Long-term changes in thermospheric composition inferred from a spectral analysis of ionospheric F-region data
Abstract. A study of ionospheric data recorded at Slough/Chilton, UK, from 1935 to 2012, has revealed long-term changes in the relative strength of the annual and semi-annual variability in the ionospheric F2 layer critical frequencies. Comparing these results with data from the southern hemisphere station at Stanley in the Falkland Islands between 1945 and 2012 reveals a trend that appears to be anti-correlated with that at Chilton. The behaviour of foF2 is a function of thermospheric composition and so we argue that the observed long-term changes are driven by composition change. The ionospheric trends share some of their larger features with the trend in the variability of the aa geomagnetic index. Changes to the semi-annual/annual ratio in the Slough/Chilton and Stanley data may therefore be attributable to the variability in geomagnetic activity which controls the average latitudinal extent of the auroral ovals and subsequent thermospheric circulation patterns. Changes in ionospheric composition or thermospheric wind patterns are known to influence the height of the F2 layer at a given location. Long-term changes to the height of the F2 layer have been used to infer an ionospheric response to greenhouse warming. We suggest that our observations may influence such measurements and since the results appear to be dependent on geomagnetic longitude, this could explain why the long-term drifts observed in F2 layer height differ between locations.