Radar Observations of Flows Leading to Longitudinal Expansion of Substorm Onset Over Alaska

Larry R. Lyons, Jiang Liu, Yukitoshi Nishimura, Chih Ping Wang, Ashton S. Reimer, William A. Bristow, Don L. Hampton, Xueling Shi, Roger H. Varney, Eric F. Donovan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Longitudinal expansion of brightening of the substorm onset arc likely represents longitudinal expansion of the substorm onset instability. We used Poker Flat radar campaign auroral observations to identify seven substorm onsets seen east or west of the radar that expanded into the radar field-of-view. The radar observations were used to show flows relative to the expanding onset aurora. Flow enhancements were found equatorward (poleward) of the westward (eastward) longitudinal expansion of the onset arc brightening that agree with plasma sheet bubble modeling. This lends significant additional supporting evidence that an incoming reduced entropy flow channel leads to onset. As a flow channel enters the auroral oval (plasma sheet) from the polar cap (magnetotail lobes) and starts to move equatorward (earthward in the plasma sheet) as a bubble, it simultaneously expands azimuthally due to the combination of electric drift along dawnward tilted equipotentials and westward magnetic drift of more energetic ions. As the azimuthally expanding bubble reaches near the equatorward boundary of the electron auroral oval, it leads to the onset instability indicated by the auroral beading and associated flows if conditions are appropriate. The instability grows in the initial onset region, as it simultaneously extends longitudinally with the continued azimuthal expansion of the bubble within the plasma sheet. Additionally, after onset, the auroral bulge expands poleward and can lead to a westward traveling surge. We observe strong flows heading toward the front of the surge that appear to bring low entropy plasma, perhaps from the polar cap, into the surge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020JA028148
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Geophysics


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