The composition, structure, temperature and dynamics of the upper thermosphere in the polar regions during October to December 1981

D. Rees, R. Gordon, T. J. Fuller-Rowell, M. Smith, G. R. Carignan, T. L. Killeen, P. B. Hays, N. W. Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During the period October to December 1981, the Dynamics Explorer-2 (DE-2) spacecraft successively observed the South polar and the North polar regions, and recorded the temperature, composition and dynamical structure of the upper thermosphere. In October 1981, perigee was about 310 km altitude, in the vicinity of the South Pole, with the satellite orbit in the 09.00-21.00 L.T. plane. During late November and December, the perigee had precessed to the region of the North Pole, with the spacecraft sampling the upper thermosphere in the 06.00 18.00 L.T. plane. DE-2 observed the meridional wind with a Fabry-Perot interferometer (FPI), the zonal wind with the wind and temperature spectrometer (WATS), the neutral temperature with the FPI, and the neutral atmosphere composition and density with the neutral atmosphere composition spectrometer (NACS). A comparison between the South (summer) Pole and the North (winter) Pole data shows considerable seasonal differences in all neutral atmosphere parameters. The region of the summer pole, under similar geomagnetic and solar activity conditions, and at a level of about 300 km, is about 300 K warmer than that of the winter pole, and the density of atomic oxygen is strongly depleted (and nitrogen enhanced) around the summer pole (compared with the winter pole). Only part of the differences in temperature and composition structure can be related to the seasonal variation of solar insolation, however, and both polar regions display structural variations (with latitude and Universal Time) which are unmistakeable characteristics of strong magnetospheric forcing. The magnitude of the neutral atmosphere perturbations in winds, temperature, density and composition within both summer and winter polar regions all increase with increasing levels of geomagnetic activity. The UCL 3-dimensional time dependent global model has been used to simulate the diurnal, seasonal and geomagnetic response of the neutral thermosphere, attempting to follow the major features of the solar and geomagnetic inputs to the thermosphere which were present during the late 1981 period. In the UCL model, geomagnetic forcing is characterized by semi-empirical models of the polar electric field which show a dependence on the Y component of the Interplanetary Magnetic Field, due to Heppner and Maynard (1983), It is possible to obtain an overall agreement, in both summer and winter hemispheres, with the thermospheric wind structure at high latitudes, and to explain the geomagnetic control of the combined thermal and compositional structure both qualitatively and quantitatively. To obtain such agreement, however, it is essential to enhance the polar ionosphere as a consequence of magnetospheric particle precipitation, reflecting both widespread auroral (kilovolt) electrons, and "soft" cusp and polar cap sources. Geomagnetic forcing of the high latitude thermosphere cannot be explained purely by a polar convective electric field, and the thermal as well as ionising properties of these polar and auroral electron sources are crucial components of the total geomagnetic input.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)617-666
Number of pages50
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1985
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'The composition, structure, temperature and dynamics of the upper thermosphere in the polar regions during October to December 1981'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this