Articles | Volume 31, issue 5
Regular paper
24 May 2013
Regular paper |  | 24 May 2013

The polar cliff in the morning sector of the ionosphere

G. W. Prölss

Abstract. By "polar cliff" we mean the steep increase in the ionization density observed in the morning sector of the polar ionosphere. Here the properties of this remarkable feature are investigated. The data set consists of electron density and temperature measurements obtained by the Dynamics Explorer 2 satellite. Only data recorded in the Northern Hemisphere winter are considered (solar zenith angle ≥ 90°). We find that for moderately disturbed conditions, the foot of the polar cliff is located below 60° invariant latitude. Here, within about 4°, the density increases by a factor of 4, on average. The actual location of the polar cliff depends primarily on the level of geomagnetic activity, its associated density increase on geographic longitude and altitude. As to the longitudinal variations, they are attributed to asymmetries in the background ionization density at middle latitudes. Using a superposed epoch type of averaging procedure, mean latitudinal profiles of the polar cliff and the associated electron temperature changes are derived. Since these differ significantly from those derived for the afternoon/evening sector, we conclude that the subauroral ionospheric trough does not extend into the morning sector. As to the origin of the polar cliff in the morning sector, local auroral particle precipitation should play only a secondary role.