Articles | Volume 23, issue 7
13 Oct 2005
 | 13 Oct 2005

Electric field measurements of DC and long wavelength structures associated with sporadic-E layers and QP radar echoes

R. Pfaff, H. Freudenreich, T. Yokoyama, M. Yamamoto, S. Fukao, H. Mori, S. Ohtsuki, and N. Iwagami

Abstract. Electric field and plasma density data gathered on a sounding rocket launched from Uchinoura Space Center, Japan, reveal a complex electrodynamics associated with sporadic-E layers and simultaneous observations of quasi-periodic radar echoes. The electrodynamics are characterized by spatial and temporal variations that differed considerably between the rocket's upleg and downleg traversals of the lower ionosphere. Within the main sporadic-E layer (95–110 km) on the upleg, the electric fields were variable, with amplitudes of 2–4 mV/m that changed considerably within altitude intervals of 1–3 km. The identification of polarization electric fields coinciding with plasma density enhancements and/or depletions is not readily apparent. Within this region on the downleg, however, the direction of the electric field revealed a marked change that coincided precisely with the peak of a single, narrow sporadic-E plasma density layer near 102.5 km. This shear was presumably associated with the neutral wind shear responsible for the layer formation. The electric field data above the sporadic-E layer on the upleg, from 110 km to the rocket apogee of 152 km, revealed a continuous train of distinct, large scale, quasi-periodic structures with wavelengths of 10–15 km and wavevectors oriented between the NE-SW quadrants. The electric field structures had typical amplitudes of 3–5 mV/m with one excursion to 9 mV/m, and in a very general sense, were associated with perturbations in the plasma density. The electric field waveforms showed evidence for steepening and/or convergence effects and presumably had mapped upwards along the magnetic field from the sporadic-E region below. Candidate mechanisms to explain the origin of these structures include the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability and the Es-layer instability. In both cases, the same shear that formed the sporadic-E layer would provide the energy to generate the km-scale structures. Other possibilities include gravity waves or a combination of these processes. The data suggest that these structures were associated with the lower altitude density striations that were the seat of the QP radar echoes observed simultaneously. They also appear to have been associated with the mechanism responsible for a well-defined pattern of "whorls" in the neutral wind data that were revealed in a chemical trail released by a second sounding rocket launched 15min later. Short scale (<100 m) electric field irregularities were also observed and were strongest in the sporadic-E region below 110km. The irregularities were organized into 2–3 layers on the upleg, where the plasma density also displayed multiple layers, yet were confined to a single layer on the downleg where the plasma density showed a single, well-defined sporadic-E peak. The linear gradient drift instability involving the DC electric field and the vertical plasma gradient is shown to be incapable of driving the observed waves on the upleg, but may have contributed to the growth of short scale waves on the topside of the narrow unstable density gradient observed on the downleg. The data suggest that other sources of free energy may have been important factors for the growth of the short scale irregularities.

Keywords. Ionosphere (Mid-latitude ionosphere; Electric fields and currents; Ionospheric irregularities)