Transients in oxygen outflow above the polar cap as observed by the Cluster spacecraft
Abstract. Oxygen ion outflow associated with the cusp and cleft give rise to persistent oxygen ion beams which can be observed over the polar cap. For high altitude spacecraft such as Cluster these beams are often observed for several hours on each occasion. This allows for a study of typical temporal structures on the time scale of minutes. We have used 3 years of data from spring, January to May of years 2001 to 2003, for a study of the oxygen number flux variation in the polar cap ion outflow. The source of these oxygen ion beams is the cusp and cleft, and variations in ionospheric upflow on time scales of around 8 min have been reported from ground based studies using incoherent scatter radar. Such upflows typically do not reach escape velocity, and further energization above the ionosphere is required for outflow to occur. Our study shows that a typical time scale between sudden number flux enhancements observed by Cluster in a geocentric distance range of 5 RE to 12 RE is 5 to 10 min. A superposed epoch study does not reveal any significant convection velocity or temperature changes around the flux enhancement events. Sudden temperature enhancements occur with a typical time interval of about 4 min, A superposed epoch study does not reveal any number flux enhancements associated with the temperature enhancements. The clear modulation of the high altitude number flux in a manner which resembles the modulation of the ionospheric upflow indicates that this is the main limiting factor determining the total outflow. The process behind transient upflow events in the ionosphere is therefore important for the total ionospheric outflow. Subsequent heating above the ionosphere appears to be common enough in the cusp/cleft region that it does not significantly modulate the oxygen ion number flux.