Articles | Volume 35, issue 2
Regular paper
 | Highlight paper
03 Feb 2017
Regular paper | Highlight paper |  | 03 Feb 2017

A high-altitude balloon experiment to probe stratospheric electric fields from low latitudes

Subramanian Gurubaran, Manu Shanmugam, Kaliappan Jawahar, Kaliappan Emperumal, Prasanna Mahavarkar, and Suneel Kumar Buduru

Abstract. The Earth's electrical environment hosts a giant electrical circuit, often referred to as the global electric circuit (GEC), linking the various sources of electrical generators located in the lower atmosphere, the ionosphere and the magnetosphere. The middle atmosphere (stratosphere and mesosphere) has been traditionally believed to be passively transmitting electric fields generated elsewhere. Some observations have reported anomalously large electric fields at these altitudes, and the scientific community has had to revisit the earlier hypothesis time and again. At stratospheric altitudes and especially at low latitudes, horizontal electric fields are believed to be of ionospheric origin. Though measurements of these fields from a balloon platform are challenging because of their small magnitudes (around a few mV m−1), a suitably designed long-duration balloon experiment capable of detecting such small fields can provide useful information on the time evolution of ionospheric electric fields, which is otherwise possible only using radar or satellite in situ measurements. We present herein details of one such experiment, BEENS (Balloon Experiment on the Electrodynamics of Near Space), carried out from a low-latitude site in India. The instrument package for this experiment is comprised of four deployable booms for measurements of horizontal electric fields and one inclined boom for vertical electric field measurements, all equipped with conducting spheres at the tip. The experiment was conducted from Hyderabad (17.5° N, 78.6° E) during the post-midnight hours on 14 December 2013. In spite of a few shortcomings we report herein, a noticeable feature of the observations has been the detection of horizontal electric fields of ∼ 5 mV m−1 at the stratospheric altitudes of ∼ 35 km.

Short summary
Results from a high-altitude balloon experiment conducted from a low-latitude station in India are presented in this work. The objectives of this experiment were to probe and understand the processes driving the various electric field sources at low latitudes. During this experiment, electric fields in the range of 5–6 mV m−1 were observed at the balloon float altitude of 35 km. Atmospheric waves of few 100 km horizontal wavelength are suggested to be a potential source of these electric fields.