Auroral electrojets and boundaries of plasma domains in the magnetosphere during magnetically disturbed intervals
Abstract. We investigate variations in the location and intensity of the auroral electrojets during magnetic storms and substorms using a numerical method for estimating the equivalent ionospheric currents based on data from meridian chains of magnetic observatories. Special attention was paid to the complex structure of the electrojets and their interrelationship with diffuse and discrete particle precipitation and field-aligned currents in the dusk sector. During magnetospheric substorms the eastward electrojet (EE) location in the evening sector changes with local time from cusp latitudes (Φ~77°) during early afternoon to latitudes of diffuse auroral precipitation (Φ~65°) equatorward of the auroral oval before midnight. During the main phase of an intense magnetic storm the eastward currents in the noon-early evening sector adjoin to the cusp at Φ~65° and in the pre-midnight sector are located at subauroral latitude Φ~57°. The westward electrojet (WE) is located along the auroral oval from evening through night to the morning sector and adjoins to the polar electrojet (PE) located at cusp latitudes in the dayside sector. The integrated values of the eastward (westward) equivalent ionospheric current during the intense substorm are ~0.5 MA (~1.5 MA), whereas they are 0.7 MA (3.0 MA) during the storm main phase maximum. The latitudes of auroral particle precipitation in the dusk sector are identical with those of both electrojets. The EE in the evening sector is accompanied by particle precipitation mainly from the Alfvén layer but also from the near-Earth part of the central plasma sheet. In the lower-latitude part of the EE the field-aligned currents (FACs) flow into the ionosphere (Region 2 FAC), and at its higher-latitude part the FACs flow out of the ionosphere (Region 1 FAC). During intense disturbances, in addition to the Region 2 FAC and the Region 1 FAC, a Region 3 FAC with the downward current was identified. This FAC is accompanied by diffuse electron precipitation from the plasma sheet boundary layer. Actually, the triple system of FAC is observed in the evening sector and, as a consequence, the WE and the EE overlap. The WE in the evening sector comprises only the high-latitude periphery of the plasma precipitation region and corresponds to the Hall current between the Region 1 FAC and Region 3 FAC. During the September 1998 magnetic storm, two velocity bursts (~2–4 km/s) in the magnetospheric convection were observed at the latitudes of particle precipitation from the central plasma sheet and at subauroral latitudes near the ionospheric trough. These kind of bursts are known as subauroral polarization streams (SAPS). In the evening sector the Alfvén layer equatorial boundary for precipitating ions is located more equatorward than that for electrons. This may favour northward electric field generation between these boundaries and may cause high speed westward ions drift visualized as SAPS. Meanwhile, high speed ion drifts cover a wider range of latitudes than the distance between the equatorward boundaries of ions and electrons precipitation. To summarize the results obtained a new scheme of 3-D currents in the magnetosphere-ionosphere system and a clarified view of interrelated 3-D currents and magnetospheric plasma domains are proposed.