High-resolution studies of atmosphere-ionosphere coupling at Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico


  • F. T. Djuth,

  • M. P. Sulzer,

  • J. H. Elder,

  • V. B. Wickwar


Very accurate measurements of electron density can be made at Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, by applying the coded long-pulse (CLP) radar technique [Sulzer, 1986a] to plasma line echoes from daytime photoelectrons [Djuth et al., 1994]. In the lower thermosphere above Arecibo, background neutral waves couple to the ionospheric plasma, typically yielding ∼1–3% electron density “imprints” of the waves. These imprints are present in all observations made to date; they are decisively detected at 30–60 standard deviations above the “noise level” imposed by the measurement technique. Complementary analysis and modeling efforts provide strong evidence that these fluctuations are caused by internal gravity waves. Properties of the neutral waves such as their period and vertical wavelength are closely mirrored by the electron density fluctuations. Frequency spectra of the fluctuations exhibit a high-frequency cutoff consistent with calculated values of the Brunt-Väisälä frequency. Vertical half wavelengths are typically in the range 2–25 km between 115- and 160-km altitude, and the corresponding phase velocities are always directed downward. Some waves have vertical wavelengths short enough to be quenched by kinematic viscosity. In general, the observed electron density imprints are relatively “clean” in that their vertical wavelength spectrum is characteristically narrow-banded. It is estimated that perturbations in the horizontal wind field as small as 2–4 m/s can give rise to the observed electron density fluctuations. However, the required wind speed can be significantly greater depending on the orientation of the neutral wave's horizontal wave vector relative to the geomagnetic field. Limited observations with extended altitude coverage indicate that wave imprints can be detected at thermospheric heights as high as 500 km.