Articles | Volume 29, issue 10
Regular paper
18 Oct 2011
Regular paper |  | 18 Oct 2011

Comparison of the observed dependence of large-scale Birkeland currents on solar wind parameters with that obtained from global simulations

H. Korth, L. Rastätter, B. J. Anderson, and A. J. Ridley

Abstract. Spatial distributions of the large-scale Birkeland currents derived from magnetic field data acquired by the constellation of Iridium Communications satellites have been compared with global-magnetosphere magneto-hydrodynamic (MHD) simulations. The Iridium data, spanning the interval from February 1999 to December 2007, were first sorted into 45°-wide bins of the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) clock angle, and the dependencies of the Birkeland currents on solar wind electric field magnitude, Eyz, ram pressure, psw, and Alfvén Mach number, MA, were then examined within each bin. The simulations have been conducted at the publicly-accessible Community Coordinated Modeling Center using the University of Michigan Space Weather modeling Framework, which features a global magnetosphere model coupled to the Rice Convection Model. In excess of 120 simulations with steady-state conditions were executed to yield the dependencies of the Birkeland currents on the solar wind and IMF parameters of the coupled model. Averaged over all IMF orientations, the simulation reproduces the Iridium statistical Birkeland current distributions with a two-dimensional correlation coefficient of about 0.8, and the total current agrees with the climatology averages to within 10%. The total current for individual events regularly exceeds those computed from statistical distributions by factors of ≥2, resulting in larger disparities between observations and simulations. The simulation results also qualitatively reflect the observed increases in total current with increasing Eyz and psw, but the model underestimates the rate of increase by up to 50%. The equatorward expansion and shift of the large-scale currents toward noon observed for increasing Eyz are also evident in the simulation current patterns. Consistent with the observations, the simulation does not show a significant dependence of the total current on MA.