Metallicity Gradients in the Milky Way Disk as Observed by the SEGUE Survey
The observed radial and vertical metallicity distribution of old stars in the Milky Way disk provides a powerful constraint on the chemical enrichment and dynamical history of the disk. We present the radial metallicity gradient, Δ[Fe/H]/Δ R, as a function of height above the plane, |Z|, using 7010 main sequence turnoff stars observed by the Sloan Extension for Galactic Understanding and Exploration (SEGUE) survey. The sample consists of mostly old thin and thick disk stars, with a minimal contribution from the stellar halo, in the region 6 < R < 16 kpc, 0.15 < |Z| < 1.5 kpc. The data reveal that the radial metallicity gradient becomes flat at heights |Z| > 1 kpc. The median metallicity at large |Z| is consistent with the metallicities seen in outer disk open clusters, which exhibit a flat radial gradient at [Fe/H] ~ -0.5. We note that the outer disk clusters are also located at large |Z|; because the flat gradient extends to small R for our sample, there is some ambiguity in whether the observed trends for clusters are due to a change in R or |Z|. We therefore stress the importance of considering both the radial and vertical directions when measuring spatial abundance trends in the disk. The flattening of the gradient at high |Z| also has implications on thick disk formation scenarios, which predict different metallicity patterns in the thick disk. A flat gradient, such as we observe, is predicted by a turbulent disk at high redshift, but may also be consistent with radial migration, as long as mixing is strong. We test our analysis methods using a mock catalog based on the model of Schönrich & Binney, and we estimate our distance errors to be ~25%. We also show that we can properly correct for selection biases by assigning weights to our targets.