Articles | Volume 28, issue 5
28 May 2010
 | 28 May 2010

Are there optical differences between storm-time substorms and isolated substorms?

R. A. Hoffman, J. W. Gjerloev, L. A. Frank, and J. W. Sigwarth

Abstract. We have performed an extensive analysis of auroral optical events (substorms) that occurred during the development of the main phase of magnetic storms. Using images from the Earth Camera on the Polar spacecraft (Frank et al., 1995), we compared the optical emission features of substorms occurring during 16 expansion phases of magnetic storms with the features of isolated substorms occurring during non-storm times. The comparison used two techniques, visual inspection and statistical comparisons. The comparisons were based on the common characteristics seen in isolated substorms that were initially identified by Akasofu (1964) and quantified by Gjerloev et al. (2008). We find that when auroral activity does occur during main phase development the characteristics of the aurora are very dissimilar to those of the classical isolated substorm. The primary differences include the lack of a surge/bulge, lack of bifurcation of the aurora, much shorter expansion phases, and greater intensities.

Since a surge/bulge and bifurcation of the aurora are characteristics of the existence of a substorm current wedge, a key component of the magnetosphere-ionosphere current system during substorms, the lack of this component would indicate that the classical substorm model does not apply to the storm time magnetosphere-ionosphere current system. Rather several of the analyses suggest that the storm-time substorms are associated more closely with the auroral oval, at least spatially, and, therefore, probably with the plasma sheet dynamics during the main phase development. These results then must call into question the widely held assumption that there is no intrinsic difference between storm-time substorms and classical isolated substorms.