Articles | Volume 25, issue 8
29 Aug 2007
 | 29 Aug 2007

Lightning-driven inner radiation belt energy deposition into the atmosphere: implications for ionisation-levels and neutral chemistry

C. J. Rodger, C.-F. Enell, E. Turunen, M. A. Clilverd, N. R. Thomson, and P. T. Verronen

Abstract. Lightning-generated whistlers lead to coupling between the troposphere, the Van Allen radiation belts and the lower-ionosphere through Whistler-induced electron precipitation (WEP). Lightning produced whistlers interact with cyclotron resonant radiation belt electrons, leading to pitch-angle scattering into the bounce loss cone and precipitation into the atmosphere. Here we consider the relative significance of WEP to the lower ionosphere and atmosphere by contrasting WEP produced ionisation rate changes with those from Galactic Cosmic Radiation (GCR) and solar photoionisation. During the day, WEP is never a significant source of ionisation in the lower ionosphere for any location or altitude. At nighttime, GCR is more significant than WEP at altitudes <68 km for all locations, above which WEP starts to dominate in North America and Central Europe. Between 75 and 80 km altitude WEP becomes more significant than GCR for the majority of spatial locations at which WEP deposits energy. The size of the regions in which WEP is the most important nighttime ionisation source peaks at ~80 km, depending on the relative contributions of WEP and nighttime solar Lyman-α. We also used the Sodankylä Ion Chemistry (SIC) model to consider the atmospheric consequences of WEP, focusing on a case-study period. Previous studies have also shown that energetic particle precipitation can lead to large-scale changes in the chemical makeup of the neutral atmosphere by enhancing minor chemical species that play a key role in the ozone balance of the middle atmosphere. However, SIC modelling indicates that the neutral atmospheric changes driven by WEP are insignificant due to the short timescale of the WEP bursts. Overall we find that WEP is a significant energy input into some parts of the lower ionosphere, depending on the latitude/longitude and altitude, but does not play a significant role in the neutral chemistry of the mesosphere.