Observations of intense velocity shear and associated electrostatic waves near an auroral arc


  • M. C. Kelley,

  • C. W. Carlson


An intense shear in plasma flow velocity of magnitude 20 (m/s) m−1 has been detected at the edge of an auroral arc. The region of shear appears to display structure with two characteristic scale sizes. The larger structures were of the order of a few kilometers in size and were identified by a deviation of the direction of the charge sheets crossed by the rocket from a direction parallel to the visible arc. As is shown in the companion paper (Carlson and Kelley, 1977), the average (undisturbed) charge sheet was parallel to the arc. These observations are consistent with television studies which often display such structures propagating along the edges of auroral forms. Additional intense irregularities were detected with characteristic wavelengths smaller than the scale size of the shear. The irregularities are discussed in light of the branches of a velocity shear driven instability suggested by several workers: the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability operating at the longest wavelengths and the drift shear instability at the shorter. Neither mode has wavelengths as short as those observed, however. A velocity shear mechanism operating at wavelengths short in comparison with the shear scale length, such as those observed here, would be of significant geophysical importance. For example, it could be responsible for production of high-latitude irregularities which exist throughout the polar cap and for the short-wavelength waves responsible for intense 3-m backscatter during equatorial spread F conditions. Since the wavelengths produced by the short-wavelength mode are in the range of typical auroral E region radars, such data must be carefully checked for F region contamination.