Space Science Reviews

, Volume 75, Issue 3, pp 551-604

First online:

Steady magnetospheric convection: A review of recent results

  • V. A. SergeevAffiliated withInstitute of Physics, University of St. PetersburgFinnish Meteorological Institute
  • , R. J. PellinenAffiliated withFinnish Meteorological Institute
  • , T. I. PulkkinenAffiliated withFinnish Meteorological Institute

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Theoretical pressure balance arguments have implied that steady convection is hardly possible in the terrestrial magnetotail and that steady energy input necessarily generates a cyclic loading-unloading sequence, i.e., repetitive substorms. However, observations have revealed that enhanced solar wind energy input to the magnetospheric system may either lead to substorm activity or enhanced but steady convection. This topic is reviewed with emphasis on several recent case studies of the Steady Magnetospheric Convection (SMC) events. In these cases extensive data sets from both satellite and ground-based instruments from various magnetospheric and ionospheric regions were available.

Accurate distinction of the spatial and temporal scales of the magnetospheric processes is vital for correct interpretation of the observations during SMC periods. We show that on the large scale, the magnetospheric configuration and plasma convection are stable during SMC events, but that both reveal considerable differences from their quiet-time assemblies. On a shorter time scale, there are numerous transient activations which are similar to those found during substorms, but which presumably originate from a more distant tail reconnection process, and map to the poleward boundary of the auroral oval. The available observations and the unresolved questions are summarized here.

The tail magnetic field during SMC events resembles both substorm growth and recovery phases in the neartail and midtail, respectively, but this configuration may remain stable for up to ten hours. Based on observations and model results we discuss how the magnetospheric system avoids pressure balance problems when the plasma convects earthward.

Finally, the importance of further coordinated studies of SMC events is emphasized. Such studies may shed more light on the substorm dynamics and help to verify quantitatively the theoretical models of the convecting magnetosphere.