Articles | Volume 16, issue 2
30 Apr 2009
 | 30 Apr 2009

On the ionospheric coupling of auroral electric fields

G. T. Marklund

Abstract. The quasi-static coupling of high-altitude potential structures and electric fields to the ionosphere is discussed with particular focus on the downward field-aligned current (FAC) region. Results are presented from a preliminary analysis of a selection of electric field events observed by Cluster above the acceleration region. The degree of coupling is here estimated as the ratio between the magnetic field-aligned potential drop, ΔΦII, as inferred from the characteristic energy of upward ion (electron) beams for the upward (downward) current region and the high-altitude perpendicular (to B) potential, ΔΦbot, as calculated by integrating the perpendicular electric field across the structure. For upward currents, the coupling can be expressed analytically, using the linear current-voltage relation, as outlined by Weimer et al. (1985). This gives a scale size dependent coupling where structures are coupled (decoupled) above (below) a critical scale size. For downward currents, the current-voltage relation is highly non-linear which complicates the understanding of how the coupling works. Results from this experimental study indicate that small-scale structures are decoupled, similar to small-scale structures in the upward current region. There are, however, exceptions to this rule as illustrated by Cluster results of small-scale intense electric fields, correlated with downward currents, indicating a perfect coupling between the ionosphere and Cluster altitude.