Low-frequency electrostatic waves in the ionospheric E-region: a comparison of rocket observations and numerical simulations
Low frequency electrostatic waves in the lower parts of the ionosphere are studied by a comparison of observations by instrumented rockets and of results from numerical simulations. Particular attention is given to the spectral properties of the waves. On the basis of a good agreement between the observations and the simulations, it can be argued that the most important nonlinear dynamics can be accounted for in a 2-D numerical model, referring to a plane perpendicular to a locally homogeneous magnetic field. It does not seem necessary to take into account turbulent fluctuations or motions in the neutral gas component. The numerical simulations explain the observed strongly intermittent nature of the fluctuations: secondary instabilities develop on the large scale gradients of the largest amplitude waves, and the small scale dynamics is strongly influenced by these secondary instabilities. We compare potential variations obtained at a single position in the numerical simulations with two point potential-difference signals, where the latter is the adequate representation for the data obtained by instrumented rockets. We can demonstrate a significant reduction in the amount of information concerning the plasma turbulence when the latter signal is used for analysis. In particular we show that the bicoherence estimate is strongly affected. The conclusions have implications for studies of low frequency ionospheric fluctuations in the E and F regions by instrumented rockets, and also for other methods relying on difference measurements, using two probes with large separation. The analysis also resolves a long standing controversy concerning the supersonic phase velocities of these cross-field instabilities being observed in laboratory experiments.