Articles | Volume 7, issue 5
Research article
19 Oct 2016
Research article |  | 19 Oct 2016

Ionospheric influence on the seismo-telluric current related to electromagnetic signals observed before the Wenchuan MS 8.0 earthquake

Mei Li, Handong Tan, and Meng Cao

Abstract. A three-layer (Earth–air–ionosphere) physical model, as well as a two-layer (Earth–air) model, is employed in this paper to investigate the ionospheric effect on the wave fields for a finite length dipole current source co-located at a hypocenter depth and along the main fault of an earthquake when the distance between the epicenter and an observing station is up to 1000 km or even more. The results show that all electrical fields are free of ionospheric effects for different frequencies in a relative short range, e.g.,  ∼  300 km for f =  1 Hz, implying the ionospheric influence on electromagnetic fields can be neglected within this range, which becomes smaller as the frequency increases. However, the ionosphere can give a constructive interference to the waves passing through and make them decay slowly when an observation is out of this range; moreover, the ionospheric effect can be up to 1–2 orders of magnitude of the electrical fields. For a ground-based observable 1.3 mV m−1 electric signal at f =  1 Hz 1440 km away from the Wenchuan MS 8.0 earthquake, the expected seismo-telluric current magnitude for the Earth–air–ionosphere model is of 5.0  ×  107A, 1 magnitude smaller than the current value of 3.7  ×  108A obtained by the Earth–air model free of ionospheric effects. This indicates that the ionosphere facilitates the electromagnetic wave propagation, as if the detectability of the system were improved effectively and it is easier to record a signal even for stations located at distances beyond their detectability thresholds. Furthermore, the radiating patterns of the electrical field components |Ex| and |Ey| are complementary to each other, although any two-dimensional (2-D) power distribution of these components shows strong power areas as well as weak ones, which is advantageous to register a signal if the observing system is designed to measure both of them instead of only one.

Short summary
The paper focuses on the enhancement of the electromagnetic signal in the waveguide between the surface of the Earth and ionosphere. The ionosphere can facilitate the electromagnetic wave propagation, as if the detectability of the observing system is improved effectively, which makes it reasonable that sometimes electromagnetic signals are recorded at a seemingly unreasonable distance.