Articles | Volume 27, issue 4
08 Apr 2009
 | 08 Apr 2009

Cluster view of the plasma sheet boundary layer and bursty bulk flow connection

O. W. Lennartsson, L. M. Kistler, and H. Rème

Abstract. The high-latitude boundaries of the plasma sheet (PSBL) are dynamic latitude zones of recurring and transient (minutes to tens of minutes) earthward and magnetic field-aligned bursts of plasma, each being more or less confined in longitude as well, whose ionic component is dominated by protons with flux, energies and density that are consistent with a central plasma sheet (CPS) source at varying distance (varying rates of energy time dispersion), sometimes as close as the ~19 RE Cluster apogees, or closer still. The arguably most plausible source consists of so called "bursty bulk flows" (BBFs), i.e. proton bulk flow events with large, positive and bursty GSE vx. Known mainly from CPS observations made at GSE x>−30 RE, the BBF type events probably take place much further downtail as well. What makes the BBFs an especially plausible source are (1) their earthward bulk flow, which helps explain the lack of distinctive latitudinal PSBL energy dispersion, and (2) their association with a transient strong increase of the local tail Bz component ("local dipolarization"). The enhanced Bz provides intermittent access to higher latitudes for the CPS plasma, resulting in local density reductions in the tail midplane, as illustrated here by proton data from the Cluster CIS CODIF instruments. Another sign of kinship between the PSBL bursts and the BBFs is their similar spatial fine structure. The PSBL bursts have prominent filaments aligned along the magnetic field with transverse flux gradients that are often characterized by local ~10 keV proton gyroradii scale size (or even smaller), as evidenced by Cluster measurements. The same kind of fine structure is also found during Cluster near-apogee traversals of the tail midplane, as illustrated here and implied by recently published statistics on BBFs obtained with Cluster multipoint observations at varying satellite separations. Altogether, the Cluster observations described here mesh rather well with theories about so called plasma sheet "bubbles," i.e. earthward drifting closed magnetic flux tubes with reduced particle pressure and enhanced magnetic field strength at their apex. It is argued that such bubbles may be initiated by localized diamagnetic instabilities.