, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 347-366

Primary sources of large-scale Birkeland currents

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Abstract

We review generation mechanisms of Birkeland currents (field-aligned currents) in the magnetosphere and the ionosphere. Comparing Birkeland currents predicted theoretically with those studied observationally by spacecraft experiments, we present a model for driving mechanism, which is unified by the solar wind-magnetosphere interaction that allows the coexistence of steady viscous interaction and unsteady magnetic reconnection. The model predicts the following: (1) the Region 1 Birkeland currents (which are located at poleward part of the auroral Birkeland-current belt, and constitute quasi-permanently and stably a primary part of the overall system of Birkeland currents) would be fed by vorticity-induced space charges at the core of two-cell magnetospheric convection arisen as a result of viscous interaction between the solar wind and the magnetospheric plasma, (2) the Region 2 Birkeland currents (which are located at equatorward part of the auroral Birkeland-current belt, and exhibit more variable and localized behavior) would orginate from regions of plasma pressure inhomogeneities in the magnetosphere caused by the coupling between two-cell magnetospheric convection and the hot ring current, where the gradient-B current and/or the curvature current (presumably the hot plasma sheet-ring current) are forced to divert to the ionosphere, (3) the Cusp Birkeland currents (which are located poleward of and adjacent to the Region 1 currents and are strongly controlled by the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF)) might be a diversion of the inertia current which is newly and locally produced in the velocity-decelerated region of earthward solar wind where the magnetosphere is eroded by dayside magnetic reconnection, (4) the nightside Birkeland currents which are connected to a part of the westward auroral electrojet in the Harang discontinuity sector might be a diversion of the dusk-to-dawn tail current resulting from localized magnetic reconnection in the magnetotail plasma sheet where plasma density and pressure are reduced.