Quantification of the Vertical Transport and Escape of Atomic Hydrogen in the Terrestrial Upper Atmosphere

P. P. Joshi, Y. D. Phal, L. S. Waldrop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Measurements of the limiting escape rate of atomic hydrogen (H) atoms at Earth and the relative significance of thermal evaporation and nonthermal escape mechanisms, such as charge exchange and polar wind, have long been lacking. Our recent development of sophisticated radiative transport analysis techniques now enables the reliable interpretation of remotely sensed measurements of optically thick H emission, such as those acquired along the Earth's limb by the Global Ultraviolet Imager (GUVI) onboard the NASA Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics (TIMED) spacecraft, in terms of physical parameters such as exobase density and, crucially, vertical diffusive flux. In this work, we present results from a systematic investigation of H Lya emission measured by TIMED/GUVI along the Earth's dayside limb from 2002–2007, which we use to derive the vertical H flux and associated density distribution from 250 km out to 1 Earth radius. Our analysis reveals that the vertical flux of thermospheric H is nearly constant over a large range of solar activity and typically exceeds the calculated thermal evaporative flux, suggesting that terrestrial H escape is indeed limited by its vertical diffusion. The excess supply of H atoms to the exobase associated with large observed vertical fluxes requires that nonthermal escape mechanisms be operative for steady-state continuity balance. We find that such nonthermal processes are a particularly significant component of total H escape during low solar activity, when thermal evaporation is weakest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10468-10481
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


  • GUVI
  • atmospheric escape
  • charge exchange
  • exosphere
  • radiative transfer
  • thermal evaporation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Geophysics


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