Three-dimensional current systems and ionospheric effects associated with small dipolarization fronts

L. Palin, C. Jacquey, H. Opgenoorth, M. Connors, V. Sergeev, J. A. Sauvaud, R. Nakamura, G. D. Reeves, H. J. Singer, V. Angelopoulos, L. Turc

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


We present a case study of eight successive plasma sheet (PS) activations (usually referred to as bursty bulk flows or dipolarization fronts), associated with small individual BZGSM increases on 31 March 2009 (0200-0900 UT), observed by the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions During Substorms mission. This series of events happens during very quiet solar wind conditions, over a period of 7-h preceding a substorm onset at 1230-UT. The amplitude of the dipolarizations increases with time. The low-amplitude dipolarization fronts are associated with few (1 or 2) rapid flux transport events (RFT, Eh>2-mV/m), whereas the large-amplitude ones encompass many more RFT events. All PS activations are associated with small and localized substorm current wedge (SCW)-like current system signatures, which seems to be the consequence of RFT arrival in the near tail. The associated ground magnetic perturbations affect a larger part of the contracted auroral oval when, in the magnetotail, more RFT are embedded in PS activations (>5). Dipolarization fronts with very low amplitude, a type usually not included in statistical studies, are of particular interest because we found even those to be associated with clear small SCW-like current system and particle injections at geosynchronous orbit. This exceptional data set highlights the role of flow bursts in the magnetotail and leads to the conclusion that we may be observing the smallest form of a substorm or rather its smallest element. This study also highlights the gradual evolution of the ionospheric current disturbance as the plasma sheet is observed to heat up.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3739-3757
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015


  • bursty bulk flow
  • dipolarization front
  • field-aligned currents
  • substorm
  • substorm current wedge
  • wedgelet


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