On the Properties of Ionospheric Convection

University dissertation from Stockholm : KTH

Abstract: The solar wind interaction with the magnetosphere-ionosphere system continuously drives plasma convection in the polar regions of the ionosphere. The flow velocity and the shape of the convection pattern are closely dependent on the interplanetary conditions, in particular the direction of the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF). The main driver of the system is considered to be magnetic reconnection between the IMF and the terrestrial field, a process that is most efficient during southward IMF when the magnetic fields at the dayside magnetopause are anti-parallell, and less efficient but still present when the IMF is northward. Additional driving may be caused by waves at the magnetopause flanks, where viscous effects can lead to an energy, momentum and plasma exchange across the boundary.In this work, we make use of the characteristics of the ionospheric convection and particle precipitation to investigate the nature of the driving dynamos, and large statistical data sets for steady solar wind conditions are used to derive the general behavior of the driving processes and their dependence on interplanetary conditions. The results show that the primary dynamo responsible for the convection in the boundary layer is closely dependent on the sign of the IMF Bz component, the average potential over the boundary layer region increases from <1 kV for steady southward IMF up to the order of 10kV for strictly northward conditions with reconnection poleward of the cusps, whereas the magnitude of magnetic field only has a minor influence at most. This could for example indicate that the magnetopause is more unstable to Kelvin-Helmholtz waves for parallel rather than anti-parallel magnetic fields, or that magnetic reconnection on the dayside suppresses other processes.It is well known that the ionospheric potential drop saturates during strong driving conditions and southward IMF. The results presented here also show that the same phenomenon occurs when the IMF is northward. This gives additional information on the physics governing the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere interaction, and may impose new restrictions on the theories explaining the saturation.