Articles | Volume 23, issue 2
28 Feb 2005
 | 28 Feb 2005

A new method of studying the relation between ionization rates and radio-wave absorption in polar-cap absorption events

J. K. Hargreaves

Abstract. During polar-cap absorption events, which are caused by the incidence of energetic solar protons, the high-latitude ionospheric D region is extended down to relatively low altitudes. While the incoming proton fluxes may be monitored by satellite-borne detectors, and the resulting radio-wave absorption with a ground-based riometer, the enhancement of electron density at a given altitude is less easily determined. Direct measurements by incoherent-scatter radar are infrequent and they tend to lack the necessary sensitivity at the lower levels. Computations of the electron density from the observed particle fluxes are handicapped by uncertainties in the height profile of the effective recombination coefficient.

This paper describes a new approach based on finding the best-fit solution to an over-determined set of equations. The D region is treated as a set of slabs, each contributing to the total radio absorption, and the method relies on the fact that the proton spectrum varies during the event. The analysis produces a set of coefficients relating the absorption increment in the slab to the square root of the production rate, as a function of height. Values of effective recombination coefficient are also deduced over a range of heights, and these agree with previous estimates (Gledhill, 1986) to within a factor of 2. However, whereas the latter do not generally go below 60km altitude the new determination extends the values down to 40km.

The new method provides a measurement of the height profile of the absorption in PCA events. It is shown that the slabs centred from 45 to 65km typically account for 80% of the total daytime absorption, and that less than 1% of the total arises above 80km or below 30km. At night most of the absorption comes from the slabs at 75 and 80km, with no significant contribution from slabs below 75 or above 85km. These results would not differ significantly from estimates based on the Gledhill profiles if extrapolated downward.

Predictions based on the coefficients generated by the procedure are compared with the polar-cap absorption observed during some recent events. Typical electron-density values are derived, and the study provides an independent confirmation that the electron density and the production rate are related by a square-root law.