Sources and characteristics of medium-scale traveling ionospheric disturbances observed by high-frequency radars in the North American sector

Nathaniel Frissell, J. B.H. Baker, J. M. Ruohoniemi, R. A. Greenwald, Andrew Gerrard, E. S. Miller, M. L. West

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52 Scopus citations


Medium-scale traveling ionospheric disturbances (MSTIDs) are wave-like ionospheric perturbations routinely observed by high-frequency radars. We focus on a class of MSTIDs observed during the winter daytime at high latitudes and midlatitudes. The source of these MSTIDs remains uncertain, with the two primary candidates being space weather and lower atmospheric processes. We surveyed observations from four high-latitude and six midlatitude Super Dual Auroral Radar Network radars in the North American sector from November to May 2012 to 2015. The MSTIDs observed have horizontal wavelengths between ∼150 and 650 km and horizontal velocities between ∼75 and 325 m s-1. In local fall and winter seasons the majority of MSTIDs propagated equatorward, with bearings ranging from ∼125° to 225° geographic azimuth. No clear correlation with space weather activity as parameterized by AE and SYM-H could be identified. Rather, MSTID observations were found to have a strong correlation with polar vortex dynamics on two timescales. First, a seasonal timescale follows the annual development and decay of the polar vortex. Second, a shorter 2-4 week timescale again corresponds to synoptic polar vortex variability, including stratospheric warmings. Additionally, statistical analysis shows that MSTIDs are more likely during periods of strong polar vortex. Direct comparison of the MSTID observations with stratospheric zonal winds suggests that a wind filtering mechanism may be responsible for the strong correlation. Collectively, these observations suggest that polar atmospheric processes, rather than space weather activity, are primarily responsible for controlling the occurrence of high-latitude and midlatitude winter daytime MSTIDs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3722-3739
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • SuperDARN
  • atmospheric gravity waves
  • polar vortex
  • traveling ionospheric disturbance


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