Comparing plasma bubble occurrence rates at CHAMP and GRACE altitudes during high and low solar activity
Abstract. Based on the multi-year data base (2001–2009) of CHAMP Planar Langmuir Probe (PLP) data and GRACE K-Band Ranging (KBR1B) data, typical features of ionospheric plasma irregularities are studied at the altitudes of CHAMP (300–400 km) and GRACE (~500 km). The phenomena we are focusing on are the equatorial plasma bubbles (EPBs). Similar seasonal/longitudinal (S/L) distributions of EPB have been found at both CHAMP and GRACE altitudes during solar active and quiet years. Peak EPB occurrence rates, defined as number of events within an S/L bin divided by the number of passes over that bin, decrease from the high and moderate solar flux period (2001–2005) to the low solar flux period (2005–2009) from 80% to 60% and 60% to 40% at CHAMP and GRACE altitudes, respectively. On average the occurrence rate increases linearly with solar flux at about the same rate at CHAMP and GRACE. For high flux levels (P10.7>200) non-linear increases are observed at GRACE. The occurrence rate increases rapidly after 19:00 local time (LT) during high solar flux periods. Around solar minimum rates increase more gently and peak around 22:00 LT. The highest occurrence rates are encountered at latitudes around 10° north and south of the dip equator. Results from the two altitudes support the notion that EPBs form regions of depleted plasma along geomagnetic fluxtubes. It is shown for the first time that in regions of high occurrence rates EPBs are associated with fluxtubes reaching greater apex heights than those in regions of low rates.