Energetic Radiation Belt Electron Precipitation: A Natural Depletion Mechanism for Stratospheric Ozone

+ See all authors and affiliations

Science  21 Jan 1977:
Vol. 195, Issue 4275, pp. 287-289
DOI: 10.1126/science.195.4275.287


During geomagnetically disturbed periods the precipitational loss of energetic electrons from the outer radiation belt of the earth can readily provide the major ionization source for the mesosphere and upper stratosphere. One particularly intense manifestation of this interaction between the radiation belts and the lower atmosphere is the relativistic electron precipitation (REP) event which occurs at subauroral latitudes during magnetospheric substorm activity. At relativistic energies the precipitating electrons produce copious fluxes of energetic bremsstrahlung x-rays, the major portion of which penetrate deep into the stratosphere before undergoing excitation and ionization collisions with the neutral atmosphere. If such REP events occur more than a few percent of the time, they can, on an annual basis, provide a local source of upper stratospheric nitric oxide molecules (via the dissociation of molecular nitrogen) comparable to that from either galactic cosmic rays or energetic solar proton events. Since nitric oxide plays a major role in the removal of stratospheric ozone, it appears that the influence of REP events must also be considered in future photochemical modeling of the terrestrial ozone layer.