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Journal of Geophysical Research





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The Chatanika radar has been used to measure the ratio of atomic (O+) ions to molecular (O2 +, NO+) ions in the high-latitude ionosphere. The radar results agreed well with simultaneous in situ rocket data, giving confidence in the radar method of deducing ion composition. Measurements made over long periods of time show seasonal variations, diurnal variations, and variations due to auroral processes. The transition altitude, where the number densities of atomic and molecular ions are equal, is a convenient parameter for describing the composition variation with altitude or ‘composition altitude profile.’ The transition altitude occurs at ∼190 km at night and ∼170 km during the day, in agreement with midlatitude results. During the winter the daytime transition altitude is 15 km lower than in summer, a seasonal variation similar to that at midlatitudes. Energetic particle precipitation results in the lowering of the transition altitude, by 10 km in one case when energetic particles deposited ∼20 ergs/cm² s in the atmosphere. The largest variations in ion composition were found during periods of large joule heat input resulting from electric fields on the order of 50 mV/m. The transition altitude increased by 50 km in a case where the joule heat input rate was 30 ergs/cm² s. These observations were compared to calculations from a simple steady state model involving the principal consituents and reactions. The results indicate that the transition altitude during particle precipitation is most influenced by the increased ion production. There do not appear to be significant effects from possible increases of N2 vibrational temperature. A number of interrelated effects contribute to the increase in transition altitude during joule heating. The most important effect is the electric field contribution in raising the effective ion temperature. In addition, it appears that increased N2 density is also required to account for the observed change.


Published by American Geophysical Union in Journal of Geophysical Research Space Physics. Publisher PDF available for download through link above.

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