Poker Flat Radar Observations of the Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Coupling Electrodynamics of the Earthward Penetrating Plasma Sheet Following Convection Enhancements


Lyons, L. R., Zou, S., Heinselman, C. J., Nicolls, M. J., & Anderson, P. C. (2009). Poker flat radar observations of the magnetosphere–ionosphere coupling electrodynamics of the earthward penetrating plasma sheet following convection enhancements. Journal of atmospheric and solar-terrestrial physics, 71(6-7), 717-728.


The plasma sheet moves earthward (equatorward in the ionosphere) after enhancements in convection, and the electrodynamics of this response is strongly influenced by Region 2 magnetosphere–ionosphere coupling. We have used Poker Flat Advanced Modular Incoherent Scatter Radar (PFISR) observations associated with two relatively abrupt southward turnings of the IMF to provide an initial evaluation of aspects of this response. The observations show that strong westward sub-auroral polarization streams (SAPS) flow regions moved equatorward as the plasma sheet electron precipitation (the diffuse aurora) penetrated equatorward following the IMF southward turnings. Consistent with our identification of these flows as SAPS, concurrent DMSP particle precipitation measurements show the equatorial boundary of ion precipitation equatorward of the electron precipitation boundary and that westward flows lie within the low-conductivity region between the two boundaries where the plasma sheet ion pressure gradient is expected to drive downward R2 currents. Evidence for these downward currents is seen in the DMSP magnetometer observations. Preliminary examination indicates that the SAPS response seen in the examples presented here may be common. However, detailed analysis will be required for many more events to reliably determine if this is the case. If so, it would imply that SAPS are frequently an important aspect of the inner magnetospheric electric field distribution, and that they are critical for understanding the response of the magnetosphere–ionosphere system to enhancements in convection, including understanding the earthward penetration of the plasma sheet. This earthward penetration is critical to geomagnetic disturbance phenomena such as the substorm growth phase and the formation of the stormtime ring current. Additionally, for one example, a prompt electric field response to the IMF southward turnings is seen within the inner plasma sheet.

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