Nitrogen fringe aurora over Lyngenfjord, Norway. Photo: Jan R. Olsen,
Nitrogen fringe aurora over Lyngenfjord, Norway. Photo: Jan R. Olsen,


Koen Hendrickx
Department of Meteorology, Stockholm University, Sweden

Solar Forcing of Nitric Oxide in the Upper Atmosphere

Time and Place
Friday March 9th 2018, 10.00-12.00
Nordenskiöldsalen, Geoscience Building, section U3, 3rd floor





The forcing of the Sun on Earth's atmosphere manifests itself via solar radiation and energetic particle precipitation (EPP), which variations are most noticeable in the upper regions of the atmosphere. A key species in the lower thermosphere, which is influenced by solar forcing, is nitric oxide (NO). An NO reservoir is present in the lower thermosphere, from which NO-rich air can be transported downward into the mesosphere and stratosphere, where it takes part in catalytic ozone destruction cycles. For climate models to correctly simulate the solar forcing on our climate, the processes of NO production and destruction, as well as the descent into the lower atmosphere, must be understood and accurately represented.

In this thesis, observations from the Solar Occultation For Ice Experiment (SOFIE) instrument onboard the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) satellite are used to investigate temporal characteristics of NO in the mesosphere and lower thermosphere. We have developed a diagnostic method to determine the relative importance of the NO physical drivers throughout the lower thermosphere. The method shows that, at high latitudes, precipitating auroral electrons dominantly drive NO variations. Comparisons with NO measurements by the Student Nitric Oxide Experiment (SNOE), made almost a decade earlier, reveal that the impact of this forcing on NO appears to be invariant throughout the 11 year solar cycle.

On shorter timescales, we have shown a clear signature of the reoccurring 27 day geomagnetic impact on NO concentrations during summer and winter, with subsequent descent into the lower mesosphere during winter. The occurrence of medium energy electrons, which precipitate to mesospheric altitudes, results in a further increase of the descending NO flux. This complicates the determination of the relative contribution of the EPP direct and indirect effect on NO, i.e. separating direct NO production from downwards transported NO, respectively, in NO enhancements at a certain altitude. Using a full-range energy spectrum from the Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites (POES), we have been able to disentangle the direct and indirect EPP effect on Southern hemispheric NO during a geomagnetic storm in 2010.

Simulations of NO by the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model with Specified Dynamics (SD-WACCM) model reveal that the model predicts a too high climatological mean, while the short term variability is too low, as compared to SOFIE. However, even though the dynamical transport in both model and observations agrees very well, the descending NO fluxes are too low in the model.

In conclusion, the results of this thesis provide a better understanding of NO variability from an observational standpoint and will enable better model representations in the future.