Characterization and Modeling of Solar Flare Effects in the Ionosphere Observed by HF Instruments

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


The ionosphere is the conducting part of the upper atmosphere that plays a significant role in trans-ionospheric high frequency (HF, 3-30 MHz) radiowave propagation. Solar activities, such as solar flares, radiation storms, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), alter the state of the ionosphere, a phenomenon known as Sudden Ionospheric Disturbance (SID), that can severely disrupt HF radio communication links by enhancing radiowave absorption and altering signal frequency and phase. The Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN) is an international network of low-power HF coherent scatter radars distributed across the globe to probe the ionosphere and its relation to solar activities. In this study, we used SuperDARN HF radar measurements with coordinated spacecraft and riometer observations to investigate statistical characteristics and the driving mechanisms of various manifestations of solar flare-driven SIDs in HF observations. We begin in Chapter 2 with a statistical characterization of various effects of solar flares on SuperDARN observations. Simultaneous observations from GOES spacecraft and SuperDARN radars confirmed flare-driven HF absorption depends on solar zenith angle, operating frequency, and intensity of the solar flare. The study found flare-driven SID also affects the SuperDARN backscatter signal frequency, which produces a sudden rise in Doppler velocity observation, referred to as the ``Doppler flash'', which occurs before the HF absorption effect. In Chapter 3, we further investigate the HF absorption effect during successive solar flares and those co-occurring with other geomagnetic disturbances during the 2017 solar storm. We found successive solar flares can extend the ionospheric relaxation time and the variation of HF absorption with latitude is different depending on the type of disturbance. In Chapter 4, we looked into an inertial property of the ionosphere, sluggishness, its variations with solar flare intensity, and made some inferences about D-region ion-chemistry using a simulation study. Specifically, we found solar flares alter the D-region chemistry by enhancing the electron detachment rate due to a sudden rise in molecular vibrational and rotational energy under the influence of enhanced solar radiation. In Chapter 5, we describe a model framework that reproduces HF absorption observed by riometers. This chapter compares different model formulations for estimating HF absorption and discusses different driving influences of HF absorption. In Chapter 6, we have investigated different driving mechanisms of the Doppler flash observed by SuperDARN radars. We note two particular findings: (i) the Doppler flash is predominantly driven by a change in the F-region refractive index and (ii) a combination of solar flare-driven enhancement in photoionization, and changes in the zonal electric field and(or) ionospheric conductivity reduces upward ion-drift, which produces a lowering effect in the F-region HF radiowave reflection height. Collectively, these research findings provide a statistical characterization of various solar flare effects on the ionosphere seen in the HF observations, and insights into their driving mechanisms and impacts on ionospheric dynamics.



Shortwave Fadeout, Sudden Frequency Deviation, Ionospheric response to solar flare, Propagation, High Frequency Signal