On the spatial distribution of decameter-scale subauroral ionospheric irregularities observed by SuperDARN radars

The midlatitude Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN) radars regularly observe nighttime low-velocity Sub-Auroral Ionospheric Scatter (SAIS) from decameter-scale ionospheric density irregularities during quiet geomagnetic conditions. To establish the origin of the density irregularities responsible for low-velocity SAIS, it is necessary to distinguish between the effects of high frequency (HF) propagation and irregularity occurrence itself on the observed backscatter distribution. We compare range, azimuth, and elevation data from the Blackstone SuperDARN radar with modeling results from ray tracing coupled with the International Reference Ionosphere assuming a uniform irregularity distribution. The observed and modeled distributions are shown to be very similar. The spatial distribution of backscattering is consistent with the requirement that HF rays propagate nearly perpendicular to the geomagnetic field lines (aspect angle ≤ 1°). For the first time, the irregularities responsible for low-velocity SAIS are determined to extend between 200 and 300 km altitude, validating previous assumptions that low-velocity SAIS is an F-region phenomenon. We find that the limited spatial extent of this category of ionospheric backscatter within SuperDARN radars’ fields-of-view is a consequence of HF propagation effects and the finite vertical extent of the scattering irregularities. We conclude that the density irregularities responsible for low-velocity SAIS are widely distributed horizontally within the midlatitude ionosphere but are confined to the bottom-side F-region.