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Publication Title

Annales Geophysicae


Low altitude field-aligned current densities ob-

tained from global magnetospheric simulations are compared

with two-dimensional distributions of Birkeland currents at

the topside ionosphere derived from magnetic field observa-

tions by the constellation of Iridium satellites. We present the

analysis of two magnetic cloud events, 17–19 August 2003

and 19–21 March 2001, where the interplanetary magnetic

field (IMF) rotates slowly (∼10◦/h) to avoid time-aliasing in

the magnetic perturbations used to calculate the Birkeland

currents. In the August 2003 event the IMF rotates from

southward to northward while maintaining a negative IMF

By during much of the interval. During the March 2001

event the IMF direction varies from dawnward to southward

to duskward. We find that the distributions of the Birkeland

current densities in the simulations agree qualitatively with

the observations for northward IMF. For southward IMF,

the dayside Region-1 currents are reproduced in the simu-

the ionospheric grids in the simulations and the observations is shown to have only secondary effect on the magnitudes of the Birkeland currents. The electric potentials in the simu- lation for southward IMF periods are twice as large as those obtained from measurements of the plasma drift velocities by DMSP, implying that the reconnection rates in the simulation are too large.

Keywords. Ionosphere (Electric fields and currents; Ionosphere-magnetosphere interactions; Modeling and forecasting)

1 Introduction

Global magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) models are the most comprehensive numerical tool for studying the coupling of energy and momentum of the solar wind into the Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere. A particular advantage of global MHD simulations is the ability to provide continu- ous temporal and spatial coverage of key physical parame- ters over the entire simulation volume. For this reason, MHD simulations have become one of the principal tools for study- ing space weather events such as the interaction of the Earth’s magnetosphere with coronal mass ejections (CMEs) (Ridley et al., 2002) as well as magnetic storms (Slinker et al., 1998; Goodrich et al., 1998) and substorms (Lyon et al., 1998; Lopez et al., 1998; Wiltberger et al., 2000). Since the simula- tion results are frequently used to interpret physical processes in the magnetosphere–ionosphere system, assessing their ac- curacy by comparison with observations is an important task. A number of such studies have been carried out in the past us- ing space-based (Frank et al., 1995; Raeder et al., 1997) and ground-based observations (Ridley et al., 2001), or a com- bination thereof (Fedder et al., 1998; Slinker et al., 1999). However, interpreting the discrepancies between model and observations is not straightforward because the observational

lation, but appear on average 5 served location, while the nightside Region-1 currents and the Region-2 currents are largely under-represented. Com- parison of the observed and simulated Birkeland current dis- tributions, which are intimately related to the plasma drifts at the ionosphere, shows that the ionospheric convection pat- tern in the MHD model and its dependence on the IMF ori- entation is essentially correct. The Birkeland total currents in the simulations are about a factor of 2 larger than observed during southward IMF. For Bz>0 the disparity in the total current is reduced and the simulations for purely northward IMF agree with the observations to within 10%. The dispar- ities in the magnitudes of the Birkeland currents between the observations and the simulation results are a combined effect of the simulation overestimating the ionospheric electric field and of the Iridium fits underestimating the magnetic pertur- bations.