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Statistical Behavior of Quasi-Steady Balanced Reconnection in Earth's Magnetosphere

  • Author(s): Kissinger, Jennifer Eileen;
  • Advisor(s): McPherron, Robert L;
  • et al.

Magnetic reconnection between Earth's magnetosphere and the solar wind results in several modes of response, including the impulsive substorm and the quasi-steady mode known as steady magnetospheric convection (SMC). SMC events are theorized to result from balancing the dayside and nightside reconnection rates. The reasons the magnetosphere responds with different modes are not fully known. This dissertation comprises statistical data analysis of the SMC mode to investigate the solar wind conditions and magnetospheric properties during these events. A comprehensive list of SMC events is selected from 1997-2011.

In the first of three studies, an association between SMCs and solar wind stream interfaces (SI) is identified in the declining phase of Solar Cycle 23. SMC occurrence peaks 12-24 hours after an SI if the solar wind is geoeffective. The subset of SI-associated SMCs occurs during fast solar wind velocity, in contrast to previous results, but the driving electric field imposed on the magnetosphere (Ey) is the same for SI-associated and unassociated SMC events. Therefore the magnitude and steadiness of Ey is the most important solar wind parameter for an SMC to occur.

The second study shows that magnetotail convection is significantly different for SMC events, compared to quiet intervals and isolated substorms. Fast flows transporting enhanced magnetic flux are deflected toward the dawn and dusk flanks during SMC. Flow diversion is due to a broad high pressure region in the inner magnetosphere. The interval preceding SMC events is found to set up the magnetotail conditions that assist balanced reconnection. In particular inner magnetosphere pressure before SMCs is enhanced from substorm levels but not as high as SMC levels. The final study shows that nearly all SMCs are preceded by a substorm expansion. In rare cases when an SMC occurs without a preceding substorm, we hypothesize that the distant x-line is able to balance a weak solar wind driver.

These results help explain how quasi-steady magnetospheric convection occurs. A southward turning of the solar wind and positive Ey leads to dayside reconnection and a substorm onset occurs. Plasma injections from the near-Earth nightside x-line increase the pressure in the inner magnetosphere. If positive Ey continues to drive dayside reconnection, the nightside x-line will stabilize to match it. Tail flux is diverted towards the flanks by pressure gradients and returns to the dayside. This convection pattern keeps the magnetosphere in its balanced reconnection mode.

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