Verification of Substorm Onset From Intruding Flow Channels With High-Resolution SuperDARN Radar Flow Maps

Larry R. Lyons, Yukitoshi Nishimura, Jiang Liu, William A. Bristow, Ying Zou, Eric F. Donovan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Auroral observations were first to identify the substorm, and later used to propose that substorm onset is triggered in the inner plasma sheet (equatorward portion of the auroral oval) by an intrusion of low entropy plasma comprising plasma sheet flow channels. Longitudinal localization makes the intruding flow channels difficult to observe with spacecraft. However, they are detectable in the ionosphere via the broader, two-dimensional coverage by radars. Line-of-sight radar flow measurements have provided considerable support for the onset proposal. Here we use two-dimensional, ionospheric flow maps for further testing. Since these maps are derived without the smoothing from global fits typically used for global convection maps, their spatial resolution is significantly improved, allowing representation of localized spatial structures. These maps show channels of enhanced ionospheric flow intruding to the time and location of substorm onset. We also see evidence that these intruding flows enter the plasma sheet from the polar cap, and that azimuthal spread of the reduced entropy plasma in the inner plasma sheet contributes to azimuthal onset spreading after initial onset. Identified events with appropriate radar data remain limited, but we have found no exceptions to consistency with flow channel triggering. Thus, these analyses strongly support the proposal that substorm onset is due to the intrusion of new plasma to the onset region. The lower entropy of the new plasma likely changes the entropy distribution of inner plasma sheet, a change possibly important for the substorm onset instability seen via the growing waves that demarcate substorm auroral onset.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2022JA030723
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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