Articles | Volume 19, issue 5
31 May 2001
 | 31 May 2001

Excitation of transient lobe cell convection and auroral arc at the cusp poleward boundary during a transition of the interplanetary magnetic field from south to north

P. E. Sandholt, C. J. Farrugia, S. W. H. Cowley, M. Lester, and J.-C. Cerisier

Abstract. We document the activation of transient polar arcs emanating from the cusp within a 15 min long intermediate phase during the transition from a standard two-cell convection pattern, representative of a strongly southward interplanetary magnetic field (IMF), to a "reverse" two-cell pattern, representative of strongly northward IMF conditions. During the 2–3 min lifetime of the arc, its base in the cusp, appearing as a bright spot, moved eastward toward noon by ~ 300 km. As the arc moved, it left in its "wake" enhanced cusp precipitation. The polar arc is a tracer of the activation of a lobe convection cell with clockwise vorticity, intruding into the previously established large-scale distorted two-cell pattern, due to an episode of localized lobe reconnection. The lobe cell gives rise to strong flow shear (converging electric field) and an associated sheet of outflowing field-aligned current, which is manifested by the polar arc. The enhanced cusp precipitation represents, in our view, the ionospheric footprint of the lobe reconnection process.

Key words. Magnetospheric physics (auroral phenomena; magnetopause, cusp, and boundary layers; plasma convection)