Ionospheric influence on the global characteristics of electron precipitation during auroral substorms
ABSTRACT Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Washington, 2002 Global auroral images from the Polar Ultraviolet Imager (UVI) and in situ, low altitude particle measurements from the Fast Auroral Snapshot Explorer (FAST) spacecraft are used to investigate the effects of solar wind variations and seasonal variability in the ionosphere on electron precipitation during auroral substorms. Isolated substorms and storm-time, pressure pulse-driven intensifications are compared and we show that the global patterns of precipitating electron energy flux and average energy are markedly different for each class of auroral phenomena. Field-aligned acceleration of auroral electrons in the upward current regions is found to be an essential aspect of the global aurora during isolated substorms. In contrast, the electron precipitation during pressure pulse-driven intensifications is less structured with no indication of field-aligned acceleration.A new method of quantifying the time scales and phases of magnetospheric substorms using the hemispheric power derived from the UVI images is described. We show that substorm time scales vary most strongly with season while IMF orientation plays a secondary role. The recovery time for substorm activity is roughly a factor of two longer when the nightside auroral zone is in darkness (winter and equinox) than when it is sunlit. We find that the longer time scale of substorms occurring in darkness is sustained by discrete auroral features associated with field-aligned potential drops and inertial Alfven waves. These discrete structures exist for shorter time scales, if they are observed at all, during substorms that occur under sunlit conditions. The observed seasonal variations in global auroral structure during substorms are most consistent with the hypothesis that ionospheric boundary conditions strongly influence the effectiveness of auroral acceleration mechanisms that include parallel potentials and Alfven waves. The results presented in this thesis will enhance our understanding of substorm phenomena by bridging the gap between the microphysical description of the aurora and that describing the variations in auroral morphology on substorm time scales of tens of minutes to hours.