Ionospheric Response to Solar Wind Pressure Pulses Under Northward IMF Conditions

  • Author(s): Kan Liou, Desheng Han, and Huigen Yang
  • DOI: 10.3319/TAO.2012.09.11.01(SEC)
  • Keywords: Particle precipitation, Auroral ionosphere, Solar wind-magnetosphere interactions

Kan Liou, Desheng Han, and Huigen Yang


Enhancements of aurora and auroral electrojets in response to sudden compression of the magnetosphere by shocks/pressure pulses are well known and have been attributed by some to compression-enhanced magnetic field reconnection. To examine such a view, we analyze a fortuitous event that is comprised of a series of pressure pulses (< 20 min) on November 8, 2000. These pressure pulses were preceded by a large, northward interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) that lasted more than 15 hours such that effects from reconnection can be minimized. Auroral images acquired by ultraviolet imager on board the Polar satellite clearly show intensifications of the aurora that occurred first near local noon and progressively extended from dayside to nightside. The area-integrated global auroral power reached ~30 gigawatts (GW). It is also found that the global auroral power is well correlated with the solar wind dynamic pressure (correlation coefficient r ~0.90), rather than the change in the solar wind dynamic pressure. In-situ measurements of particle data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellite indicate that the magnetospheric source for the pressure-enhanced auroras is most likely the central plasma sheet. Other ionospheric parameters such as the auroral electrojet (AE index), magnetic storm index (Sym-H), and the cross polarcap potential drop also show a one-to-one correspondence to the pressure pulses. In one instance the auroral electrojets AE index reached more than 200 nT, the cross polar-cap potential drop (Φpc) inferred from the SuperDARN radar network ionospheric plasma convection increased to ~60 kV. The observed increases in the auroral emissions, AE, and polar cap potential were not associated with substorms. Our result strongly suggests that solar wind pressure pulses are an important source of geomagnetic activity during northward IMF periods.

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