Multisatellite observations of rapid subauroral ion drifts (SAID)


  • P. C. Anderson,

  • D. L. Carpenter,

  • K. Tsuruda,

  • T. Mukai,

  • F. J. Rich


We present the first conjugate observations of subauroral ion drifts (SAID) in the magnetosphere (∼9000 km altitude) and ionosphere and coincident measurements by four ionospheric satellites. The parameters measured include ion drifts, energetic precipitating electrons and ions, and the magnetic field perturbations associated with field-aligned currents. Observations indicate that SAID are very coherent features that occur simultaneously over a large magnetic local time (MLT) range, from at least 1600 to 2400 MLT. The equatorward extent of SAID, the ion precipitation, and the region 2 field-aligned currents (FAC) flowing into the ionosphere are all shown to be coincident at all MLT locations where SAID are observed. They also appear to be closely related to the conductivity distribution in the subauroral ionosphere and the midlatitude trough. This is interpreted as an indication that their latitudinal distribution is a consequence of the subauroral conductivity structure and the movement of the plasma sheet ion and electron boundaries. Conjugate measurements at diverse altitudes when mapped along field lines are nearly identical, indicating the absence of significant field-aligned potential drops. Temporally separated SAID measurements in similar MLT regions show a reduction with time in the field-aligned current densities with little reduction in the potential drop across the SAID. We interpret the results as an indication that the magnetosphere acts as a current generator in which large FAC are initially required to support the electric field gradient in a SAID event. Subsequent evolution in the E and F regions produces large conductivity gradients that are in the right sense to remove the intense FAC requirement but maintain the large subauroral electric fields. The reported potential drops in the subauroral region can be a significant fraction of the total, up to 60 kV or more, and must be taken into account when deriving any magnetospheric convection pattern.