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GPS-derived Total Electron Content (TEC) is an integrated quantity; hence it is difficult to relate the detection of ionospheric perturbations in TEC to a precise altitude. As TEC is weighted by the maximum ionospheric density, the corresponding altitude (hmF2) is, generally, assumed as the perturbation detection altitude. To investigate the validity of this assumption in detail, we conduct an accurate analysis of the GPS-TEC measured early ionospheric signatures related to the vertical surface displacement of the Mw 7.4 Sanriku-Oki earthquake (Sanriku-Oki Tohoku foreshock). Using 3D acoustic ray tracing model to describe the evolution of the propagating seismo-acoustic wave in space and time, we demonstrate how to infer the detection altitude of these early signatures in TEC. We determine that the signatures can be detected at altitudes up to ~130 km below the hmF2. This peculiar behaviour is attributed to the satellite line of sight (LOS) geometry and station location with respect to the source, which allows one to sound the co-seismic ionospheric signatures directly above the rupture area. We show that the early onset times correspond to crossing of the LOS with the acoustic wavefront at lower ionospheric altitudes. To support the proposed approach, we further reconstruct the seismo-acoustic induced ionospheric signatures for a moving satellite in the presence of a geomagnetic field. Both the 3D acoustic ray tracing model and the synthetic waveforms from the 3D coupled model substantiate the observed onset time of the ionospheric signatures. Moreover, our simple 3D acoustic ray tracing approach allows one to extend this analysis to azimuths different than that of the station-source line.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.