University of Oulu

Dynamics of the polar cap boundary and the auroral oval in the nightside ionosphere

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Author: Pitkänen, Timo1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Science, Department of Physics
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.4 MB)
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Language: English
Published: 2011
Publish Date: 2011-06-07
Thesis type: Doctoral Dissertation
Defence Note: Academic dissertation to be presented, with the permission of the Faculty of Science of the University of Oulu, for public discussion in the Auditorium L10, Linnanmaa, on 10 June, 2011, at 12 o’clock noon.
Reviewer: Doctor Stephan Buchert
Professor Eija Tanskanen
Opponent: Doctor Stephan Buchert
Kustos: Docent Anita Aikio


The high-latitude polar ionosphere is characterized by two regions, the polar cap and the auroral oval. In the polar cap, the geomagnetic field lines are open and connect to the solar wind, whereas the field lines in the auroral oval are closed and map to the plasma sheet and the plasma sheet boundary layer in the magnetosphere. The two substantially different magnetic and plasma domains are separated by a separatrix, the polar cap boundary (PCB), which is an ionospheric projection of the open-closed field line boundary (OCB) in the magnetosphere.

In this thesis, a new method to determine the location of the PCB in the nightside ionosphere based on electron temperature measurements by EISCAT incoherent scatter radars is introduced. Comparisons with other PCB proxies like poleward boundary of the auroral emissions, poleward edge of the auroral electrojets and poleward boundary of energetic particle precipitation show general agreement. By applying the method to several events together with other supporting ground-based and space-borne observations, dynamic processes and phenomena in the vicinity of the PCB and inside the auroral oval are studied.

The main results include the following. During substorm expansion, the PCB moves poleward in a burstlike manner with individual bursts separated by 2–10 min, indicating impulsive reconnection in the magnetotail. In one event, a possible signature of the high-altitude counterpart of the Earthward flowing field-aligned current of the Hall current system at the magnetotail reconnection site is observed. Investigation of the relation between the auroral activity and the local reconnection rate estimated from the EISCAT measurements reveals direct association between individual auroral poleward boundary intensifications (PBIs) and intensifications in the ionospheric reconnection electric field within the same MLT sector. The result confirms earlier suggestions of positive correlation between PBIs and enhanced flux closure in the magnetotail. In another event, quiet-time bursty bulk flows (BBFs) and their ionospheric signatures are studied. The BBFs are found to be consistent with the so called “bubble” model with Earthward fast flows inside the region of depleted plasma density (bubble). The tailward return flows show an interesting asymmetry in plasma density. Whereas the duskside return flows show signatures of a depleted wake, consistent with a recent suggestion, no similar feature is seen for the dawnside return flows, but rather increase in density. The BBFs are associated with auroral streamers in the conjugate ionosphere, consistently with previous findings. The related ionospheric plasma flow patterns are interpreted as ionospheric counterpart of the BBF flows, excluding the dawnside return flows which could not be identified in the ionosphere. The BBFs and streamers are found to appear during an enhanced reconnection electric field in the magnetotail.

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Series: Report series in physical sciences
ISSN: 1239-4327
ISSN-L: 1239-4327
ISBN: 978-951-42-9447-1
ISBN Print: 978-951-42-9446-4
Issue: 67
Copyright information: © University of Oulu, 2011. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.