Simultaneous rocket probe, scintillation, and incoherent scatter radar observations of irregularities in the auroral zone ionosphere


  • M. C. Kelley,

  • K. D. Baker,

  • J. C. Ulwick,

  • C. L. Rino,

  • M. J. Baron


Two rocket payloads carrying plasma density probes with high spatial resolution have been flown in the auroral zone during active conditions. Simultaneous Wideband satellite scintillation and Chatanika incoherent scatter radar observations were made in order to study the properties of high-latitude irregularities and their effects on radio wave transmission. Unlike barium cloud striations and bottomside equatorial spread F, the observed power law dependence of the irregularities does not seem to be due to steepening of kilometer-scale structures, rather, a turbulent process seems to occur. In addition the power law indexes determined both from the probe and from the scintillation measurements indicates an in situ one-dimensional spectrum less steep than the k−2 value often reported. Both the probe and the scintillation data indicate absolute electron density fluctuations (Δn2e)½ of several times 109 m−3 during the expansion phase of an auroral substorm, with a layer thickness of several hundred kilometers. The observed S4 levels at VHF were in the range of 0.1–0.4. This level of scintillation, as well as the absolute density fluctuation levels and the power spectral density at the kilometer scale, are shown to be comparable with bottomside equatorial spread F. It is suggested that differences between the power spectral index in the present data set and the other ionospheric experiments mentioned above may be due to a highly conductive E layer and its effects upon the nonlinear evolution of irregularities. During another flight with lower magnetic activity but several bright auroral areas in the trajectory, much lower levels of absolute and relative density fluctuations were observed with a corresponding lower value for S4. Two very sharp changes in electron density were observed (e-folding scales of 1.45 and 0.7 km) near the field line projected position of the auroral arcs. The associated density spectra were peaked at short wavelengths. The detection of very structured plasma within minutes of the poleward expansion phase of a substorm suggests that the F layer irregularities were formed in the precipitation event. On the other hand, evidence is also presented for production or enhancement of irregularities in the presence of horizontal density gradients which suggests that plasma instabilities also play a role in the production of auroral zone irregularities.