The D-Region Ledge at Nighttime: Why are Elves Collocated with the OH Meinel Band Airglow Layer?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Yen-Jung Wu1, Earle R Williams2 and Rue-Ron Hsu1, (1)NCKU National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan, (2)Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, United States
The Imager of Sprite and Upper Atmosphere Lightning (ISUAL) onboard the Taiwanese satellite Formosat-2 has continuously observed transient luminous events (TLEs) within the +/-60 degree range of latitude for a decade since May 2004. The lightning electromagnetic pulse is responsible for Elves , the dominate TLE type which accounts for approximately 80% of the total TLE count according to the ISUAL global survey. By analyzing the limb-viewed images with a wavelength filter of 622.8-754nm, 72% of elves are found to be ‘glued’ to the OH Meinel band (~630nm) nightglow layer within its thickness of 8km, with the OH layer normally at an altitude of 87 km (Huang et al., 2010).This collocation of elves and airglow layer is frequently dismissed as coincidence, since the physical mechanisms for the formation of the two optical phenomena are macroscopically quite different. However, a common ingredient in the atmospheric chemistry is monatomic oxygen. O is needed to make O3 and ultimately hydroxyl OH, the main radiative species of the airglow layer. O is also needed to form nitric oxide NO, the species with the lowest known ionization potential (9.26 eV) in the D-region. Thomas (1990) has documented steep increases in O concentration in the 83-85 km altitude range and Hale (1985) has found steep increases in electrical conductivity in the 84-85 km range, both with rocket measurements. A great simplification of the nighttime ionosphere is the presence of a single photon energy—10.2 eV—Lyman-α, originating in monatomic H in the Earth’s geocorona. A simple Chapman layer calculation for the altitude of maximum photo-dissociation of O2, using the measured absorption cross-section of O2 at the Lyman-α energy, shows an altitude of maximum O production at 85 km. Elve emission in the nitrogen first positive band is enhanced by the presence of free electrons from ionized NO, but too large a conductivity will lead to the exclusion of the radiation field from the lightning return stroke and suppress the elve emission.. These comparisons of marked changes in key quantities over a narrow range of special altitudes lend support to O being the main player in linking electrical and optical behavior in elve emission.