Ionospheric structures in the polar cap: Their origin and relation to 250-MHz scintillation


  • J. Buchau,

  • E. J. Weber,

  • D. N. Anderson,

  • H. C. Carlson Jr.,

  • J. G. Moore,

  • B. W. Reinisch,

  • R. C. Livingston


An investigation of the polar cap ionosphere near the peak of the last solar cycle identified polar cap F layer arcs and ionization patches as unique features of the polar cap ionosphere, and as sources of severe scintillations observed on 250-MHz satellite beacon signals. The continuing investigations in January and December 1983 and January 1984 have shown that arcs and patches persist as the dominant features of the winter polar cap ionosphere during periods of low sunspot numbers. Improved ionospheric soundings made at Thule, Greenland (86°CGL), showed a clear diurnal variation for the occurrence of the patch-type ionization. Discussion of various possible mechanisms producing the observed ionization patches leads to the conclusion that the solar produced ionosphere equatorward of the dayside cusp is the source region of the ionization patches. Polar plasma convection transports this ionization across the cusp and the central polar cap. The local time dependence of the occurrence of the patches at Thule is shown to be a manifestation of the well-known universal time control of the polar cap F region. A strong positive solar cycle dependence of the scintillations was measured during three extended campaigns and confirms earlier measurements. The diurnal variation of scintillations is almost flat at solar maximum and has a local time variation very similar to that of the patch type ionization at solar minimum. Both arcs and patches contribute to substantial scintillations around solar maximum, while only the patches are responsible for the considerably weaker scintillations during solar minimum.