• A Mechanism For Current Sheet Thinning In The Growth Phase Of Magnetospheric Substorms

      Hall, Fred, Iv; Otto, Antonius (2006)
      The thinning of the near-Earth current sheet during the growth phase of magnetospheric substorms is a fundamental problem of space physics. It is a characteristic of the slow, steady evolution of the magnetosphere during the growth phase, during which the bulk kinetic energy of the solar wind is transformed into and stored as magnetic field energy in the magnetotail lobes. The thin near-Earth current sheet at the end of the growth phase provides the conditions for the onset of the expansion phase, and is fundamentally important to understand the physical mechanism for the onset of the rapid evolution during which the stored energy is released. I propose that current sheet thinning occurs because of the evacuation of a 'magnetic flux reservoir' in the near-Earth magnetotail by convection to replace magnetic flux that is eroded on the dayside by magnetic reconnection. My hypothesis is able to predict basic properties of current sheet thinning, such as the location, temporal evolution, and dynamics of this process. I examined this new mechanism both conceptually and quantitatively. My conceptual considerations enabled the prediction of the location and duration of current sheet thinning. This location is largely independent of the detailed state of the magnetosphere. I examined this mechanism quantitatively through the use of a three-dimensional ideal MHD simulation. I was able to predict the duration of the growth phase by considering the time needed to deplete our proposed 'magnetic flux reservoir.' The simulation demonstrates the global increase of the current density in this reservoir, despite the removal of magnetic flux---which one would otherwise expect to lead to a decrease of current---as well as even greater local amplifications of the current density. The simulation results are even more significant because the model does not include other effects of the real magnetosphere that contribute to a further increase of the tail current. The increase in current density and thinning are found to be consistent with the amount of flux removed from the system. In addition, I have found a new explanation for the very thin bifurcated current sheets that have been reported in recent publications.