Open Access

Gravity waves in the equatorial thermosphere and their relation to lower atmospheric variability

Earth, Planets and Space200961:BF03353164

DOI: 10.1186/BF03353164

Received: 27 September 2007

Accepted: 24 June 2008

Published: 14 May 2009


Using a general circulation model that contains the region from the ground surface to the upper thermosphere, we have examined characteristics of gravity waves in the equatorial thermosphere. At an altitude of 150 km, the dominant periods of gravity waves for zonal wave number 20 (zonal wavelength λ x ≈ 2000 km), 40 (λ x ≈ 1000 km) and 80 (λ x ≈ 500 km) are 3, 1.5 and 1 h, respectively. For individual zonal wave numbers, the corresponding dominant period becomes shorter at higher altitudes due to dissipation processes in the thermosphere, such as molecular viscosity and ion drag force, indicating that gravity waves with a larger horizontal phase velocity (larger vertical wavelength) can penetrate into the thermosphere. The longitudinal variation of gravity wave activity in the equatorial thermosphere and upward propagation of gravity waves from the lower atmosphere were also studied. The longitudinal distribution of gravity wave activity in the thermosphere is quite similar to that of gravity wave activity in the lower atmosphere and the cumulus convective activity in the tropical troposphere. Our results indicate that the strong energy flux due to gravity waves from the enhanced cumulus convective activity propagates upward into the upper thermosphere. The relation between the wind fluctuation associated with gravity waves and the ionospheric variation is discussed. Fluctuations of the neutral zonal wind with periods of 1–2 h are significant in the 200- to 300-km height region, and its amplitude sometimes exceeds 50 m s−1. These results suggest that upward propagating gravity waves can affect the ionospheric variation in the F-region.

Key words

Gravity waves equatorial thermosphere upward propagation wind fluctuation ionospheric variation