Low-Altitude Ion Heating, Downflowing Ions, and BBELF Waves in the Return Current Region

Yangyang Shen, David J. Knudsen, Johnathan K. Burchill, Andrew D. Howarth, Andrew W. Yau, David M. Miles, H. Gordon James, Gareth W. Perry, Leroy Cogger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Heavy (O+) ion energization and field-aligned motion in and near the ionosphere are still not well understood. Based on observations from the CAScade, Smallsat and IOnospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) Enhanced Polar Outflow Probe at altitudes between 325 km and 730 km over 1 year, we present a statistical study (24 events) of ion heating and its relation to field-aligned ion bulk flow velocity, low-frequency waves, and field-aligned currents. The ion temperature and field-aligned bulk flow velocity are derived from 2-D ion velocity distribution functions measured by the suprathermal electron imager (SEI) instrument. Consistent ion heating and flow velocity characteristics are observed from both the SEI and the rapid-scanning ion mass spectrometer instruments. We find that transverse O+ ion heating in the ionosphere can be intense (up to 4.5 eV), confined to very narrow regions (∼2 km across B), is more likely to occur in the downward current region and is associated with broadband extremely low frequency (BBELF) waves. These waves are interpreted as linearly polarized perpendicular to the magnetic field. The amount of ion heating cannot be explained by frictional heating, and the correlation of ion heating with BBELF waves suggests that significant wave-ion heating is occurring and even dominating at altitudes as low as 350 km, a boundary that is lower than previously reported. Surprisingly, the majority of these heating events (17 out 24) are associated with core ion downflows rather than upflows. This may be explained by a downward pointing electric field in the low-altitude return current region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3087-3110
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Geophysics


  • auroral currents
  • auroral ionosphere
  • auroral particle acceleration
  • field-aligned currents
  • ion upflow and downflow
  • wave/particle interaction


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