Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Aerospace Engineering Sciences

First Advisor

Xinlin Li

Second Advisor

William K. Peterson

Third Advisor

Laila Andersson


The mechanisms by which thermal O+ escapes from the top of the ionosphere and into the magnetosphere are not fully understood even with 30 years of active research. This thesis introduces a new database, builds a simulation framework around a thermospheric model and exploits these tools to gain new insights into the study of O+ ion outflows. A dynamic auroral boundary identification system is developed using Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) spacecraft observations at 850 km to build a database characterizing the oxygen source region. This database resolves the ambiguity of the expansion and contraction of the auroral zone. Mining this new dataset, new understanding is revealed. We describe the statistical trajectory of the cleft ion fountain return flows over the polar cap as a function of activity and the orientation of the interplanetary magnetic field y-component. A substantial peak in upward moving O+ in the morning hours is discovered. Using published high altitude data we demonstrate that between 850 and 6000 km altitude, O+ is energized predominantly through transverse heating; and acceleration in this altitude region is relatively more important in the cusp than at midnight. We compare data with a thermospheric model to study the effects of solar irradiance, electron precipitation and neutral wind on the distribution of upward O+ at auroral latitudes. EUV irradiance is shown to play a dominant role in establishing a dawn-focused source population of upwelling O+ that is responsible for a pre-noon feature in escaping O+ fluxes. This feature has been corroborated by observations on platforms including the Dynamics Explorer 1 (DE-1), Polar, and Fast Auroral Snapshot SnapshoT (FAST) spacecraft. During quiet times our analysis shows that the neutral wind is more important than electron precipitation in establishing the dayside O+ upwelling distribution. Electron precipitation is found to play a relatively modest role in controlling dayside, and a critical role in controlling nightside, upwelling O+. This thesis provides a new database, and insights into the study of oxygen ion outflows during quiet times. These results and tools will be essential for researchers working on topics involving magnetosphere-ionosphere interactions.