Structure and dynamics of the winter polar cap F region


  • J. Buchau,

  • B. W. Reinisch,

  • E. J. Weber,

  • J. G. Moore


All-sky imaging photometer measurements and ionospheric soundings taken at Thule, Greenland (86° corrected geomagnetic latitude), in December 1979 and January 1982 reveal the large-scale organization of the winter polar cap ionosphere. Three groups of forms have been identified: (1) The most predominant features are sun-aligned, generally unstructured, subvisual, F region arcs, extending for more than 1000 km (limit of all-sky field of view) across the polar cap. In general, these arcs drift from dawn to dusk at speeds between 100 and 250 m s−1; however, stagnation of arc drift and drift reversals have been observed. The arcs are produced by soft particle precipitation. (2) During a magnetically disturbed period the arcs disappeared, and large patches of enhanced F region ionization drifted at speeds of 250 to 700 m s−1 across the field of view in the antisunward direction. Although arcs are produced by soft particle precipitation, preliminary results from the Dynamics Explorer satellite do not indicate any localized soft electron precipitation into the patches. (3) On a few occasions both forms were observed simultaneously. Between F region sun-aligned arcs, which were drifting from dawn to dusk, small patches of ionization were observed moving at much higher speed in the antisunward direction. Both the arcs and the patches appear as strong localized irregularities in the ionospheric soundings. The Doppler information provided by the aircraft's Digisonde 128PS was used to relate backscatter traces to individual arcs or patches and to track individual features over more than 1500 km. For a large number of observations the time variation of measured Doppler velocities suggests specular reflection from electron density enhancements associated with the optical forms, rather than scatter from field-aligned irregularities imbedded in the arcs or patches. A simple velocity filter applied to the ionogram data permitted the generation of range-time characteristics for selected ionization drift velocities. A tendency for high velocities to occur during magnetically active periods was found. The ionospheric soundings showed that the F region arcs are bands of enhanced ionization, imbedded in a background ionosphere with a base height (hF) of approximately 250 km and a critical frequency of approximately 4 MHz (∼2 × 105 el cm−3). The virtual heights in the ionograms did not change during transit of the arcs through the zenith. During the active periods, when the antisunward moving patches were observed, the background ionization dropped to less than 3 MHz (105 el cm−3) while the base height (hF) moved up to heights above 400 km. The strongly ionized patches (f0 F2 > 8 MHz), however, were observed to reach a minimum virtual range of ∼250 km during the zenith transit, leading during their passage through the zenith to rapid hF fluctuations of the order of 200 km within minutes.