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Local determination of ionospheric plasma convection from coherent scatter radar data using the SECS technique

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date12/03/2010
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Journal numberA3
Number of pages7
Original languageEnglish


A new technique for merging line-of-sight (LOS) data of the ionospheric plasma convection velocity, as obtained from coherent scatter radars, into a full velocity vector field on a sphere is presented. This technique is based on the expansion into Spherical Elementary Current Systems (SECS) which have been successfully applied to many other problems in ionosphere-magnetosphere physics. Despite their name mentioning currents for historical reasons, SECS can be used as basis functions for any continuously differentiable vector field on a sphere. In contrast to the traditional modeling of the radar data with spherical harmonics over the whole auroral zone, the new technique does not require any “a priori” model input but relies solely on the measured data, nor does it need any explicit boundary conditions to be specified. The new technique is designed to be applied locally to areas where sufficient radar backscatter exists. The analysis area that satisfies this condition may have any shape and is not limited to, e.g., spherical caps. A test with synthetic data shows that the method performs excellently (less than 5% relative error) if 25% or more of the optimal coverage of input data are actually available as backscatter data, with respect to the scale on which the results for the velocity vector field are desired to be obtained. Still if only 10% of the optimal coverage of input data are available, the technique performs fairly well with a relative error of ∼12%. A second test with real LOS input data from the SuperDARN radars shows that on such a local area with sufficient backscatter, our new technique is able to reproduce mesoscale details of the LOS data significantly better than the current standard analysis based on the technique of Ruohoniemi and Baker (1998) which processes the radar data on the whole auroral zone. While the new technique is presented here for the application with LOS radar data, it can be applied for merging any kind of vector component data on a sphere to a vector field.

Bibliographic note

Copyright 2010 by the American Geophysical Union.