Explaining polarization reversals in STEREO wave data

A. Breneman, C. Cattell, J. Wygant, K. Kersten, L. B. Wilson, L. Dai, C. Colpitts, P. J. Kellogg, K. Goetz, A. Paradise

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Recently, Breneman et al. (2011) reported observations of large amplitude lightning and transmitter whistler mode waves from two STEREO passes through the inner radiation belt (L<2). Hodograms of the electric field in the plane transverse to the magnetic field showed that the transmitter waves underwent periodic polarization reversals. Specifically, their polarization would cycle through a pattern of right-hand to linear to left-hand polarization at a rate of roughly 200 Hz. The lightning whistlers were observed to be left-hand polarized at frequencies greater than the lower hybrid frequency and less than the transmitter frequency (21.4 kHz) and right-hand polarized otherwise. Only right-hand polarized waves in the inner radiation belt should exist in the frequency range of the whistler mode and these reversals were not explained in the previous paper. We show, with a combination of observations and simulated wave superposition, that these polarization reversals are due to the beating of an incident electromagnetic whistler mode wave at 21.4 kHz and linearly polarized, symmetric lower hybrid sidebands Doppler-shifted from the incident wave by ±200 Hz. The existence of the lower hybrid waves is consistent with the parametric decay mechanism of Lee and Kuo (1984) whereby an incident whistler mode wave decays into symmetric, short wavelength lower hybrid waves and a purely growing (zero-frequency) mode. Like the lower hybrid waves, the purely growing mode is Doppler-shifted by ∼200 Hz as observed on STEREO. This decay mechanism in the upper ionosphere has been previously reported at equatorial latitudes and is thought to have a direct connection with explosive spread F enhancements. As such it may represent another dissipation mechanism of VLF wave energy in the ionosphere and may help to explain a deficit of observed lightning and transmitter energy in the inner radiation belts as reported by Starks et al. (2008).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberA04317
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2012


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