Magnetospherically reflected, specularly reflected, and backscattered whistler mode radio‐sounder echoes observed on the IMAGE satellite: 1. Observations and interpretation Academic Article uri icon


  • A survey of echoes detected in 2004-2005 during pulse transmissions from the Radio Plasma Imager (RPI) instrument on the IMAGE satellite has revealed several new features of sounder generated whistler mode (WM) echoes and has indicated ways in which the echoes may be used for remote sensing of the Earth's plasma structure at altitudes <5000 km. In this paper we describe the frequency versus travel time (f - t) forms of the WM echoes as they appear on RPI plasmagrams and discuss qualitatively their raypaths and diagnostic potentials. Based on their reflection mechanism, the WM echoes can be classified as: magnetospherically reflected (MR), specularly reflected (SR), or backscattered (BS). The MR echoes are reflected at altitudes where the local lower hybrid frequency (flh) is equal to the transmitted pulse frequency f, a phenomenon familiar from both theory and passive recordings of WM wave activity. The SR echoes (previously reported in a higher frequency range) are reflected at the Earth-ionosphere boundary, either with wave vector at normal incidence or, more commonly (and unexpectedly, due to ray bending in the layered ionosphere), at oblique incidence. The BS echoes are the result of scattering from small scale size plasma density irregularities close to IMAGE. The echoes are described as discrete, multipath, and diffuse, depending upon the amount of travel-time spreading caused by the presence of field aligned density irregularities (FAIs) along echo raypaths. The WM echoes described in this paper have been observed at altitudes less than 5,000 km and at all latitudes and at most MLTs. The diagnostic potential of these phenomena for remotely studying the distribution of plasma density and composition along the geomagnetic field line B0, as well as the presence of FAIs of varying scale sizes, is enhanced by the tendency for SR and MR echoes to be observed simultaneously along with the upward propagating signals from a spatial distribution of communication VLF transmitters. We believe that our findings about WM propagation and echoing in an irregular medium have important implications for the connection between WM waves and the Earth's radiation belts. In a companion paper by Sonwalkar et al. (2011), we employ ray tracing and refractive index diagrams in quantitative support of this paper and also present two diagnostic case studies of plasma density, ion effective mass, and ion composition along B0. Copyright 2011 by the American Geophysical Union.

author list (cited authors)

  • Sonwalkar, V. S., Carpenter, D. L., Reddy, A., Proddaturi, R., Hazra, S., Mayank, K., & Reinisch, B. W.

citation count

  • 9

publication date

  • November 2011