Articles | Volume 23, issue 1
31 Jan 2005
 | 31 Jan 2005

Origin of type-2 thermal-ion upflows in the auroral ionosphere

L. M. Kagan and J.-P. St.-Maurice

Abstract. The origin of thermal ion outflows exceeding 1km/s in the high-latitude F-region has been a subject of considerable debate. For cases with strong convection electric fields, the "evaporation" of the ions due to frictional heating below 400-500km has been shown to provide some satisfactory answers. By contrast, in the more frequent subclass of outflow events observed over auroral arcs, called type-2, there is no observational evidence for ion frictional heating. Instead, an electron temperature increase of up to 6000° K is observed over the outflow region. In this case, field-aligned electric fields have long been suspected to be involved, but this explanation did not seem to agree with expectations from the ion momentum balance. In the present work we provide a consistent scenario for the type-2 ion upflows based on our case study of an event that occurred on 20 February 1990. We introduce, for the first time, the electron energy balance in the analysis. We couple this equation with the ion momentum balance to study the salient features of the observations and conclude that type-2 ion outflows and the accompanying electron heating events are indeed consistent with the existence of a field-aligned electric field. However, for our explanation to work, we have to require that an allowance be made for electron scattering by high frequency turbulence. This turbulence could be generated at first by the very fast response of the electrons themselves to a newly imposed electric field that would be partly aligned with the geomagnetic field. The high frequencies of the waves would make it impossible for the ions to react to the waves. We have found the electron collision frequency associated with scattering from the waves to be rather modest, i.e. comparable to the ambient electron-ion collision frequency. The field-aligned electric field inferred from the observations is likewise of the same order of magnitude as the normal ambipolar field, at least for the case that we have studied in detail. We propose that the field-aligned electric field is maintained by the north-south motion of an east-west arc. The magnetic perturbation associated with the arc itself converts a small fraction of the perpendicular electric field into a field parallel to the total magnetic field, while the north-south motion ensures that the conversion never stops.