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Annales Geophysicae


Since December 2000, the Cluster satellites have been conducting detailed measurements of the magnetospheric boundaries and have confirmed the unambiguous presence of ions of terrestrial origin (e.g. O+ in regions adjacent to the dayside, mid-latitude magnetopause. In the present paper, we focus on the statistical properties of the O+ ion component at energies ranging from 30eV up to 40keV, using three years of ion data at solar maximum from the Cluster Ion Spectrometry (CIS) experiment aboard two Cluster spacecraft. The O+ density decreases on average by a factor of 6, from 0.041 to 7x10-3cm-3 when crossing the magnetopause from the magnetosphere to the magnetosheath, but depends on several parameters, such as the geomagnetic activity or the modified disturbed storm time index (Dst*), and on their location. The O+ density is significantly higher in the dusk-side than in the dawn side region, which is consistent with the view that they originate mainly from the plasma sheet. A remarkable finding is that inward of the magnetopause, O+ is the dominant contributor to the mass density 30% of the time on the dusk-side in comparison to 3% in the dawnside and 4% near noon. On an event basis in the dusk flank of the magnetopause, we point out that O+ ions, when dominating the mass composition, lower the threshold for generating the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, which may allow plasma exchange between the magnetosheath and the plasma sheet. We also discuss the effect of a substantial O+ ion component when present in a reconnection region.