Researchers have reported ionospheric electron distribution abnormalities, such as electron density enhancements and/or depletions, that they claimed were related to forthcoming earthquakes. In this study, the Tohoku earthquake is examined using ionosonde data to establish whether any otherwise unexplained ionospheric anomalies were detected in the days and hours prior to the event. As the choices for the ionospheric baseline are generally different between previous works, three separate baselines for the peak plasma frequency of the F2 layer, foF2, are employed here; the running 30-day median (commonly used in other works), the International Reference Ionosphere (IRI) model and the Thermosphere Ionosphere Electrodynamic General Circulation Model (TIE-GCM). It is demonstrated that the classification of an ionospheric perturbation is heavily reliant on the baseline used, with the 30-day median, the IRI and the TIE-GCM generally underestimating, approximately describing and overestimating the measured foF2, respectively, in the 1-month period leading up to the earthquake. A detailed analysis of the ionospheric variability in the 3 days before the earthquake is then undertaken, where a simultaneous increase in foF2 and the Es layer peak plasma frequency, foEs, relative to the 30-day median was observed within 1 h before the earthquake. A statistical search for similar simultaneous foF2 and foEs increases in 6 years of data revealed that this feature has been observed on many other occasions without related seismic activity. Therefore, it is concluded that one cannot confidently use this type of ionospheric perturbation to predict an impending earthquake. It is suggested that in order to achieve significant progress in our understanding of seismo-ionospheric coupling, better account must be taken of other known sources of ionospheric variability in addition to solar and geomagnetic activity, such as the thermospheric coupling.

Carter, B. A.;Kellerman, A. C.;Kane, T. A.;Dyson, P. L.;Norman, R.;Zhang, K.
Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics
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