Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Robert W Schunk


The electrodynamics of the Earth's low-latitude ionosphere is dependent on the ionospheric conductivity and the thermospheric neutral density, temperature, and winds present. This two-part study focused on the gravity wave seeding mechanism of equatorial plasma depletions in the ionosphere and the associated equatorial spread F, as well as the differences between a two-dimensional flux tube integrated electrodynamics model and a three-dimensional model for the same time period. The gravity wave seeding study was based on a parameterization of a gravity wave perturbation using a background empirical thermosphere and a physics-based ionosphere for the case of 12 UT on 26 September 2002. The electrodynamics study utilized a two-dimensional flux tube integrated model in center dipole coordinates, which is derived in this work. This case study examined the relative influence of the zonal wind, meridional wind, vertical wind, temperature, and density perturbations of the gravity wave. It further looked at the angle of the wave front to the field line flux tube, the most influential height of the perturbation, and the difference between planar and thunderstorm source gravity waves with cylindrical symmetry. The results indicate that, of the five perturbation components studied, the zonal wind is the most important mechanism to seed the Rayleigh-Taylor instability needed to develop plasma plumes. It also shows that the bottomside of the F-region is the most important region to perturb, but a substantial E-region influence is also seen. Furthermore, a wave front with a small angle from the field line is necessary, but the shape of the wave front is not critical in the gravity wave is well developed before nightfall. Preliminary results from the three-dimensional model indicate that the equipotential field line assumption of the two-dimensional model is not valid below 100 km and possibly higher. Future work with this model should attempt to examine more of the differences with the two-dimensional model in the electric fields and currents produced as well as with the plasma drifts that lead to plume development.


This work was revised and made publicly available electronically on August 3, 2011.