Mapping plasma structures in the high-latitude ionosphere using beacon satellite, incoherent scatter radar and ground-based magnetometer observations

J. Watermann, G. S. Bust, J. P. Thayer, T. Neubert, C. Coker


In the autumn of the year 2000, four radio receivers capable of tracking various beacon satellites were set up along the southwestern coast of Greenland. They are used to reconstruct images of the ionospheric plasma density distribution via the tomographic method. In order to test and validate tomographic imaging under the highly variable conditions often prevailing in the high-latitude ionosphere, a time interval was selected when the Sondrestrom incoherent scatter radar conducted measurements of the ionospheric plasma density while the radio receivers tracked a number of beacon satellites. A comparison between two-dimensional images of the plasma density distribution obtained from the radar and the satellite receivers revealed generally good agreement between radar measurements and tomographic images. Observed discrepancies can be attributed to F region plasma patches moving through the field of view with a speed of several hundred meters per second, thereby smearing out the tomographic image. A notable mismatch occurred around local magnetic midnight when a magnetospheric substorm breakup occurred in the vicinity of southwest Greenland (identified from ground-based magnetometer observations). The breakup was associated with a sudden intensification of the westward auroral electrojet which was centered at about 69 and extended up to some 73 corrected geomagnetic latitude. Ground-based magnetometer data may thus have the potential of indicating when the tomographic method is at risk and may fail. We finally outline the application of tomographic imaging, when combined with magnetic field data, to estimate ionospheric Joule heating rates.


Beacon satellites;ionospheric plasma

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Published by INGV, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia - ISSN: 2037-416X