How is open solar magnetic flux lost over the solar cycle?



[1] The Sun's open magnetic field, magnetic flux dragged out into the heliosphere by the solar wind, varies by approximately a factor of 2 over the solar cycle. We consider the evolution of open solar flux in terms of a source and loss term. Open solar flux creation is likely to proceed at a rate dependent on the rate of photospheric flux emergence, which can be roughly parameterized by sunspot number or coronal mass ejection rate, when available. The open solar flux loss term is more difficult to relate to an observable parameter. The supersonic nature of the solar wind means open solar flux can only be removed by near-Sun magnetic reconnection between open solar magnetic field lines, be they open or closed heliospheric field lines. In this study we reconstruct open solar flux over the last three solar cycles and demonstrate that the loss term may be related to the degree to which the heliospheric current sheet (HCS) is warped, i.e., locally tilted from the solar rotation direction. This can account for both the large dip in open solar flux at the time of sunspot maximum as well as the asymmetry in open solar flux during the rising and declining phases of the solar cycle. The observed cycle-to-cycle variability is also well matched. Following Sheeley et al. (2001), we attribute modulation of open solar flux by the degree of warp of the HCS to the rate at which opposite polarity open solar flux is brought together by differential rotation.