Swarm in situ observations of F region polar cap patches created by cusp precipitation

L. V. Goodwin, B. Iserhienrhien, D. M. Miles, S. Patra, C. Van Der Meeren, S. C. Buchert, J. K. Burchill, L. B.N. Clausen, D. J. Knudsen, K. A. McWilliams, J. Moen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


High-resolution in situ measurements from the three Swarm spacecraft, in a string-of-pearls configuration, provide new insights about the combined role of flow channel events and particle impact ionization in creating F region electron density structures in the northern Scandinavian dayside cusp. We present a case of polar cap patch formation where a reconnection-driven low-density relative westward flow channel is eroding the dayside solar-ionized plasma but where particle impact ionization in the cusp dominates the initial plasma structuring. In the cusp, density features are observed which are twice as dense as the solar-ionized background. These features then follow the polar cap convection and become less structured and lower in amplitude. These are the first in situ observations tracking polar cap patch evolution from creation by plasma transport and enhancement by cusp precipitation, through entrainment in the polar cap flow and relaxation into smooth patches as they approach the nightside auroral oval.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)996-1003
Number of pages8
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 28 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


  • cusp
  • gradient drift instability
  • in situ
  • ionospheric irregularities
  • polar cap patch
  • swarm


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