Simultaneous observations of polar cap patches and Sun-aligned arcs during transitions of the IMF


  • C. E. Valladares,

  • K. Fukui,

  • R. Sheehan,

  • H. C. Carlson Jr.,

  • T. Bullett


This paper presents the first observations of simultaneous polar cap patches and polar cap arcs in a single common 1000-km field of view, and identifies a model that explains the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) dependencies of the observed phenomenology. To study the characteristics of the polar cap optical emissions in the 630.0 nm line during transitions of the IMF Bz, we have scanned images taken at Qaanaaq, Greeland, between 1989 and 1994. We found that on a few occasions, when Bz changed from a south to a north orientation, a particular pattern of polar cap patches and Sun-aligned arcs coexisted. No similar pattern of coexisting arcs and patches was found during north-to-south IMF transitions. The detailed analyses of three of these events are presented here in which patches and polar cap arcs are clearly identified to reside simultaneously within the Qaanaaq imager field of view. The digisonde located also at Qaanaaq is used to confirm that the optical patches correspond to enhancements in the number density and a simultaneous decrease of the hmF2 value. These two factors increase the capability of the imager to differentiate between patches and the background airglow. Data collected by the DMSP F8 satellite during one of the events reaffirm the appearance of polar cap precipitation during the Bz positive period. The J4 sensor on board DMSP F8 detected typical electron fluxes commonly associated with polar cap arcs. The coexistence of patches and arcs is due to a slower response of the patches in exiting the polar cap, and then the relatively sudden appearance of polar cap arcs presumably driven by dayside reconnection between the IMF and open flux drawn initially equatorward toward the cusp. This model, of dayside reconnection switching from equatorward of the cusp for Bz south to poleward of the cusp for Bz north, likewise explains why arcs and patches are seen by the imager to coexist for rapid Bz reversals only from south to north and not from north to south.