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Annales Geophysicae An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 20, issue 2
Ann. Geophys., 20, 161–174, 2002
© Author(s) 2002. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Ann. Geophys., 20, 161–174, 2002
© Author(s) 2002. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

  28 Feb 2002

28 Feb 2002

Ionospheric cusp flows pulsed by solar wind Alfvén waves

P. Prikryl1, G. Provan2, K. A. McWilliams2, and T. K. Yeoman2 P. Prikryl et al.
  • 1Communications Research Centre, Ottawa, Ontario K2H 8S2, Canada
  • 2Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, UK
  • Correspondence to: P. Prikryl (

Abstract. Pulsed ionospheric flows (PIFs) in the cusp foot-print have been observed by the SuperDARN radars with periods between a few minutes and several tens of minutes. PIFs are believed to be a consequence of the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) reconnection with the magnetospheric magnetic field on the dayside magnetopause, ionospheric signatures of flux transfer events (FTEs). The quasiperiodic PIFs are correlated with Alfvénic fluctuations observed in the upstream solar wind. It is concluded that on these occasions, the FTEs were driven by Alfvén waves coupling to the day-side magnetosphere. Case studies are presented in which the dawn-dusk component of the Alfvén wave electric field modulates the reconnection rate as evidenced by the radar observations of the ionospheric cusp flows. The arrival of the IMF southward turning at the magnetopause is determined from multipoint solar wind magnetic field and/or plasma measurements, assuming plane phase fronts in solar wind. The cross-correlation lag between the solar wind data and ground magnetograms that were obtained near the cusp footprint exceeded the estimated spacecraft-to-magnetopause propagation time by up to several minutes. The difference can account for and/or exceeds the Alfvén propagation time between the magnetopause and ionosphere. For the case of short period ( < 13 min) PIFs, the onset times of the flow transients appear to be further delayed by at most a few more minutes after the IMF southward turning arrived at the magnetopause. For the case of long period (30 – 40 min) PIFs, the observed additional delays were 10–20 min. We interpret the excess delay in terms of an intrinsic time scale for reconnection (Russell et al., 1997) which can be explained by the surface-wave induced magnetic reconnection mechanism (Uberoi et al., 1999). Here, surface waves with wavelengths larger than the thickness of the neutral layer induce a tearing-mode instability whose rise time explains the observed delay of the reconnection onset. The compressional fluctuations in solar wind and those generated in the magnetosheath through the interaction between the solar wind Alfvén waves and the bow shock were the source of magnetopause surface waves inducing reconnection.

Key words. Interplanetary physics (MHD waves and turbulence) – Magnetospheric physics (magnetosphere-ionosphere interactions; solar wind-magnetosphere interactions)

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