Articles | Volume 23, issue 3
30 Mar 2005
 | 30 Mar 2005

The association of coronal mass ejections with their effects near the Earth

R. Schwenn, A. Dal Lago, E. Huttunen, and W. D. Gonzalez

Abstract. To this day, the prediction of space weather effects near the Earth suffers from a fundamental problem: The radial propagation speed of "halo" CMEs (i.e. CMEs pointed along the Sun-Earth-line that are known to be the main drivers of space weather disturbances) towards the Earth cannot be measured directly because of the unfavorable geometry. From inspecting many limb CMEs observed by the LASCO coronagraphs on SOHO we found that there is usually a good correlation between the radial speed and the lateral expansion speed Vexp of CME clouds. This latter quantity can also be determined for earthward-pointed halo CMEs. Thus, Vexp may serve as a proxy for the otherwise inaccessible radial speed of halo CMEs. We studied this connection using data from both ends: solar data and interplanetary data obtained near the Earth, for a period from January 1997 to 15 April 2001. The data were primarily provided by the LASCO coronagraphs, plus additional information from the EIT instrument on SOHO. Solar wind data from the plasma instruments on the SOHO, ACE and Wind spacecraft were used to identify the arrivals of ICME signatures. Here, we use "ICME" as a generic term for all CME effects in interplanetary space, thus comprising not only ejecta themselves but also shocks as well. Among 181 front side or limb full or partial halo CMEs recorded by LASCO, on the one hand, and 187 ICME events registered near the Earth, on the other hand, we found 91 cases where CMEs were uniquely associated with ICME signatures in front of the Earth. Eighty ICMEs were associated with a shock, and for 75 of them both the halo expansion speed Vexp and the travel time Ttr of the shock could be determined. The function Ttr=203-20.77*ln (Vexp) fits the data best. This empirical formula can be used for predicting further ICME arrivals, with a 95% error margin of about one day. Note, though, that in 15% of comparable cases, a full or partial halo CME does not cause any ICME signature at Earth at all; every fourth partial halo CME and every sixth limb halo CME does not hit the Earth (false alarms). Furthermore, every fifth transient shock or ICME or isolated geomagnetic storm is not caused by an identifiable partial or full halo CME on the front side (missing alarms).