• Local scale structures in earth's thermospheric winds and their consequences for wind driven transport

      Dhadly, Manbharat Singh; Conde, Mark; Collins, Richard; Olson, John; Hampton, Donald; Smith, Roger (2015-12)
      In the traditional picture of Earth's upper thermosphere (~190-300 km), it is widely presumed that its convective stability and enormous kinematic viscosity attenuate wind gradients, and hence smooth out any structure present in the wind over scale size of several hundreds of kilometers. However, several independent experimental studies have shown that observed upper thermospheric wind fields at high latitudes contain stronger than expected local-scale spatial structures. The motivation of this dissertation is to investigate how the resulting local-scale gradients would distort neutral air masses and complicate thermospheric wind transport. To achieve this goal, we examined the behavior of a simple parameter that we refer to as the "distortion gradient". It incorporates all of the wind field's departures from uniformity, and is thus capable of representing all resulting contributions to the distortion or mixing of air masses. Climatological analysis of the distortion gradient using 2010, 2011, and 2012 wind data from the All-sky Scanning Doppler Imager (SDI) located at Poker Flat (65.12N, 147.47W) revealed the diurnal and seasonal trends in distortion of thermospheric masses. Distortion was observed to be dependent on geomagnetic activity and orientation of the interplanetary magnetic field. To understand the time-cumulative influence of these local-scale non-uniformities on thermospheric wind driven transport, time-resolved two-dimensional maps of the thermospheric vector wind fields were used to infer forward and backward air parcel trajectories. Tracing air parcel trajectories through a given geographic location indicates where they came from previously, and where they will go in the future. Results show that wind driven transport is very sensitive to small-scale details of the wind field. Any local-scale spatial wind gradients can significantly complicate air parcel trajectories. Transport of thermospheric neutral species in the presence of the local-scale wind gradients that we observed was found to be far more complicated than what current models typically predict. To validate these findings, we cross-compared the upper thermospheric neutral winds inferred from a narrow field of view Fabry-Perot interferometer with winds measured by our all-sky SDI. A high degree of correlation was present between their measurements. This cross-validation study suggests the presence of small-scale short-lived, and previously unobserved wind features in the upper thermosphere, with typical length scales less than ~40 km. The spatially and temporally localized wind features implied by this study represent a new and unexplored regime of dynamics in the thermosphere.