Occurrence of blanketing E s layer (E sb) over the equatorial region during the peculiar minimum of solar cycle 24
A thin and highly dense sporadic E layer, which can occasionally block the upper ionospheric layers, is called blanketing sporadic E (E sb). We present the statistical seasonal local time occurrence pattern of E sb at equatorial station Tirunelveli (8.7° N, 77.8° E, dip latitude 0.7° N) during the extended minimum of solar cycle 24 (2007–2009). In spite of nearly the same average solar activity during both 2007 and 2009, considerable differences are noticed in the seasonal occurrence of E sb during this period. The percentage of E sb occurrence is found to be the highest during the summer solstice (≥ 50%) for both 2007 and 2009, which is in general accordance with the earlier studies. The occurrences of E sb during the vernal equinox (~ 33%) and January–February (~ 28%) are substantial in 2009 as compared to those during the same seasons in 2007. We find that, during winter (January–February), ~ 75% of E sb occurred during or just after the period of sudden stratospheric warming (SSW). We suggest that enhanced E sb occurrence during winter (January–February) and the vernal equinox of 2009 could be associated with SSW-driven changes in the E region ambient conditions. Furthermore, the close association of E sb with counter equatorial electrojet (CEEJ) suggested by earlier studies is re-examined carefully using the scenario of E sb occurrence on non-CEEJ days. Such an exercise is crucial as we are unaware whether the physical mechanisms driving E sb and CEEJ are linked or not. We find that, of all the seasons, the association of E sb and CEEJ is strongest during winter (November–December).