Tuesday, 14 June 2011

PhD thesis: Dynamics of Polar Cap Boundary and Nightside Auroral Oval

Timo Pitkänen of the Department of Physics, University of Oulu, Finland, has defended his Ph.D. thesis entitled "Dynamics of the polar cap boundary and the auroral oval in the nightside ionosphere" on Friday, 10th June 2011. The opponent was Dr Stephan Buchert of the Swedish Institute for Space Physics in Uppsala. Our sincere congratulations to Timo for his achievement!

The photo shows Timo Pitkänen during the defence ceremony explaining the magnetosphere in 3D using a balloon.


The high-latitude polar ionosphere is characterized by two regions, the polar cap and the auroral oval. In the polar cap, the geomagnetic field lines are open and connect to the solar wind, whereas the field lines in the auroral oval are closed and map to the plasma sheet and the plasma sheet boundary layer in the magnetosphere. The two substantially different magnetic and plasma domains are separated by a separatrix, the polar cap boundary (PCB), which is an ionospheric projection of the open-closed field line boundary (OCB) in the magnetosphere.

In this thesis, a new method to determine the location of the PCB in the nightside ionosphere based on electron temperature measurements by EISCAT incoherent scatter radars is introduced. Comparisons with other PCB proxies like poleward boundary of the auroral emissions, poleward edge of the auroral electrojets and poleward boundary of energetic particle precipitation show general agreement. By applying the method to several events together with other supporting ground-based and space-borne observations, dynamic processes and phenomena in the vicinity of the PCB and inside the auroral oval are studied.

The main results include the following. During substorm expansion, the PCB moves poleward in a burstlike manner with individual bursts separated by 2–10 min, indicating impulsive reconnection in the magnetotail. In one event, a possible signature of the high-altitude counterpart of the Earthward flowing field-aligned current of the Hall current system at the magnetotail reconnection site is observed. Investigation of the relation between the auroral activity and the local reconnection rate estimated from the EISCAT measurements reveals direct association between individual auroral poleward boundary intensifications (PBIs) and intensifications in the ionospheric reconnection electric field within the same magnetic local time (MLT) sector. The result confirms earlier suggestions of positive correlation between PBIs and enhanced flux closure in the magnetotail. In another event, quiet-time bursty bulk flows (BBFs) and their ionospheric signatures are studied. The BBFs are found to be consistent with the so called "bubble" model with Earthward fast flows inside the region of depleted plasma density (bubble). The tailward return flows show an interesting asymmetry in plasma density. Whereas the duskside return flows show signatures of a depleted wake, consistent with a recent suggestion, no similar feature is seen for the dawnside return flows, but rather increase in density. The BBFs are associated with auroral streamers in the conjugate ionosphere, consistently with previous findings. The related ionospheric plasma flow patterns are interpreted as ionospheric counterpart of the BBF flows, excluding the dawnside return flows which could not be identified in the ionosphere. The BBFs and streamers are found to appear during an enhanced reconnection electric field in the magnetotail.


Pitkänen, Timo, Dynamics of the polar cap boundary and the auroral oval in the nightside ionosphere, Report Series in Physical Sciences, Report No. 67, Dept of Physics, University of Oulu, Finland, 2011 (pdf).

Photo: Carl-Fredrik Enell.

1 comment:

  1. PhD thesis: Dynamics of Polar Cap Boundary and Nightside Auroral Oval <-- that's what i was looking for
    Thesis Dissertation


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