On the triggering of auroral substorms by northward turnings of the interplanetary magnetic field
Abstract. Some studies over the last decade have indicated that the instability responsible for substorm expansion phase onset may require an external trigger such as a northward turning of the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF). Statistical investigations have lead to contrasting interpretations regarding the relationship between proposed solar wind triggers and substorm onsets identified from geomagnetic data. We therefore present the results of a study into the possible triggering of 260 substorms between 2001–2005, exploiting data from the Cluster and IMAGE satellite missions. We find that only a small fraction (<25%) of the substorms studied are associated with northward turnings of the IMF. However, the majority of the observed onsets are associated with a growth phase characterised using a subset of the criteria employed to define northward-turning IMF triggers. Based upon a case-by-case investigation and the results of an analysis using the statistics of point processes, we conclude that northward-turning structures in the IMF, while sometimes coinciding with the initial phase of individual substorms, are not required to trigger the magnetospheric instability associated with substorm expansion phase onset.