Extreme plasma convection and frictional heating of the ionosphere: ISR observations

H. Akbari, L. V. Goodwin, J. Swoboda, J. P. St.-Maurice, J. L. Semeter

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7 Scopus citations


Extremely elevated ion temperatures observed with the Poker Flat and Resolute Bay incoherent scatter radars in the E and F regions of the polar ionosphere are discussed. Our observations include one-dimensional, line-of-sight ion temperatures (Ti,1d) that at times can rise to up to ∼8000°K. While examining the accuracy of the derived temperatures is difficult due to the several potential sources of error and uncertainty, we find that at altitudes of ∼130–250 km the line-of-sight ion temperatures obtained at relatively small aspect angles (for instance, at 22.5° away from the magnetic field direction) are below the expected values for the average or three-dimensional ion temperatures (Ti). We find that this difference matches well with the theoretical expectation from anisotropic ion velocity distributions that emerge from polarization elastic scattering collisions between NO+ and N2. These results are therefore the clearest detection of anisotropic ion velocity distributions with the Poker Flat Incoherent Scatter Radar and Resolute Bay Incoherent Scatter Radar facilities. Moreover, at higher altitudes (>∼300 km), where the resonant charge exchange collisions prevail, and for a very high ion temperature event (Ti∼8000°K), we observe that the incoherent scatter radar (ISR) spectra obtained at large aspect angles (e.g., 55°) look like those expected from non-Maxwellian plasma. At similar altitudes, the measured one-dimensional temperatures at an aspect angle of 22.5° are found to exceed the expected values from the frictional heating and resonant charge exchange collisions by about 1000°K. A portion of this offset is thought to reflect the role of Coulomb collisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7581-7598
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • anisotropic ion distribution
  • frictional heating
  • high-latitude ionosphere
  • incoherent scatter radar
  • non-Maxwellian distribution


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