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Annales Geophysicae An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 21, issue 4
Ann. Geophys., 21, 983–996, 2003
https://doi.org/10.5194/angeo-21-983-2003
© Author(s) 2003. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Ann. Geophys., 21, 983–996, 2003
https://doi.org/10.5194/angeo-21-983-2003
© Author(s) 2003. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

  30 Apr 2003

30 Apr 2003

A technique for accurately determining the cusp-region polar cap boundary using SuperDARN HF radar measurements

G. Chisham and M. P. Freeman G. Chisham and M. P. Freeman
  • British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 0ET, UK

Abstract. Accurately measuring the location and motion of the polar cap boundary (PCB) in the high-latitude ionosphere can be crucial for studies concerned with the dynamics of the polar cap, e.g. the measurement of reconnection rates. The Doppler spectral width characteristics of backscatter received by the SuperDARN HF radars have been previously used for locating and tracking the PCB in the cusp region. The boundary is generally observed in meridional beams of the SuperDARN radars and appears as a distinct change between low spectral width values observed equatorward of the cusp region, and high, but variable spectral width values observed within the cusp region. To identify the spectral width boundary (SWB) between these two regions, a simple algorithm employing a spectral width threshold has often been applied to the data. However, there is not, as yet, a standard algorithm, or spectral width threshold, which is universally applied. Nor has there been any rigorous assessment of the accuracy of this method of boundary determination. This study applies a series of threshold algorithms to a simulated cusp-region spectral width data set, to assess the accuracy of different algorithms. This shows that simple threshold algorithms correctly identify the boundary location in, at the most, 50% of the cases and that the average boundary error is at least ~ 1–2 range gates (~ 1° latitude). It transpires that spatial and temporal smoothing of the spectral width data (e.g. by median filtering), before application of a threshold algorithm can increase the boundary determination accuracy to over 95% and the average boundary error to much less than a range gate. However, this is sometimes at the cost of temporal resolution in the motion of the boundary location. The algorithms are also applied to a year’s worth of spectral width data from the cusp ionosphere, measured by the Halley SuperDARN radar in Antarctica. This analysis highlights the increased accuracy of the enhanced boundary determination algorithm in the cusp region. Away from the cusp, the resulting SWB locations are often dependent on the choice of threshold. This suggests that there is not a sharp latitudinal SWB in regions of the dayside ionosphere away from the cusp, but that there is a shallower latitudinal gradient in spectral width near the boundary location.

Key words. Ionosphere (instruments and techniques) – Magnetospheric physics (magnetopause, cusp and boundary layers; magnetosphere-ionosphere interactions)

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