Ionospheric Imaging and Scintillation Monitoring in the Antarctic and Arctic

  • Joe Kinrade

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Electron density irregularities influence Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signals, manifesting as ionospheric scintillation. Scintillation poses a service risk to safety-critical GNSS applications at high latitudes. It is difficult to predict, as ionospheric instability processes are not yet fully characterised. This research combines the fields of ionospheric imaging and scintillation monitoring, to investigate the causes of scintillation in the Antarctic and Arctic.Results revealed a plasma patch structure above Antarctica, in response to the impact of a solar wind shock front. Measurements from a network of Global Positioning System scintillation receivers across the continent revealed moderate levels of phase scintillation associated with Total Electron Content (TEC) gradients at the patch break-off point. Scintillation was also driven by solar particle precipitation at E and F region altitudes, verified with in situ spectrometers on polar-orbiting satellites. The current receiver coverage in the region provided the Multi-Instrument Data Analysis Software (MIDAS) tomography tool with sufficient data to track the lifetime of the plasma patch without a convection model.A second experiment was performed at the South Pole, using a collocated GPS scintillation receiver and auroral imager. This allowed simultaneous line-of-sight tracking of GPS signals through the optical auroral emissions. Results showed the first statistical evidence that auroral emissions can be used a proxy for ionospheric irregularities causing GPS scintillation. The relationship was strongest during the presence of discrete auroral arcs. Correlation levels of up to 74% were found over periods of 2-3 hours. The use of multiple emission wavelengths provided basic altitude discrimination.Current capability of ionospheric TEC mapping in the Arctic was tested, where GPS receiver distribution is extensive compared to present Antarctic coverage. Analysis of the ionosphere’s response to a storm event revealed a sequential picture of polar cap patch activity, without the aid of plasma convection modelling. The electron density enhancements of the auroral oval were imaged in completeness for the first time using GPS tomography. Reconstructions were verified using ultraviolet auroral imagery from polar-orbit satellites, and vertical profiles from an incoherent scatter radar.
Date of Award31 Mar 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorCathryn Mitchell (Supervisor) & Ivan Astin (Supervisor)


  • ionospheric scintillation
  • Global Positioning System
  • ionospheric tomography
  • auroral emissions
  • Antarctic
  • Arctic
  • auroral oval
  • high latitude ionosphere

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