Gravity-Wave Detection in the Mesosphere Using Airglow Spectrometers and Meteor Radars

  • Robert HibbinsEmail author
  • Patrick EspyEmail author
  • Rosmarie de Wit


The atmospheric winds, density and temperature of the region between 80 and 100 km, known as the mesosphere and lower thermosphere (MLT), are subject to the effects of solar and particle precipitation from above as well as to tidal and gravity-wave forcing from below (Fritts and Alexander 2003). Additionally, the solar heating of ozone and chemical heating due to oxygen recombination chemistry in this region compete with long-term cooling of the upper atmosphere caused by increases in greenhouse gases (Robel and Dickenson 1989; Akmaev et al. 2006; Hervig et al. 2016). However, naturally occurring fluctuations associated with variations in ozone, solar or wave forcing can mask, or even mimic, the evidence of secular change in measurements of the temperature, density and winds of the MLT. Thus, these naturally occurring variations, their mechanisms and their seasonal and solar cycle behaviour must be quantified along with the driving forces associated with small-scale wave activity that governs the general circulation of the upper atmosphere. This is only possible using long-term observations with high time resolution so that the underlying secular trends that may be associated with human activity can be assessed. However, long-term, semi-continuous measurements of MLT parameters such as wind and temperature are difficult to obtain. In this article, we discuss two complementary techniques for monitoring the MLT region with a particular focus on the influence of small-scale gravity-wave processes. In the first section, we discuss the use of meteor radars to quantify gravity-wave momentum flux from observations of the Doppler drift velocities of meteor trails. In the second section, we outline how spectroscopic measurements of the nightglow emission, resulting from the recombination of oxygen atoms produced during the daytime, have evolved into an important tool for gravity-wave studies.



REH and PJE are funded by the Research Council of Norway/CoE Contract 223252/F50 and through the ARISE2 project which is funded by the European Community’s Horizon 2020 programme under grant agreement no. 653980. RJW is supported through the NASA Postdoctoral Program, administered by Universities Space Research Association through a contract with NASA.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhysicsNorwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)TrondheimNorway
  2. 2.Birkeland Centre for Space ScienceBergenNorway
  3. 3.Space Weather LaboratoryNASA Goddard Space Flight CenterGreenbeltUSA
  4. 4.Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik (ZAMG)ViennaAustria

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