Boundary layer formation in the magnetotail: Geotail observations and comparisons with a global MHD simulation

J. Raeder, J. Berchem, M. Ashour-Abdalla, L. A. Frank, W. R. Paterson, K. L. Ackerson, S. Kokubun, T. Yamamoto, and J. A. Slavin

IGPP, University of California, Los Angeles


We present Geotail plasma and field observations from the middle magnetotail near XGSE = -46 RE for the time period 1400 to 1800 UT on December 14, 1994. During that period, the Wind satellite monitored the solar wind plasma and interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) upstream of the bow shock. The IMF was northward and the plasma parameters near average. Geotail observed slow tailward flows and a northward field. The plasma and field parameters indicate that Geotail is either in the plasma sheet or in a boundary layer. We used the Wind solar wind plasma and IMF data as input for a global simulation of that time interval. Comparison of the simulation results with the observational data show very good overall agreement of the magnitudes of the plasma and field parameters. In particular, the simulation reproduces the slow tailward flows and northward field found at Geotail. Small scale temporal variations are less well reproduced. The simulation shows the formation of a broad boundary layer (which we call tail flank boundary layer, TFBL) that consists of closed flux which formed by magnetic reconnection of IMF and lobe field lines. The simulation results indicate that Geotail is located very close to the TFBL and may have entered the TFBL proper. We show that the TFBL plays an important role in energy transport from the solar wind into the magnetosphere during northward IMF conditions.

Geophys. Res. Lett., 24, 951-954, 1997