Satellite studies of magnetospheric substorms on August 15, 1968: 9. Phenomenological model for substorms


  • R. L. McPherron,

  • C. T. Russell,

  • M. P. Aubry


In the eight preceding papers, two magnetospheric substorms on August 15, 1968, were studied with data derived from many sources. In this, the concluding paper, we attempt a synthesis of these observations, presenting a phenomenological model of the magnetospheric substorm. On the basis of our results for August 15, together with previous reports, we believe that the substorm sequence can be divided into three main phases: the growth phase, the expansion phase, and the recovery phase. Observations for each of the first three substorms on this day are organized according to this scheme. We present these observations as three distinct chronologies, which we then summarize as a phenomenological model. This model is consistent with most of our observations on August 15, as well as with most previous reports. In our interpretation we expand our phenomenological model, briefly described in several preceding papers. This model follows closely the theoretical ideas presented more quantitatively in recent papers by Coroniti and Kennel (1972a, b; 1973). A southward turning of the interplanetary magnetic field is accompanied by erosion of the dayside magnetosphere, flux transport to the geomagnetic tail, and thinning and inward motion of the plasma sheet. Our observations indicate, furthermore, that the expansion phase of substorms can originate near the inner edge of the plasma sheet as a consequence of rapid plasma sheet thinning. At this time a portion of the inner edge of the tail current is ‘short circuited’ through the ionosphere. This process is consistent with the formation of a neutral point in the near-tail region and its subsequent propagation tailward. However, the onset of the expansion phase of substorms is found to be far from a simple process. Expansion phases can be centered at local times far from midnight, can apparently be localized to one meridian, and can have multiple onsets centered at different local times. Such behavior indicates that, in comparing observations occurring in different substorms, careful note should be made of the localization and central meridian of each substorm.