Articles | Volume 27, issue 4
07 Apr 2009
 | 07 Apr 2009

Ionospheric storms at geophysically-equivalent sites – Part 1: Storm-time patterns for sub-auroral ionospheres

M. Mendillo and C. Narvaez

Abstract. The systematic study of ionospheric storms has been conducted primarily with groundbased data from the Northern Hemisphere. Significant progress has been made in defining typical morphology patterns at all latitudes; mechanisms have been identified and tested via modeling. At higher mid-latitudes (sites that are typically sub-auroral during non-storm conditions), the processes that change significantly during storms can be of comparable magnitudes, but with different time constants. These include ionospheric plasma dynamics from the penetration of magnetospheric electric fields, enhancements to thermospheric winds due to auroral and Joule heating inputs, disturbance dynamo electrodynamics driven by such winds, and thermospheric composition changes due to the changed circulation patterns. The ~12° tilt of the geomagnetic field axis causes significant longitude effects in all of these processes in the Northern Hemisphere. A complementary series of longitude effects would be expected to occur in the Southern Hemisphere. In this paper we begin a series of studies to investigate the longitudinal-hemispheric similarities and differences in the response of the ionosphere's peak electron density to geomagnetic storms.

The ionosonde stations at Wallops Island (VA) and Hobart (Tasmania) have comparable geographic and geomagnetic latitudes for sub-auroral locations, are situated at longitudes close to that of the dipole tilt, and thus serve as our candidate station-pair choice for studies of ionospheric storms at geophysically-comparable locations. They have an excellent record of observations of the ionospheric penetration frequency (foF2) spanning several solar cycles, and thus are suitable for long-term studies. During solar cycle #20 (1964–1976), 206 geomagnetic storms occurred that had Ap≥30 or Kp≥5 for at least one day of the storm. Our analysis of average storm-time perturbations (percent deviations from the monthly means) showed a remarkable agreement at both sites under a variety of conditions. Yet, small differences do appear, and in systematic ways. We attempt to relate these to stresses imposed over a few days of a storm that mimic longer term morphology patterns occurring over seasonal and solar cycle time spans. Storm effects versus season point to possible mechanisms having hemispheric differences (as opposed to simply seasonal differences) in how solar wind energy is transmitted through the magnetosphere into the thermosphere-ionosphere system. Storm effects versus the strength of a geomagnetic storm may, similarly, be related to patterns seen during years of maximum versus minimum solar activity.