High-latitude ionospheric currents during very quiet times: their characteristics and predictability
Abstract. CHAMP passes the geographic poles at a distance of 2.7° in latitude, thus providing a large number of magnetic readings of the dynamic auroral regions. The data of these numerous overflights were used for a detailed statistical study on the level of activity. A large number of tracks with very low rms of the residuals between the scalar field measurements and a high degree field model were singled out over both the northern and southern polar regions, independently. Low rms values indicate best model fits and are therefore regarded as a measure of low activity, although we are aware that this indicator also has its limitations. The occurrence of quiet periods is strongly controlled by the solar zenith angle at the geomagnetic poles, indicating the importance of the ionospheric conductivity. During the dark polar season, about 30% of the passes can be qualified as quiet. The commonly used magnetic activity indices turn out not to be a reliable measure for the activity state in the polar region. Least suitable is the Dst index, followed by the Kp. Slightly better results are obtained with the PC and the IMAGE-AE indices. The latter is rather effective within a time sector of ±4 hours of magnetic local time around the IMAGE array.
The orientation of the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) is an important controlling factor for the activity. This is also supported by the prevailing FAC distribution during quiet times, which resembles the typical NBZ (northward Bz) pattern. In a superposed epoch analysis we show that the merging electric field is a suitable geoeffective solar wind parameter. Based on the size of this electric field and the solar zenith angle at the geomagnetic poles, a prediction method for quiet auroral region periods is proposed. This may, among others, be useful for the data selection in main field modelling approaches.