Earth's polar cap ionization patches lead to ion upflow
Friday, 19 December 2014: 4:30 PM
The Earth constantly losses matter through ions escaping from the polar ionosphere. This makes the ionosphere as an important source of plasma for the magnetosphere and could modulate atmospheric isotope abundances on geological timescales, depending on what fraction of the upflowing ions subsequently return to the ionosphere and what fraction are ejected into interplanetary space. It has been proposed that the magnetosphere is dynamically modulated by the presence of the ionospheric ions, particularly heavy ions O+, during magnetic substorms and storms. The origin and formation mechanism of ionospheric ion upflow is, however, poorly understood, particularly under disturbed space weather conditions. We report simultaneous direct observations of ion upflow and a patch of ionization at the center of the polar cap region during a geomagnetic storm. Our observations indicate enhanced fluxes of upwelling O+ ions originate from the patch and were accelerated by the enhanced ambipolar electric field. This enhancement is caused by soft electron precipitations. Polar cap patches therefore provide an important source of upwelling ions for accelerations mechanisms at greater altitudes which can eject the ions. These observations give new insight into the processes of ionosphere-magnetosphere coupling and the potential loss of terrestrial water dissociation products into space which, although extremely slow in the case of Earth, may be significant for other planets and moons.