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Annales Geophysicae An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 26, issue 11
Ann. Geophys., 26, 3279–3293, 2008
https://doi.org/10.5194/angeo-26-3279-2008
© Author(s) 2008. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Ann. Geophys., 26, 3279–3293, 2008
https://doi.org/10.5194/angeo-26-3279-2008
© Author(s) 2008. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

  21 Oct 2008

21 Oct 2008

Plasma transport along discrete auroral arcs and its contribution to the ionospheric plasma convection

A. Kullen1, S. Buchert1, T. Karlsson2, T. Johansson3, S. Lileo2, A. Eriksson1, H. Nilsson4, A. Marchaudon5, and A. N. Fazakerley6 A. Kullen et al.
  • 1Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Uppsala Division, Sweden
  • 2Space and Plasma Physics, School of Electrical Engineering, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
  • 3Laboratory for Atmosphere and Space Physics, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA
  • 4Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Kiruna Division, Sweden
  • 5Laboratoire de Physique et Chimie de l'Environnement, CNRS, Orléans, France
  • 6Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, Surrey, UK

Abstract. The role of intense high-altitude electric field (E-field) peaks for large-scale plasma convection is investigated with the help of Cluster E-field, B-field and density data. The study covers 32 E-field events between 4 and 7 RE geocentric distance, with E-field magnitudes in the range 500–1000 mV/m when mapped to ionospheric altitude. We focus on E-field structures above the ionosphere that are typically coupled to discrete auroral arcs and their return current region. Connected to such E-field peaks are rapid plasma flows directed along the discrete arcs in opposite directions on each side of the arc.

Nearly all the E-field events occur during active times. A strong dependence on different substorm phases is found: a majority of intense E-field events appearing during substorm expansion or maximum phase are located on the nightside oval, while most recovery events occur on the dusk-to-dayside part of the oval. For most expansion and maximum phase cases, the average background plasma flow is in the sunward direction. For a majority of recovery events, the flow is in the anti-sunward direction.

The net plasma flux connected to a strong E-field peak is in two thirds of the cases in the same direction as the background plasma flow. However, in only one third of the cases the strong flux caused by an E-field peak makes an important contribution to the plasma transport within the boundary plasma sheet. For a majority of events, the area covered by rapid plasma flows above discrete arcs is too small to have an effect on the global convection. This questions the role of discrete auroral arcs as major driver of plasma convection.

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