Latitudinal extension of low-latitude scintillations measured with a network of GPS receivers
A latitudinal-distributed network of GPS receivers has been operating within Colombia, Peru and Chile with sufficient latitudinal span to measure the absolute total electron content (TEC) at both crests of the equatorial anomaly. The network also provides the latitudinal extension of GPS scintillations and TEC depletions. The GPS-based information has been supplemented with density profiles collected with the Jicamarca digisonde and JULIA power maps to investigate the background conditions of the nighttime ionosphere that prevail during the formation and the persistence of plasma depletions. This paper presents case-study events in which the latitudinal extension of GPS scintillations, the maximum latitude of TEC depletion detections, and the altitude extension of radar plumes are correlated with the location and extension of the equatorial anomaly. Then it shows the combined statistics of GPS scintillations, TEC depletions, TEC latitudinal profiles, and bottomside density profiles collected between September 2001 and June 2002. It is demonstrated that multiple sights of TEC depletions from different stations can be used to estimate the drift of the background plasma, the tilt of the plasma plumes, and in some cases even the approximate time and location of the depletion onset. This study corroborates the fact that TEC depletions and radar plumes coincide with intense levels of GPS scintillations. Bottomside radar traces do not seem to be associated with GPS scintillations. It is demonstrated that scintillations/depletions can occur when the TEC latitude profiles are symmetric, asymmetric or highly asymmetric; this is during the absence of one crest. Comparison of the location of the northern crest of the equatorial anomaly and the maximum latitude of scintillations reveals that for 90% of the days, scintillations are confined within the boundaries of the 50% decay limit of the anomaly crests. The crests of the anomaly are the regions where the most intense GPS scintillations and the deepest TEC depletions are encountered. In accord with early results, we observe that GPS scintillations/TEC depletions mainly occur when the altitude of the magnetic equator F-region is above 500km. Nevertheless, in many instances GPS scintillations and TEC depletions are observed to exist when the F-layer is well below 500km or to persist when the F-layer undergoes its typical nighttime descent. Close inspection of the TEC profiles during scintillations/depletions events that occur when the equatorial F-layer peak is below 500km altitude reveals that on these occasions the ratio of the crest-to-equator TEC is above 2, and the crests are displaced 10° or more from the magnetic equator. When the equatorial F-layer is above 500km, neither of the two requirements is needed, as the flux tube seems to be inherently unstable. We discuss these findings in terms of the Rayleigh-Taylor instability (RTI) mechanism for flux-tube integrated quantities. We advance the idea that the seeming control that the reverse fountain effect exerts on inhibiting or suppressing GPS scintillations may be related to the redistribution of the density and plasma transport from the crests of the anomaly toward the equatorial region and then to much lower altitudes, and the simultaneous decrease of the F-region altitude. These two effects originate a decrease in the crest/trough ratio and a reduction of the crests separation, making the whole flux tube more stable to the RTI. The correspondence between crest separation, altitude of the equatorial F-region, the onset of depletions, and the altitude (latitude) extension of plumes (GPS scintillations) can be used to track the fate of the density structures.