Keeping an eye on the ionosphere

The ionosphere – that area of the atmosphere about 100 to 1000 kilometres above Earth’s surface – is blasted by solar radiation that breaks down the bonds of ions. Free electrons and heavy ions are left behind, constantly colliding.

This dance has been measured in the northern hemisphere using incoherent scatter radar. Radio waves are beamed into the ionosphere, where electrons scatter them. The different ways they scatter tell researchers about the particles populating the layer.

Now, researchers have used radar to make measurements from the Antarctic region for the first time. Their preliminary findings are reported in the Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology.

The work was made possible thanks to the Program of the Antarctic Syowa Mesosphere-Stratosphere-Troposphere/Incoherent Scatter PANSY radar – the largest fine-resolution atmospheric radar in the Antarctic.

“Our next step will be the simultaneous observation of ionosphere incoherent scatter and field-aligned irregularities, since the suppression and extraction are using the same principle from different aspects,” says lead author Taishi Hashimoto, from the National Institute of Polar Research in Japan

“We are also planning to apply the same technique to obtain other types of plasma parameters, such as the drive velocity and ion temperature, leading to a better understanding of auroras.”

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