Stratification of east-west plasma flow channels observed in the ionospheric cusp in response to IMF BY polarity changes

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Abstract

[1] During a period of predominantly north-westward flow for IMF BZ negative and IMF BY positive, a sequence of three distinct negative excursions of IMF BY resulted in a train of three eastward directed flow channels, interleaved by westward flow enhancements propagating into the polar cap. The high resolution of the EISCAT Svalbard radar data enables us to track formation and movement of the flow channels, which are interpreted as a sequence of intermittent reconnection alternating between different reconnection sites. Our observations are consistent with the view that a new region of reconnected flux manifests as development of a distinct flow channel near the polar cap boundary, and that successive events stay separated while pushing each other into the polar cap. Each flow channel will remain separated from neighboring channels mapping to different reconnection sites as long as the magnetic tension force with its associated field aligned current systems is maintained.

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