Imaging of electron density troughs by tomographic techniques


  • L. Kersley,

  • S. E. Pryse,

  • I. K. Walker,

  • J. A. T. Heaton,

  • C. N. Mitchell,

  • M. J. Williams,

  • C. A. Willson


Troughs in the latitudinal distribution of electron density are a well-known feature of the ionosphere from subauroral to polar latitudes. The location and depth of the trough minimum, the width of the feature, and the horizontal gradients in electron density associated with the trough walls are all quantities of interest or concern to practical applications of radio systems involving the ionosphere. In practice, the precise characteristics of trough-like structures have been difficult to monitor using ground-based methods. Ionospheric tomography represents a new development that is maturing into a technique ideally suited to the study of electron density troughs. Results are presented from a variety of observations made during tomographic campaigns in northern Europe. A long-term investigation has been made of the main trough from a network of stations in the United Kingdom. The position of the trough minimum and the wall gradients have been studied on a diurnal basis using tomographic images reconstructed from measurements for a succession of passes of Navy Navigation Satellite System satellites. With stations deployed for more than 6 months, the average behavior has also been studied. Examples are shown of extreme behavior of the trough under very disturbed geomagnetic conditions, during which tomography continues to yield images while the limitations of ionosondes are exposed. Studies of narrow troughs with very steep gradients seen at auroral latitudes have been used to investigate some of the successes and limitations of the tomographic method. Measurements made in the polar cap show the depleted densities of the polar hole in the center of the dawn convection cell and illustrate the power of the tomographic method at high latitudes. Finally, the dayside trough at the high-latitude boundary between corotating and counterstreaming flux tubes in the afternoon sector has been revealed in a tomographic image extending over some 30° latitude, made using a chain of six stations in Scandinavia.