Lidar Observations of the Meteoric Deposition of Mesospheric Metals

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Science  26 Feb 1993:
Vol. 259, Issue 5099, pp. 1297-1300
DOI: 10.1126/science.259.5099.1297


The mesospheric sodium and iron layers at an altitude between about 80 and 110 kilometers are routinely monitored by atmospheric physicists using resonance fluorescence lidar techniques because these constituents are excellent tracers of mesopause chemistry and dynamics. The mesospheric metals are the products of meteoric ablation. Existing ablation profiles are model calculations based in part on radar observations of the ionized background atmosphere left in the wake of high-speed (> 20 kilometers per second) meteoroids. Thin trails of neutral metal atoms, ablated from individual meteoroids, are occasionally observed with high-power lidars. The vertical distribution of 101 sodium and 5 iron meteor trails observed during the past 4 years at Urbana, Illinois; Arecibo, Puerto Rico; and near Hawaii is approximately Gaussian in shape with a centroid height of 89.0 (± 0.3) kilometers and a root-mean-square width of 3.3 (± 0.2) kilometers. This directly measured ablation profile is nearly the same as the mean iron layer profile but is considerably different from existing models and the distribution of ionized meteor trails observed by radars. A lower limit on the influx to the mesopause region from the lidar meteors is approximately 1.6 x 103 sodium and 2.7 x 104 iron atoms per second per square centimeter, which corresponds to an annual flux of meteoric debris into the mesosphere of about 2.0 (±0.6) gigagrams. Because the lidars can detect only the ablation trails left by the larger meteors, the observations suggest that the actual meteoric influx may be larger than the more recently reported values, which range between 16 and 78 gigagrams per year.