Articles | Volume 32, issue 3
Regular paper
11 Mar 2014
Regular paper |  | 11 Mar 2014

Influence of water vapour on the height distribution of positive ions, effective recombination coefficient and ionisation balance in the quiet lower ionosphere

V. Barabash, A. Osepian, and P. Dalin

Abstract. Mesospheric water vapour concentration effects on the ion composition and electron density in the lower ionosphere under quiet geophysical conditions were examined. Water vapour is an important compound in the mesosphere and the lower thermosphere that affects ion composition due to hydrogen radical production and consequently modifies the electron number density. Recent lower-ionosphere investigations have primarily concentrated on the geomagnetic disturbance periods. Meanwhile, studies on the electron density under quiet conditions are quite rare. The goal of this study is to contribute to a better understanding of the ionospheric parameter responses to water vapour variability in the quiet lower ionosphere. By applying a numerical D region ion chemistry model, we evaluated efficiencies for the channels forming hydrated cluster ions from the NO+ and O2+ primary ions (i.e. NO+.H2O and O2+.H2O, respectively), and the channel forming H+(H2O)n proton hydrates from water clusters at different altitudes using profiles with low and high water vapour concentrations. Profiles for positive ions, effective recombination coefficients and electrons were modelled for three particular cases using electron density measurements obtained during rocket campaigns. It was found that the water vapour concentration variations in the mesosphere affect the position of both the Cl2+ proton hydrate layer upper border, comprising the NO+(H2O)n and O2+(H2O)n hydrated cluster ions, and the Cl1+ hydrate cluster layer lower border, comprising the H+(H2O)n pure proton hydrates, as well as the numerical cluster densities. The water variations caused large changes in the effective recombination coefficient and electron density between altitudes of 75 and 87 km. However, the effective recombination coefficient, αeff, and electron number density did not respond even to large water vapour concentration variations occurring at other altitudes in the mesosphere. We determined the water vapour concentration upper limit at altitudes between 75 and 87 km, beyond which the water vapour concentration ceases to influence the numerical densities of Cl2+ and Cl1+, the effective recombination coefficient and the electron number density in the summer ionosphere. This water vapour concentration limit corresponds to values found in the H2O-1 profile that was observed in the summer mesosphere by the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS). The electron density modelled using the H2O-1 profile agreed well with the electron density measured in the summer ionosphere when the measured profiles did not have sharp gradients. For sharp gradients in electron and positive ion number densities, a water profile that can reproduce the characteristic behaviour of the ionospheric parameters should have an inhomogeneous height distribution of water vapour.