Articles | Volume 35, issue 6
Regular paper
15 Dec 2017
Regular paper |  | 15 Dec 2017

Relative outflow enhancements during major geomagnetic storms – Cluster observations

Audrey Schillings, Hans Nilsson, Rikard Slapak, Masatoshi Yamauchi, and Lars-Göran Westerberg

Abstract. The rate of ion outflow from the polar ionosphere is known to vary by orders of magnitude, depending on the geomagnetic activity. However, the upper limit of the outflow rate during the largest geomagnetic storms is not well constrained due to poor spatial coverage during storm events. In this paper, we analyse six major geomagnetic storms between 2001 and 2004 using Cluster data. The six major storms fulfil the criteria of Dst  < −100 nT or Kp  > 7+. Since the shape of the magnetospheric regions (plasma mantle, lobe and inner magnetosphere) are distorted during large magnetic storms, we use both plasma beta (β) and ion characteristics to define a spatial box where the upward O+ flux scaled to an ionospheric reference altitude for the extreme event is observed. The relative enhancement of the scaled outflow in the spatial boxes as compared to the data from the full year when the storm occurred is estimated. Only O+ data were used because H+ may have a solar wind origin. The storm time data for most cases showed up as a clearly distinguishable separate peak in the distribution toward the largest fluxes observed. The relative enhancement in the outflow region during storm time is 1 to 2 orders of magnitude higher compared to less disturbed time. The largest relative scaled outflow enhancement is 83 (7 November 2004) and the highest scaled O+ outflow observed is 2  ×  1014 m−2 s−1 (29 October 2003).

Short summary
The Earth's atmosphere is constantly losing ions and in particular oxygen ions. This phenomenon is important to understand the atmospheric evolution on a large timescale. In this study, the O+ outflow is estimated during six extreme geomagnetic storms using the European Cluster mission data. These estimations are compared with average magnetospheric conditions and show that during those six extreme storms, the O+ outflow is approximately 2 orders of magnitude higher.