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The role of magnetospheric plasma instabilities in auroral and substorm dynamics

Kalmoni, NME; (2017) The role of magnetospheric plasma instabilities in auroral and substorm dynamics. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

The auroral substorm is the manifestation of explosive energy release from the rapid and global reconfiguration of the magnetotail. The auroral substorm is marked by a sudden brightening and poleward expansion of the most equatorward auroral arc in the midnight sector of the ionosphere. The temporal sequence of magnetospheric processes which lead to the dynamic auroral substorm display remain disputed to this day. This thesis contains original research on the development and exploitation of novel data analysis techniques in order to analyse ground-based all sky imager data of the aurora, enabling the study of substorm processes in remarkable detail. Fourier analysis techniques are used to find the spatial scales of wave-like signatures (otherwise known as auroral beads/rays), which form along substorm onset arcs. Growth rates of ∼0.05 s⁻¹ are found from the exponential growth of the power spectral density of individual spatial scales. By analysing the dataset in this way, comparisons are made between observations and theoretical predictions of plasma instabilities at the near-Earth edge of the plasma-sheet which have been proposed to play a critical part in the substorm onset process. Auroral arc tracking techniques are developed to automate and increase the size of the database of events analysed. The vast majority of independently identified substorm onsets are preceded by azimuthal structuring along the onset arc with median wavelengths of ∼80 km. These beads grow and develop into a magnetospheric instability around 2 minutes prior to auroral substorm onset. Showing that beads are a common feature along the substorm onset arc provides unprecedented quantitative evidence that a near-Earth instability is a fundamental component of the substorm onset process. Finally, analysis techniques are extended to state-of-the-art high resolution multi-spectral auroral data to investigate the processes driving auroral beads. Beads can be resolved in the green-, blue- and red-line aurora with spatial scales as small as 30 km, which later develop into larger structures of ∼80 km. These observations are consistent with Alfvén wave accelerated auroral particle precipitation and therefore imply that the substorm onset arc and auroral beads are driven unstable by waves.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: The role of magnetospheric plasma instabilities in auroral and substorm dynamics
Event: University College London
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Keywords: substorm, aurora, beads, vortices, instability, instabilities, rays
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1546163
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