Physics of substorm growth phase, onset, and dipolarization

C. Z. Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


A new scenario of substorm growth phase, onset and dipolarization during expansion phase and the corresponding physical processes are presented. During the growth phase, as a result of enhanced plasma convection, the plasma pressure and its gradient continue to be enhanced over the quiet-time values in the plasma sheet. Toward the late growth phase, a strong cross-tail current sheet is formed in the near-Earth plasma sheet region, where a local magnetic well is formed. The equatorial plasma beta (β eq) can reach a local maximum with value larger than 50 and the cross-tail current density can be enhanced to over 10nA/m 2 as obtained from 3D quasi-static magnetospheric equilibrium solutions for the growth phase. The most unstable kinetic ballooning instabilities (KBI) are expected to be located in the tailward side of the strong cross-tail current sheet region. The field lines in the most unstable KBI region map to the transition region between the region-l and region-2 currents in the ionosphere, which is consistent with the observed initial brightening location of the breakup arc in the intense proton precipitation region. The KBI explains the AMPTE/CCE observations that a low frequency instability with a wave period of 50-75 seconds is excited about 2-3 min prior to substorm onset and grows exponentially to a large amplitude at the onset of current disruption (or current reduction). At the onset of current disruption higher frequency instabilities are excited so that the plasma and electromagnetic field fluctuations form a strong turbulent state. Plasma transport takes place due to the strong turbulence to relax the ambient plasma pressure profile so that the plasma pressure and current density are reduced and the ambient magnetic field intensity increases by more than a factor of 2-3 in the high-β eq region and the field line geometry recovers from tail-like to dipole-like - dipolarization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-270
Number of pages64
JournalSpace Science Reviews
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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