrojet current on the equatorial ionosphere at sunset is investigated using a field line integrated, one-dimensional, electrodynamic model. The one-dimensional, time-varying model predicts the divergence of the horizontal current of the equatorial electrojet for a given time variation of the horizontal electric field. The negative divergence of the horizontal current during the evening hours provides a net upward current out of the equatorial E region into the integrated ionosphere of higher equatorial altitudes (and equivalent latitudes). This upward current affects the vertical electric field magnitudes and subsequent horizontal plasma drifts of the overlying ionosphere. The model allows for chemical recombination and dynamic redistribution of ionization within the electrojet region under the assumption that the profile of the ionization density along a field line is proportional to the chemical equilibrium profile. The eastward horizontal electric field and the net upward current during the 2 hours after sunset combine to lift the ionization out of the E region resulting in ionization densities less than the equilibrium values. As the ionization densities (conductivities) are reduced, the electrodynamics of the equatorial ionosphere is altered. This model of the equatorial electrojet current divergence can be used as a lower boundary to global, two-dimensional models of the equatorial electric fields.

Finally, it is proposed that the equatorial electrojet current near sunset has a significant role in the determination of the postsunset enhancement of the horizontal electric field. The electrojet region provides the best avenue for current to be channeled from the dayside to meet the vertical current demands of the F region neutral wind dynamo after sunset. The conductivity reduction in the E region due to the recombination of ionization and the plasma uplift enhances the horizontal (eastward) electric field and thereby increases the speed of the uplift. Thus the dynamic adjustment of ionization has an unstable, feedback relationship with the electric fields which may explain the night to night variability of the horizontal electric field enhancement.