Articles | Volume 35, issue 4
Regular paper
17 Jul 2017
Regular paper |  | 17 Jul 2017

Decadal trends in the diurnal variation of galactic cosmic rays observed using neutron monitor data

Simon Thomas, Mathew Owens, Mike Lockwood, and Chris Owen

Abstract. The diurnal variation (DV) in galactic cosmic ray (GCR) flux is a widely observed phenomenon in neutron monitor data. The background variation considered primarily in this study is due to the balance between the convection of energetic particles away from the Sun and the inward diffusion of energetic particles along magnetic field lines. However, there are also times of enhanced DV following geomagnetic disturbances caused by coronal mass ejections or corotating interaction regions. In this study we investigate changes in the DV over four solar cycles using ground-based neutron monitors at different magnetic latitudes and longitudes at Earth. We divide all of the hourly neutron monitor data into magnetic polarity cycles to investigate cycle-to-cycle variations in the phase and amplitude of the DV. The results show, in general, a similarity between each of the A < 0 cycles and A > 0 cycles, but with a phase change between the two. To investigate this further, we split the neutron monitor data by solar magnetic polarity between times when the dominant polarity was either directed outward (positive) or inward (negative) at the northern solar pole. We find that the maxima and minima of the DV changes by, typically, 1–2 h between the two polarity states for all non-polar neutron monitors. This difference between cycles becomes even larger in amplitude and phase with the removal of periods with enhanced DV caused by solar wind transients. The time difference between polarity cycles is found to vary in a 22-year cycle for both the maximum and minimum times of the DV. The times of the maximum and minimum in the DV do not always vary in the same manner between A > 0 and A < 0 polarity cycles, suggesting a slight change in the anisotropy vector of GCRs arriving at Earth between polarity cycles. Polar neutron monitors show differences in phase between polarity cycles which have asymptotic directions at mid-to-high latitudes. All neutron monitors show changes in the amplitude of the DV with solar polarity, with the amplitude of the DV being a factor of 2 greater in A < 0 cycles than A > 0 cycles. In most cases the change in timing of the maximum /minimum is greatest with the stations' geomagnetic cut-off rigidity shows little variation in the DV phase with latitude. We conclude that the change in the DV with the dominant solar polar polarity is not as simple as a phase change, but rather an asymmetric variation which is sensitive to the neutron monitor's asymptotic viewing direction.

Short summary
Galactic cosmic rays are high-energy particles from outside of the solar system. The products of their interaction with the atmosphere are counted by a network of neutron monitors. The number of cosmic rays reaching Earth is affected by the magnetic field embedded in the solar wind. The result is a number of regular variations in the neutron monitor data, including a diurnal variation. We have found that this variation is influenced by 1–2 h by the polarity of the Sun's magnetic field.