Articles | Volume 22, issue 3
19 Mar 2004
 | 19 Mar 2004

Investigation of subauroral ion drifts and related field-aligned currents and ionospheric Pedersen conductivity distribution

S. Figueiredo, T. Karlsson, and G. T. Marklund

Abstract. Based on Astrid-2 satellite data, results are presented from a statistical study on subauroral ion drift (SAID) occurrence. SAID is a subauroral phenomenon characterized by a westward ionospheric ion drift with velocity greater than 1000m/s, or equivalently, by a poleward-directed electric field with intensity greater than 30mV/m. SAID events occur predominantly in the premidnight sector, with a maximum probability located within the 20:00 to 23:00 MLT sector, where the most rapid SAID events are also found. They are substorm related, and show first an increase in intensity and a decrease in latitudinal width during the expansion phase, followed by a weakening and widening of the SAID structures during the recovery phase. The potential drop across a SAID structure is seen to remain roughly constant during the recovery phase.

The field-aligned current density and the height-integrated Pedersen conductivity distribution associated with the SAID events were calculated. The results reveal that the strongest SAID electric field peaks are associated with the lowest Pedersen conductivity minimum values. Clear modifications are seen in the ionospheric Pedersen conductivity distribution associated with the SAID structure as time evolves: the SAID peak is located on the poleward side of the corresponding region of reduced Pedersen conductivity; the shape of the regions of reduced conductivity is asymmetric, with a steeper poleward edge and a more rounded equatorward edge; the SAID structure becomes less intense and widens with evolution of the substorm recovery phase. From the analysis of the SAID occurrence relative to the mid-latitude trough position, SAID peaks are seen to occur relatively close to the corresponding mid-latitude trough minimum. Both these features show a similar response to magnetospheric disturbances, but on different time scales - with increasing magnetic activity, the SAID structure shows a faster movement towards lower latitudes than that of the mid-latitude trough.

From the combined analysis of these results, we conclude that the SAID generation mechanism cannot be regarded either as a pure voltage generator or as a pure current generator, applied to the ionosphere. While the anti-correlation between the width and the peak intensity of the SAID structures with substorm evolution indicates a magnetospheric source acting as a constant voltage generator, the ionospheric modifications and, in particular the reduction in the conductivity for intense SAID structures, are indicative of a constant current system closing through the ionosphere. The ionospheric feedback mechanisms are seen to be of major importance for sustaining and regulating the SAID structures.

Key words. Ionosphere (mid-latitude ionosphere; electric fields and currents; ionosphere-magnetosphere interactions)