Prompt midlatitude electric field effects during severe geomagnetic storms


  • J. C. Foster,

  • F. J. Rich


Meridian-plane elevation scans with the Millstone Hill incoherent scatter radar provide evidence of a strong perturbation of the coupled mid-latitude magnetosphere-ionosphere system during the early phases of the November 4, 1993 magnetic storm. A narrow ionospheric trough formed at L=3.5 in the pre-midnight sector, immediately poleward of the Millstone Hill site. The most pronounced radar signature of the developing activity was a brief (20 min) uplifting of the F region plasma equatorward of the trough, such that the peak altitude increased with distance away from the trough. A similar signature had been observed during storm onset on March 20, 1990, and in that event a pronounced topside ionospheric depletion developed in the region far equatorward of the mid-latitude trough and was observed by the radar and the DMSP F9 satellite. During the November 4, 1993 event, the DMSP F10 satellite observed narrow, magnetically conjugate regions of plasma density depletion and strong horizontal and upward plasma velocity (> 1500 m/s) at L=1.5 at the time of the uplifting of the mid-latitude F region observed by the radar. These observations were confined to longitudes near the South Atlantic magnetic anomaly and, in the Nov 1993 case, the perturbation was coincident with the peak of the precipitating particle fluxes associated with innerbelt losses at the anomaly. Both the uplifting of the ionospheric F layer and the triggering of topside density perturbations can be explained in terms of an eastward electric field imposed on the mid and low-latitude ionosphere during the initial stages of the geomagnetic storm. The low-latitude ionospheric perturbations in these events were similar to supersonic equatorial bubbles, triggered by the destabilizing effects of the upward E×B drift associated with the eastward electric field.