TERRAPUB Earth, Planets and Space

Earth Planets Space, Vol. 65 (No. 11), pp. 1285-1294, 2013

Determining field-aligned currents with the Swarm constellation mission

Patricia Ritter, Hermann Lühr, and Jan Rauberg

GFZ German Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam, Germany

(Received March 1, 2013; Revised August 14, 2013; Accepted September 9, 2013; Online published November 22, 2013)

Abstract: Field-aligned currents (FAC) are the prime mechanism for coupling energy from the solar wind into the upper atmosphere at high latitudes. Knowing their intensity and distribution is of pivotal importance for the selection of quiet time data at high latitudes to be used in main field analysis. At the same time FACs can be regarded as a key element for studies of magnetosphere-ionosphere interactions. The Swarm satellite constellation, in particular the lower pair, provides the opportunity to determine radial currents uniquely. The computation of FACs from the vector magnetic field data is a straightforward and fast process, applying Ampère's integral law to a set of four magnetic field values. In this method the horizontal magnetic field components at a quad of measurement points sampled by the two satellites moving side-by-side are interpreted. The presented algorithm was implemented as described here in the Swarm Level-2 processing facility to provide the automatically estimated radial and field-aligned currents. It was tested with synthetic data in the Swarm Level-1b format. The resulting currents agree excellently with the input currents of the synthetic model. The data products are computed along the entire orbits. In addition, the L2 processor calculates also FACs with a 1 Hz time resolution individually from the three single Swarm satellites.
Key words: Field-aligned currents, ionosphere, constellation mission.

Corresponding author E-mail: pritter@gfz-potsdam.de

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