On the Generation/Decay of the Storm-Enhanced Density Plumes: Role of the Convection Flow and Field-Aligned Ion Flow


Zou, S., Moldwin, M. B., Ridley, A. J., Nicolls, M. J., Coster, A. J., Thomas, E. G., & Ruohoniemi, J. M. (2014). On the generation/decay of the storm‐enhanced density plumes: Role of the convection flow and field‐aligned ion flow. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 119(10), 8543-8559.


Storm-enhanced density (SED) plumes are prominent ionospheric electron density increases at the dayside middle and high latitudes. The generation and decay mechanisms of the plumes are still not clear. We present observations of SED plumes during six storms between 2010 and 2013 and comprehensively analyze the associated ionospheric parameters within the plumes, including vertical ion flow, field-aligned ion flow and flux, plasma temperature, and field-aligned currents, obtained from multiple instruments, including GPS total electron content (TEC), Poker Flat Incoherent Scatter Radar (PFISR), Super Dual Auroral Radar Network, and Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment. The TEC increase within the SED plumes at the PFISR site can be 1.4–5.5 times their quiet time value. The plumes are usually associated with northwestward E × B flows ranging from a couple of hundred m s−1 to > 1 km s−1. Upward vertical flows due to the projection of these E × B drifts are mainly responsible for lifting the plasma in sunlit regions to higher altitude and thus leading to plume density enhancement. The upward vertical flows near the poleward part of the plumes are more persistent, while those near the equatorward part are more patchy. In addition, the plumes can be collocated with either upward or downward field-aligned currents (FACs) but are usually observed equatorward of the peak of the Region 1 upward FAC, suggesting that the northwestward flows collocated with plumes can be either subauroral or auroral flows. Furthermore, during the decay phase of the plume, large downward ion flows, as large as ~200 m s−1, and downward fluxes, as large as 1014 m−2 s−1, are often observed within the plumes. In our study of six storms, enhanced ambipolar diffusion due to an elevated pressure gradient is able to explain two of the four large downward flow/flux cases, but this mechanism is not sufficient for the other two cases where the flows are of larger magnitude. For the latter two cases, enhanced poleward thermospheric wind is suggested to be another mechanism for pushing the plasma downward along the field line. These downward flows should be an important mechanism for the decay of the SED plumes.

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