Refilling process in the plasmasphere: a 3-D statistical characterization based on Cluster density observations
Abstract. The Cluster mission offers an excellent opportunity to investigate the evolution of the plasma population in a large part of the inner magnetosphere, explored near its orbit's perigee, over a complete solar cycle. The WHISPER sounder, on board each satellite of the mission, is particularly suitable to study the electron density in this region, between 0.2 and 80 cm−3. Compiling WHISPER observations during 1339 perigee passes distributed over more than three years of the Cluster mission, we present first results of a statistical analysis dedicated to the study of the electron density morphology and dynamics along and across magnetic field lines between L = 2 and L = 10. In this study, we examine a specific topic: the refilling of the plasmasphere and trough regions during extended periods of quiet magnetic conditions. To do so, we survey the evolution of the ap index during the days preceding each perigee crossing and sort out electron density profiles along the orbit according to three classes, namely after respectively less than 2 days, between 2 and 4 days, and more than 4 days of quiet magnetic conditions (ap ≤ 15 nT) following an active episode (ap > 15 nT). This leads to three independent data subsets. Comparisons between density distributions in the 3-D plasmasphere and trough regions at the three stages of quiet magnetosphere provide novel views about the distribution of matter inside the inner magnetosphere during several days of low activity. Clear signatures of a refilling process inside an expended plasmasphere in formation are noted. A plasmapause-like boundary, at L ~ 6 for all MLT sectors, is formed after 3 to 4 days and expends somewhat further after that. In the outer part of the plasmasphere (L ~ 8), latitudinal profiles of median density values vary essentially according to the MLT sector considered rather than according to the refilling duration. The shape of these density profiles indicates that magnetic flux tubes are not fully replenished after 6 days of quiet conditions. In addition, the outer plasmasphere in the night and dawn sectors (22:00 to 10:00 MLT range) maintains an overall clear deficit of ionospheric population, when compared to the situation in the noon and dusk sectors (10:00 to 22:00 MLT range).