Articles | Volume 16, issue 3
Nonlin. Processes Geophys., 16, 431–442, 2009

Special issue: Coupling between large and small scale turbulence in space...

Nonlin. Processes Geophys., 16, 431–442, 2009

  25 Jun 2009

25 Jun 2009

Electrostatic solitary waves in current layers: from Cluster observations during a super-substorm to beam experiments at the LAPD

J. S. Pickett1, L.-J. Chen2, O. Santolík1,3,4, S. Grimald5, B. Lavraud6,7, O. P. Verkhoglyadova8,9, B. T. Tsurutani8, B. Lefebvre2, A. Fazakerley5, G. S. Lakhina10, S. S. Ghosh10, B. Grison3,11,12, P. M. E. Décréau13, D. A. Gurnett1, R. Torbert2, N. Cornilleau-Wehrlin11,14, I. Dandouras6,7, and E. Lucek15 J. S. Pickett et al.
  • 1Department of Physics and Astronomy, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA
  • 2Space Science Center, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire, USA
  • 3Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Prague, Czech Republic
  • 4Charles University, Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, Prague, Czech Republic
  • 5Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, Holmbury St. Mary, UK
  • 6Centre d'Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements, Université de Toulouse (UPS), France
  • 7Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, UMR 5187, Toulouse, France
  • 8Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Inst. of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA
  • 9CSPAR, University of Alabama, Huntsville, Alabama, USA
  • 10Indian Institute of Geomagnetism, New Panvel (W), Navi Mumbai, India
  • 11LPP-CNRS, Vélizy, France
  • 12ESA/ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands
  • 13LPC2E, CNRS et Université d'Orléans, Orléans, France
  • 14Station de Radioastronomie de Nançay, Observatoire de Paris, CNRS, Nançay, France
  • 15The Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College, London, UK

Abstract. Electrostatic Solitary Waves (ESWs) have been observed by several spacecraft in the current layers of Earth's magnetosphere since 1982. ESWs are manifested as isolated pulses (one wave period) in the high time resolution waveform data obtained on these spacecraft. They are thus nonlinear structures generated out of nonlinear instabilities and processes. We report the first observations of ESWs associated with the onset of a super-substorm that occurred on 24 August 2005 while the Cluster spacecraft were located in the magnetotail at around 18–19 RE and moving northward from the plasma sheet to the lobes. These ESWs were detected in the waveform data of the WBD plasma wave receiver on three of the Cluster spacecraft. The majority of the ESWs were detected about 5 min after the super-substorm onset during which time 1) the PEACE electron instrument detected significant field-aligned electron fluxes from a few 100 eV to 3.5 keV, 2) the EDI instrument detected bursts of field-aligned electron currents, 3) the FGM instrument detected substantial magnetic fluctuations and the presence of Alfvén waves, 4) the STAFF experiment detected broadband electric and magnetic waves, ion cyclotron waves and whistler mode waves, and 5) CIS detected nearly comparable densities of H+ and O+ ions and a large tailward H+ velocity. We compare the characteristics of the ESWs observed during this event to those created in the laboratory at the University of California-Los Angeles Plasma Device (LAPD) with an electron beam. We find that the time durations of both space and LAPD ESWs are only slightly larger than the respective local electron plasma periods, indicating that electron, and not ion, dynamics are responsible for generation of the ESWs. We have discussed possible mechanisms for generating the ESWs in space, including the beam and kinetic Buneman type instabilities and the acoustic instabilities. Future studies will examine these mechanisms in more detail using the space measurements as inputs to models, and better relate the ESW space measurements to the laboratory through PIC code models.