Three-dimensional current systems and ionospheric effects associated with small dipolarisation fronts

We present a case study of eight successive plasma sheet (PS) activations (usually referred to as bursty bulk flows or dipolarization fronts ) associated with small individual inline image increases on 31 March 2009 (0200\textendash0900 UT), observed by the THEMIS mission. This series of events happens during very quiet solar wind conditions, over a period of 7 hours preceding a substorm onset at 1230 UT. The amplitude of the dipolarizations increases with time. The low-amplitude dipolarization fronts are associated with few (1 or 2) rapid flux transport events (RFT, Eh > 2mV/m), whereas the large-amplitude ones encompass many more RFT events. All PS activations are associated with small and localized substorm current wedge (SCW) like current system signatures, which seems to be the consequence of RFT arrival in the near tail. The associated ground magnetic perturbations affect a larger part of the contracted auroral oval when, in the magnetotail, more RFT are embedded in PS activations (> 5). Dipolarization fronts with very low amplitude, a type usually not included in statistical studies, are of particular interest because we found even those to be associated with clear small SCW-like current system and particle injections at geosynchronous orbit. This exceptional dataset highlights the role of flow bursts in the magnetotail and leads to the conclusion that we may be observing the smallest form of a substorm, or rather its smallest element. This study also highlights the gradual evolution of the ionospheric current disturbance as the plasma sheet is observed to heat-up.
Year of Publication
Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Date Published