Zonal winds in the equatorial upper thermosphere: Decomposing the solar flux, geomagnetic activity, and seasonal dependencies

Huixin Liu, Hermann Lühr, Shigeto Watanabe, Wolfgang Köhler, Vance Henize, Pieter Visser

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Using 3 years (2002-2004), over 16,400 orbits of measurements from the accelerometer on board the CHAMP satellite, we have studied the climatology of the equatorial zonal wind in the upper thermosphere. Several main features are noticed. The most prominent one is that the solar flux significantly influences both the daytime and nighttime winds. It overrides the geomagnetic activity effect, which is found to be rather limited to the nightside. An elevation of the solar flux level from F10.7 ≈ 100 × 10-22 W m -2 Hz-1 to F10.7 ≈ 190 × 10-22 W m-2 Hz-1 produces an eastward disturbance wind up to ∼110 m s-1. This consequently enhances the nighttime eastward wind but suppresses the daytime westward wind. A seasonal variation with weaker wind (by over 50 m s-1 at night) around June solstice than in other seasons has been observed regardless of solar flux and geomagnetic activity levels. The zonal wind is eastward throughout the night except around June solstice, where it ebbs to almost zero or turns even westward in the postmidnight sector at low solar flux level. The daytime wind is found to be generally more stable than the nighttime wind, particularly unresponsive to geomagnetic activities. Predictions from the Horizontal Wind Model find good agreement with the CHAMP-observed wind at high solar flux levels during nighttime. At low solar flux levels, however, the model strongly underestimates the westward wind during morning hours by 50-120 m s-1 depending on season. The major difference between the HWM-predicted and the CHAMP-observed wind is seen in the phase of its diurnal variation. The CHAMP-observed wind turns eastward around 1200-1300 MLT instead of 1600-1700 MLT predicted by the model. Comparisons with ground FPI observations and the NCAR Thermosphere-Ionosphere-Electrodynamics General Circulation Model (TIEGCM) predictions show that the solar flux effect obtained from CHAMP is consistent with that modeled by TIEGCM. The solar flux dependence of zonal wind found here together with that of the zonal ion drift found in previous studies reflect the relative importance of the E- and F-region wind dynamo in the thermosphere-ionosphere coupling process. Furthermore, these wind measurements indicate that the Earth's atmosphere superrotates. The average superrotation speed amounts to about 22 m s-1 for a solar flux level of F10.7 ≈ 100 × 10-22 W m-2 Hz-1 but increases to 63 m s-1 for F10.7 ≈ 190 × 10-22 W m-2 Hz-1. Finally, the wind behavior presented in this study is longitudinally averaged and may differ from wind measurements at a certain longitude.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA07307
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Oceanography


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