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A number of observations of the sodium density primarily in the mesosphere and lower thermosphere (but also of the electron density structure) have shown what appears to be overturning or convective roll cells near the transition from the mesosphere to the lower thermosphere. The cells are found in the region between 95 and 105 km and occur near the boundary between the region of lower stability in the mesosphere and the region of higher stability in the lower thermosphere. The vertical scale for the rolls is ~5–6 km, and the timescale is ~1–3 hours. The rolls occur in a region characterized by large shear in the neutral winds, but the timescales are too long to be explained by simple Kelvin-Helmholtz instability. We present observations from the University of Illinois lidar facility located at the Starfire Optical Range near Albuquerque, New Mexico, from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, and from the Maui/MALT Lidar Facility located on Maui in Hawaii that show the overturning structure. Possible mechanisms for generating the convective rolls are discussed, including the relationship of the observed features to the characteristics expected for an inflection point instability.

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Journal of Geophysical Research