The Turbopause experiment: atmospheric stability and turbulent structure spanning the turbopause altitude
Abstract. Very few sequences of high resolution wind and temperature measurements in the lower thermosphere are available in the literature, which makes it difficult to verify the simulation results of models that would provide better understanding of the complex dynamics of the region. To address this problem the Turbopause experiment used four rockets launched over a period of approximately two hours from Poker Flat Research Range, Alaska (64° N, 147° W) on the night of 17–18 February 2009. All four rocket payloads released trimethyl aluminum trails for neutral wind and turbulence measurements, and two of the rockets carried ionization gauges and fixed-bias Langmuir probes measuring neutral and electron densities, small-scale fluctuations and neutral temperatures. Two lidars monitored temperature structure and sodium densities. The observations were made under quiet geomagnetic conditions and show persistence in the wind magnitudes and shears throughout the observing period while being modulated by inertia-gravity waves. High resolution temperature profiles show the winter polar mesosphere and lower thermosphere in a state of relatively low stability with several quasi-adiabatic layers between 74 and 103 km. Temperature and wind data were combined to calculate Richardson number profiles. Evidence for turbulence comes from simultaneous observations of density fluctuations and downward transport of sodium in a mixed layer near 75 km; the observation of turbulent fluctuations and energy dissipation from 87–90 km; and fast and irregular trail expansion at 90–93 km, and especially between 95 to 103 km. The regions of turbulent trails agree well with regions of quasi-adiabatic temperature gradients. Above 103 km, trail diffusion was mainly laminar; however, unusual features and vortices in the trail diffusion were observed up to 118 km that have not been as prevalent or as clearly evident in earlier trail releases.