Large-scale observations of the spatial and temporal dynamics of quiet-time Sub-auroral Polarization Streams using SuperDARN HF Radars

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Virginia Tech


The Sub-Auroral Polarization Stream (SAPS) is a narrow, intense and persistent westward (sunward) ionospheric convection flow channel observed equatorward of the auroral electron precipitation boundary, predominantly on the nightside. Previous studies have identified disturbed-time SAPS to be a geomagnetic activity dependent phenomenon, which exhibits average pre-midnight and post-midnight velocities of 1000 m/s and 400 m/s respectively. Numerous studies have reported even narrower and more intense westward plasma flows called SAIDs to be embedded within SAPS channels, especially during substorm recovery phases. Quiet-time SAPS studies, although relatively few, have shown these SAPS to be associated with much weaker velocities and to be influenced by substorm intensifications. However, these studies have been limited in their ability to make simultaneous measurements of SAPS flow velocities over many hours of MLT. The recent expansion of SuperDARN radars to middle latitudes facilitates unprecedented large-scale observations of SAPS over 10 hours of MLT with high temporal and spatial resolution. In this thesis, we first examine the spatial and temporal dynamics of one quiet-time SAPS event, using the mid-latitude SuperDARN radars. The SAPS was identified as elevated flows lying equatorward of the auroral electron precipitation boundary specified by the NOAA POES satellites. We demonstrate the L-shell fitting technique to analyze the dynamics in the strength and direction of the two-dimensional SAPS flow velocities at three separate magnetic longitudes. The quiet-time SAPS event thus examined lasted for over 4 hours in UT and extended over 10 hours of MLT, as is commonly observed for disturbed-time SAPS.

However, the decrease in SAPS peak latitudes and peak velocities with MLT and MLon respectively, observed for disturbed-time SAPS, was not observed for this event. We also find the dynamics of the enhancements in the quiet-time SAPS peak velocities, to correlate well with that of substorm intensifications identified using the CARISMA magnetometers. We then identify numerous such conjunctions between quiet-time SAPS and substorms to infer that quiettime SAPS were almost always associated with substorms and their durations were well bounded by that of the substorms for most cases. Next, we extend this analysis over to a statistical study of quiet-time and disturbed-time SAPS events identified over two years. From this study, we find quiet-time SAPS to occur between the relatively narrow nightside MLT range of [18, 4] whereas disturbed-time SAPS was found to occur between the broader nightside MLT range of [15, 5]. We also find the occurrence percentage of quiet-time SAPS to be at its highest between the narrow latitude range of 60-66⁰, while disturbed-time SAPS was observed to occur within a much broader latitude range of 55-66⁰. Finally, the calibration and validation of a control card used in the SuperDARN radar transmitters, is discussed.



SuperDARN, SAPS, mid-latitude, substorm, ionosphere