Helium as a Dynamical Tracer in the Thermosphere
Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 9:30 AM
Helium has been a missing constituent in current thermosphere general circulation models. Although typically a minor gas relative to the more abundant major gasses, its unique properties of being chemically inert and light make it an excellent tracer of thermosphere dynamics. Studying helium can help simplify understanding of transport effects. This understanding can then be projected to other gasses whose overall structure and behavior are complex but, by contrasting with helium, can be evaluated for its transport dependencies. The dynamical influences on composition impact estimates of thermosphere mass density, where helium during solar minima can have a direct contribution, as well as ionosphere electron density. Furthermore, helium estimates in the upper thermosphere during solar minima have not been observed since the 1976 minimum. Indirect estimates of helium in the upper thermosphere during the recent extreme solar minimum indicates winter-time helium concentrations exceeded NRL-MSISE00 estimates by 30%-70% during periods of quiet geomagnetic activity. For times of active geomagnetic conditions, helium concentrations near ~450 km altitude are estimated to decrease while oxygen concentrations increase. An investigation of the altitude structure in thermosphere mass density storm-time perturbations reveal the important effects of composition change with maximum perturbation occurring near the He/O transition region and a much weaker maximum occurring near the O/N2 transition region. However, evaluating helium behavior and its role as a dynamical tracer is not straightforward and model development is necessary to adequately establish the connection to specific dynamical processes. Fortunately recent efforts have led to the implementation of helium modules in the NCAR TIEGCM and TIME-GCM. In this invited talk, the simulated helium behavior and structure will be shown to reproduce observations (such as the wintertime helium bulge and storm-time response) and its utility as a dynamical tracer of thermosphere dynamics will be elucidated.