On the relative roles of dynamics and chemistry governing the abundance and diurnal variation of low-latitude thermospheric nitric oxide


We use data from two NASA satellites, the Thermosphere Ionosphere Energetics and Dynamics (TIMED) and the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) satellites, in conjunction with model simulations from the thermosphere-ionosphere-mesosphere-electrodynamics general circulation model (TIME-GCM) to elucidate the key dynamical and chemical factors governing the abundance and diurnal variation of lower thermospheric nitric oxide (NO) at near-solar minimum conditions and low latitudes. This analysis was enabled by the recent orbital precession of the AIM satellite which caused the solar occultation pattern measured by the Solar Occultation for Ice Experiment (SOFIE) to migrate down to low and mid-latitudes for specific periods of time. We use a month of NO data collected in January 2017 to compare with two versions of the TIME-GCM; one is driven solely by climatological tides and analysis-derived planetary waves at the lower boundary and is free running at all other altitudes, and the other is constrained by a high-altitude analysis from the Navy Global Environmental Model (NAVGEM) up to the mesopause. We also compare SOFIE data with a NO climatology from the nitric oxide empirical model (NOEM). Both SOFIE and NOEM yield peak NO abundances of around 4 x 10(7) cm(-3); however, the SOFIE profile peaks about 6-8 km lower than NOEM. We show that this difference is likely a local time effect, with SOFIE being a dawn measurement and NOEM representing late morning and/or near noon. The constrained version of TIME-GCM exhibits a low-altitude dawn peak, while the model that is forced solely at the lower boundary and free running above does not. We attribute this difference to a phase change in the semi-diurnal tide in the NAVGEM-constrained model, causing the descent of high NO mixing ratio air near dawn. This phase difference between the two models arises due to differences in the mesospheric zonal mean zonal winds. Regarding the absolute NO abundance, all versions of the TIME-GCM overestimate this. Tuning the model to yield calculated atomic oxygen in agreement with TIMED data helps but is insufficient. Furthermore, the TIME-GCM underestimates the electron density (Ne) as compared with the International Reference Ionosphere (IRI) empirical model. This suggests a potential conflict with the requirements of NO modeling and Ne modeling, since one solution typically used to increase model Ne is to increase the solar soft X-ray flux, which would, in this case, worsen the NO model-data discrepancy.