Annual Occurrence Rates of Ionospheric Polar Cap Patches Observed Using Swarm

Alex T. Chartier, Cathryn N. Mitchell, Ethan S. Miller

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31 Citations (SciVal)


Dense, fast-moving regions of ionization called polar cap patches are known to occur in the high-latitude F region ionosphere. Patches are widely believed to be caused by convection of dense, sunlit plasma into a dark and therefore low-density polar cap ionosphere. This leads to the belief that patches are a winter phenomenon. Surprisingly, a long-term analysis of 3 years of ionospheric measurements from the Swarm satellites shows that large density enhancements occur far more frequently in local summer than local winter in the Southern Hemisphere (SH). The reverse is true in the Northern Hemisphere (NH). Previously reported patch detections in the SH are reexamined. Detection algorithms using only a relative doubling test count very small density fluctuations in SH winter due to extremely low ambient densities found there, while much larger enhancements occurring in SH summer are missed due to especially high ambient densities. The same problem does not afflict results in the NH, where ambient densities are more stable year-round due to the ionospheric annual asymmetry. Given this new analysis, the definition of a patch as a doubling of the ambient density is not suitable for the SH. We propose a test for patches linked to long-term averaged solar flux activity, characterized by the 81 day centered mean F10.7 index. Importantly, the current patch formation theory is at least incomplete in that it does not predict the observed lack of patches in SH winter, or the many large enhancements seen in SH summer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2327-2335
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number3
Early online date25 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


  • GPS
  • high latitude
  • ionosphere
  • patches
  • remote sensing
  • Swarm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Oceanography
  • Forestry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Materials Chemistry
  • Palaeontology


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