Current sheet thinning, reconnection onset, and auroral morphology during geomagnetic substorms

Thursday, 17 December 2015: 16:00
2018 (Moscone West)
Antonius Otto, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, United States
Geomagnetic substorms represent a fundamental energy release mechanism for the terrestrial magnetosphere. Specifically, the evolution of thin currents sheets during the substorm growth phase plays a key role for substorms because such current sheets present a much lower threshold for the onset of tearing modes and magnetic reconnection than the usually thick magnetotail current sheet. Here we examine and compare two basic processes for current sheet thinning in the Earth’s magnetotail: Current sheet thinning (1) through closed magnetic flux depletion (MFD) in the near Earth magnetotail caused by divergent flux transport to replace closed flux on the dayside and (2) through accumulation of open flux magnetic flux in the tail lobes also caused by dayside reconnection. Both processes are expected to operate during any period of enhanced dayside reconnection. It is demonstrated that closed magnetic flux depletion (MFD) in the near Earth magnetotail and the increase of open lobe magnetic flux can lead to the evolution of two separate thin current sheets in the near Earth and the mid tail regions of the magnetosphere. While the auroral morphology associated with MFD and near Earth current sheet formation is well consistent with typical substorm growth observation, midtail current sheet formation through lobe flux increase shows only a minor influence on the auroral ionosphere. We discuss the physics of the dual current sheet formation and local and auroral properties of magnetic reconnection in either current sheet. It is suggested that only reconnection onset in the near Earth current sheet may be consistent with substorm expansion because the flux tube entropy depletion of mid tail reconnection appears insufficient to cause geosynchronous particle injection and dipolarization. Therefore reconnection in the mid tail current sheet is more likely associated with bursty bulk flows or dipolarization fronts which stop short of geosynchronous distances.