Quasiperiodic ∼5–60 s fluctuations of VLF signals propagating in the Earth-ionosphere waveguide: a result of pulsating auroral particle precipitation?

Subionospheric very low frequency and low-frequency (VLF/LF) transmitter signals received at middle-latitude ground stations at nighttime were found to exhibit pulsating behavior with periods that were typically in the ∼5–60 s range but sometimes reached ∼100 s. The amplitude versus time shape of the pulsations was often triangular or zigzag-like, hence the term “zigzag effect.” Variations in the envelope shape were usually in the direction of faster development than recovery. Episodes of zigzag activity at Siple, Antarctica (L ∼4.3), and Saskatoon, Canada (L ∼4.2), were found to occur widely during the predawn hours and were not observed during geomagnetically quiet periods. The fluctuations appeared to be caused by ionospheric perturbations at the ∼ 85 km nighttime VLF reflection height in regions poleward of the plasmapause. We infer that in the case of the Saskatoon and Siple data, the perturbations were centered within ∼500 km of the stations and within ∼ 100–200 km of the affected signal paths. Their horizontal extent is inferred to have been in the range ∼50–200 km. The assembled evidence, supported by Corcuffs [1996] recent research at Kerguelen (L ∼3.7), suggests that the underlying cause of the effect was pulsating auroral precipitation. The means by which that precipitation produces ionospheric perturbations at 85 km is not yet clear. Candidate mechanisms include (1) acoustic waves that propagate downward from precipitation regions above the ∼ 85 km VLF reflection level; (2) quasi-static perturbation electric fields that give rise to E×B drifts of the bottomside ionosphere; (3) secondary ionization production and subsequent decay at or below 85 km. Those zigzag fluctuations exhibiting notably faster development than recovery probably originated in secondary ionization produced near 85 km by the more energetic (E >40 keV) electrons in the incident electron spectrum.


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Authors: Carpenter, D.L., Galand, M., Bell, T.F., Sonwalkar, V.S., Inan, U.S., LaBelle, J., Smith, A.J., Clark, T.D.G., Rosenberg, T.J.

1 January, 1997
Journal of Geophysical Research / 102
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