Article

Space Science Reviews

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 537-562

First online:

Ionosphere-magnetosphere coupling

  • R. A. WolfAffiliated withDept. of Space Physics and Astronomy, Rice University

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Abstract

The large-scale electrical coupling between the ionosphere and magnetosphere is reviewed, particularly with respect to behavior on time scales of hours or more. The following circuit elements are included: (1) the magnetopause boundary layer, which serves as the generator for the magnetospheric-convection circuit; (2) magnetic field lines, usually good conductors but sometimes subject to anomalous resistivity; (3) the ionosphere, which can conduct current across magnetic field lines; (4) the magnetospheric particle distributions, including tail current and partial-ring currents. Magnetic merging and a viscous interaction are considered as possible generating mechanisms, but merging seems the most likely alternative. Several mechanisms have been proposed for causing large potential drops along magnetic field lines in the upper ionosphere, and many isolated measurements of parallel electric fields have been reported, but the global pattern and significance of these electric fields are unknown. Ionospheric conductivities are now thoroughly measured, but are highly variable. Simple self-consistent theoretical models of the magnetospheric-convection system imply that the magnetospheric particles should shield the inner magnetosphere and low-latitude ionosphere from most of the time-average convection electric field.