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Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics






American Geophysical Union

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An electron heat flow can occur in a partially ionized plasma in response to either an electron temperature gradient (thermal conduction) or an electron current (thermoelectric heat flow). The former process has been extensively studied, while the latter process has received relatively little attention. Therefore a time-dependent three-dimensional model of the high-latitude ionosphere was used to study the effect of field-aligned ionospheric return currents on auroral electron temperatures for different seasonal and solar cycle conditions as well as for different upper boundary heat fluxes. The results of this study lead to the following conclusions: (1) The average, large-scale, return current densities, which are a few microamps per square meter, are too small to affect auroral electron temperatures. (2) Current densities greater than about 10−5 A m−2 are needed for thermoelectric heat flow to be important. (3) The thermoelectric effect displays a marked solar cycle and seasonal dependence. (4) Thermoelectric heat transport corresponds to an upward flow of electron energy. (5) This energy flow can be either a source or sink of electron energy, depending on the altitude and geophysical conditions. (6) Thermoelectric heat transport is typically a sink above 300 km and acts to lower ambient electron temperatures by as much as 2000 K for field-aligned return current densities of the order of 5 × 10−5 A m−2. For this case, the electron temperature decreases with altitude above 300 km with a gradient that can exceed 1 K km−1. Also, the electron temperature can drop below both the ion and neutral temperatures in the upper F region owing to thermoelectric cooling. (7) A downward magnetospheric heat flux in combinations with an upward thermoelectric heat flux can produce steep positive electron temperature gradients in the topside ionosphere.


Originally published by the American Geophysical Union. Abstract available online through the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics.

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