An analysis of the accuracy of magnetopause reconnection rate variations deduced from cusp ion dispersion characteristics
Abstract. We present an analysis of the accuracy of the method introduced by Lockwood et al. (1994) for the determination of the magnetopause reconnection rate from the dispersion of precipitating ions in the ionospheric cusp region. Tests are made by applying the method to synthesised data. The simulated cusp ion precipitation data are produced by an analytic model of the evolution of newly-opened field lines, along which magnetosheath ions are firstly injected across the magnetopause and then dispersed as they propagate into the ionosphere. The rate at which these newly opened field lines are generated by reconnection can be varied. The derived reconnection rate estimates are then compared with the input variation to the model and the accuracy of the method assessed. Results are presented for steady-state reconnection, for continuous reconnection showing a sine-wave variation in rate and for reconnection which only occurs in square wave pulses. It is found that the method always yields the total flux reconnected (per unit length of the open-closed field-line boundary) to within an accuracy of better than 5%, but that pulses tend to be smoothed so that the peak reconnection rate within the pulse is underestimated and the pulse length is overestimated. This smoothing is reduced if the separation between energy channels of the instrument is reduced; however this also acts to increase the experimental uncertainty in the estimates, an effect which can be countered by improving the time resolution of the observations. The limited time resolution of the data is shown to set a minimum reconnection rate below which the method gives spurious short-period oscillations about the true value. Various examples of reconnection rate variations derived from cusp observations are discussed in the light of this analysis.