Rotationally-Induced Birkeland Current Systems

  1. Thomas A. Potemra
  1. T. W. Hill

Published Online: 21 MAR 2013

DOI: 10.1029/GM028p0340

Magnetospheric Currents

Magnetospheric Currents

How to Cite

Hill, T. W. (1984) Rotationally-Induced Birkeland Current Systems, in Magnetospheric Currents (ed T. A. Potemra), American Geophysical Union, Washington, D. C.. doi: 10.1029/GM028p0340

Author Information

  1. Space Physics and Astronomy Department, Rice University, Houston, TX 77251

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 21 MAR 2013
  2. Published Print: 1 JAN 1984

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780875900551

Online ISBN: 9781118664131



  • Magnetospheric currents—Congresses;
  • Plasma instabilities—Congresses


Rotational effects which are negligible in Earth's magnetosphere become dominant in the magnetospheres of the outer planets where they give rise to Birkeland current circuits coupling the ionospheric and magnetospheric motions. The centrifugal force of corotation produces an azimuthal ring current in the magnetosphere while the Coriolis force produces a current parallel to the plasma flow. The acceleration current also becomes significant when deviations from strict corotation are appreciable. In general, none of these currents are divergence-free, and closure is provided by ionospheric conduction currents via connecting Birkeland currents. Thus the ionospheric conductivity regulates magnetospheric motions much as it does in the terrestrial case. The effects of such currents have been clearly observed in the magnetospheres of Jupiter and Saturn.

Birkeland current circuits also transmit planetary angular momentum to external sinks such as conducting satellites (e.g., Io), plasma production sites (e.g., the Io torus), and/or the surrounding solar wind (as proposed for Uranus).