The Plasmasphere Boundary Layer
- 1STAR laboratory, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94 305, USA
- 2CSR-UCL, Louvain, Belgium
- 3IASB, Brussels, Belgium
Abstract. As an inner magnetospheric phenomenon the plasmapause region is of interest for a number of reasons, one being the occurrence there of geophysically important interactions between the plasmas of the hot plasma sheet and of the cool plasmasphere. There is a need for a conceptual framework within which to examine and discuss these interactions and their consequences, and we therefore suggest that the plasmapause region be called the Plasmasphere Boundary Layer, or PBL. Such a term has been slow to emerge because of the complexity and variability of the plasma populations that can exist near the plasmapause and because of the variety of criteria used to identify the plasmapause in experimental data. Furthermore, and quite importantly in our view, a substantial obstacle to the consideration of the plasmapause region as a boundary layer has been the longstanding tendency of textbooks on space physics to limit introductory material on the plasmapause phenomenon to zeroth order descriptions in terms of ideal MHD theory, thus implying that the plasmasphere is relatively well understood. A textbook may introduce the concept of shielding of the inner magnetosphere from perturbing convection electric fields, but attention is not usually paid to the variety of physical processes reported to occur in the PBL, such as heating, instabilities, and fast longitudinal flows, processes which must play roles in plasmasphere dynamics in concert with the flow regimes associated with the major dynamo sources of electric fields. We believe that through the use of the PBL concept in future textbook discussions of the plasmasphere and in scientific communications, much progress can be made on longstanding questions about the physics involved in the formation of the plasmapause and in the cycles of erosion and recovery of the plasmasphere.
Key words. Magnetospheric physics (plasmasphere; plasma convection; MHD waves and instabilities)