Strong ionospheric field-aligned currents for radial interplanetary magnetic fields

Hui Wang, Hermann Lühr, Jih Hong Shue, Harald U. Frey, Guram Kervalishvili, Tao Huang, Xue Cao, Gilbert Pi, Aaron J. Ridley

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14 Scopus citations


The present work has investigated the configuration of field-aligned currents (FACs) during a long period of radial interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) on 19 May 2002 by using high-resolution and precise vector magnetic field measurements of CHAMP satellite. During the interest period IMF By and Bz are weakly positive and Bx keeps pointing to the Earth for almost 10 h. The geomagnetic indices Dst is about -40 nT and AE about 100 nT on average. The cross polar cap potential calculated from Assimilative Mapping of Ionospheric Electrodynamics and derived from DMSP observations have average values of 10-20 kV. Obvious hemispheric differences are shown in the configurations of FACs on the dayside and nightside. At the south pole FACs diminish in intensity to magnitudes of about 0.1 μA/m2, the plasma convection maintains two-cell flow pattern, and the thermospheric density is quite low. However, there are obvious activities in the northern cusp region. One pair of FACs with a downward leg toward the pole and upward leg on the equatorward side emerge in the northern cusp region, exhibiting opposite polarity to FACs typical for duskward IMF orientation. An obvious sunward plasma flow channel persists during the whole period. These ionospheric features might be manifestations of an efficient magnetic reconnection process occurring in the northern magnetospheric flanks at high latitude. The enhanced ionospheric current systems might deposit large amount of Joule heating into the thermosphere. The air densities in the cusp region get enhanced and subsequently propagate equatorward on the dayside. Although geomagnetic indices during the radial IMF indicate low-level activity, the present study demonstrates that there are prevailing energy inputs from the magnetosphere to both the ionosphere and thermosphere in the northern polar cusp region. Key Points A pair of strong FACs emerges with opposite polarity to DPY FACs Obvious sunward plasma flow channel persists during the period Enhanced air densities are found in the cusp region

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3979-3995
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2014


  • air upwelling
  • field-aligned currents
  • radial interplanetary magnetic field


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