A proposed production model of rapid subauroral ion drifts and their relationship to substorm evolution


  • P. C. Anderson,

  • W. B. Hanson,

  • R. A. Heelis,

  • J. D. Craven,

  • D. N. Baker,

  • L. A. Frank


Multisatellite data are used to examine the temporal relationship between Subauroral Ion Drifts (SAID) and the phases of an auroral substorm. Utilizing images of auroral luminosities taken by the Dynamics Explorer 1 (DE 1) spacecraft and observations of particle injection at geosynchronous orbit, we identify the time of expansive phase onset and estimate the time at which recovery begins. Noting the times at which SAID are observed simultaneously by the DE 2 spacecraft, we find that SAID typically occur well after substorm onset (more than 30 min), during the substorm recovery phase. Substantial westward ion drifts and field-aligned currents are observed well equatorward of the auroral oval during the expansion phase of a substorm, but the drifts lack the narrow spike signature associated with SAID. Prior to substorm onset and after substorm recovery, field-aligned currents are absent equatorward of the auroral oval and the ionosphere is very nearly corotating. A phenomenological model of SAID production is proposed that qualitatively agrees with the observed ionospheric signatures and substorm temporal relationship. In this model, substorm-generated, subauroral field-aligned currents close via Pedersen currents with the outward flowing, region 1 currents at higher latitudes. These Pedersen currents flow in the region of low conductivity equatorward of the auroral oval and are associated with relatively large, poleward directed electric fields. The frictional heating of the ions caused by collisions with the corotating neutral atmosphere substantially increases the rate of ion-atom interchange between O+ and N2. Subsequent fast recombination of NO+ with electrons further reduces the subauroral F region conductivities with a corresponding increase in the electric field and the frictional heating. This heating leads to thermal expansion, substantial field-aligned plasma flow, and very large depletions in the F peak concentration, thus additionally reducing the height-integrated Pedersen conductivity.