Simultaneous Ground- and Space-Based Observations of the Plasmaspheric Plume and Reconnection

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Science  07 Mar 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6175, pp. 1122-1125
DOI: 10.1126/science.1247212

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Persistent Plume

Energy from the solar wind is carried into Earth's magnetosphere and ionosphere through the reconnection of magnetic lines. When this coupling is strong, changes in the solar wind cause geomagnetic storms that perturb the magnetosphere and allow a plume of cool plasma to be released outward. As the plume rises from the ionosphere, it extends the boundary of its plasmasphere origin toward the magnetopause. Using simultaneous ground-based and satellite observations, Walsh et al. (p. 1122; see the Perspective by Borovsky) show that this plume can persist for hours, extending all the way from the ionosphere to the magnetopause.


Magnetic reconnection is the primary process through which energy couples from the solar wind into Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere. Conditions both in the incident solar wind and in the magnetosphere are important in determining the efficiency of this energy transfer. In particular, the cold, dense plasmaspheric plume can substantially impact the coupling in the dayside reconnection region. Using ground-based total electron content (TEC) maps and measurements from the THEMIS spacecraft, we investigated simultaneous ionosphere and magnetosphere observations of the plasmaspheric plume and its involvement in an unsteady magnetic reconnection process. The observations show the full circulation pattern of the plasmaspheric plume and validate the connection between signatures of variability in the dense plume and reconnection at the magnetopause as measured in situ and through TEC measurements in the ionosphere.

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