Articles | Volume 8, issue 7
Research article
16 Jul 2015
Research article |  | 16 Jul 2015

Use of radio occultation to probe the high-latitude ionosphere

A. J. Mannucci, B. T. Tsurutani, O. Verkhoglyadova, A. Komjathy, and X. Pi

Abstract. We have explored the use of COSMIC data to provide valuable scientific information on the ionospheric impacts of energetic particle precipitation during geomagnetic storms. Ionospheric electron density in the E region, and hence ionospheric conductivity, is significantly altered by precipitating particles from the magnetosphere. This has global impacts on the thermosphere–ionosphere because of the important role of conductivity on high-latitude Joule heating. Two high-speed stream (HSS) and two coronal mass ejection (CME) storms are examined with the COSMIC data. We find clear correlation between geomagnetic activity and electron density retrievals from COSMIC. At nighttime local times, the number of profiles with maximum electron densities in the E layer (below 200 km altitude) is well correlated with geomagnetic activity. We interpret this to mean that electron density increases due to precipitation are captured by the COSMIC profiles. These "E-layer-dominant ionosphere" (ELDI) profiles have geomagnetic latitudes that are consistent with climatological models of the auroral location. For the two HSS storms that occurred in May of 2011 and 2012, a strong hemispheric asymmetry is observed, with nearly all the ELDI profiles found in the Southern, less sunlit, Hemisphere. Stronger aurora and precipitation have been observed before in winter hemispheres, but the degree of asymmetry deserves further study. For the two CME storms, occurring in July and November of 2012, large increases in the number of ELDI profiles are found starting in the storm's main phase but continuing for several days into the recovery phase. Analysis of the COSMIC profiles was extended to all local times for the July 2012 CME storm by relaxing the ELDI criterion and instead visually inspecting all profiles above 50° magnetic latitude for signatures of precipitation in the E region. For 9 days during the July 2012 period, we find a signature of precipitation occurs nearly uniformly in local time, although the magnitude of electron density increase may vary with local time. The latitudinal extent of the precipitation layers is generally consistent with auroral climatology. However, after the storm main phase on 14 July 2012 the precipitation tended to be somewhat more equatorward than the climatology (by about 5–10° latitude) and equatorward of the auroral boundary data acquired from the SSUSI sensor onboard the F18 DMSP satellite. We conclude that, if analyzed appropriately, high-latitude COSMIC profiles have the potential to contribute to our understanding of MI coupling processes and extend and improve existing models of the auroral region.

Short summary
We have explored the use of COSMIC radio occultation data to provide valuable scientific information on how energetic particles arriving from the Earth’s magnetosphere affect the ionosphere. These precipitating particles significantly alter the Earth’s ionospheric electron density in the E region at altitudes near 120km. This affects the ionospheric conductivity and hence the global electrodynamics and structure of the upper atmosphere during geomagnetic storms caused by the solar wind.