Single-spacecraft detection of rolled-up Kelvin-Helmholtz vortices at the flank magnetopause

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Abstract

[1] Recent numerical simulations suggest that as soon as the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability (KHI) has grown nonlinearly to form a highly rolled-up vortex, plasma mixing is inevitably achieved within the vortex. Identification of rolled-up vortices by in situ measurements is therefore an important task as a step to establish the mechanism by which solar wind plasmas enter the magnetosphere and to understand conditions under which the vortices form. In the present study we show that the rolled-up vortices are detectable even from single-spacecraft measurements. Numerical simulations of the KHI indicate that in the rolled-up vortex the tailward speed of a fraction of low-density, magnetospheric plasmas exceeds that of the magnetosheath flow. This feature appears only after a vortex is rolled up and thus can be used as a marker of roll-up. This signature was indeed found in the Cluster multispacecraft measurements of the rolled-up vortices at the flank magnetopause. By use of this marker, we have searched for events consistent with the roll-up from Geotail observations showing quasi-periodic plasma and field fluctuations in the flank low-latitude boundary layer (LLBL) under northward interplanetary magnetic field (IMF), presumably associated with KH waves. The survey shows that such rolled-up events do occur on both dawn and dusk flanks and are not rare for northward IMF conditions. In addition, in all the rolled-up cases, magnetosheath-like ions are detected on the magnetospheric side of the boundary. These findings indicate that the KHI plays a nonnegligible role in the formation of the flank LLBL under northward IMF.

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