1 National Space Institute, Technical University of Denmark2 Astrophysics, National Space Institute, Technical University of Denmark3 National Science Foundation4 National Science Foundation
The strong horizontal ionospheric currents in the auroral oval constitute an important space weather parameter. Here we present a method to estimate the latitude location and intensity of these currents from measurements of variations in the magnetic field magnitude made by low Earth polar orbiting satellites. The method is simple enough to be implemented for real-time monitoring, especially since it does not require the full vector field measurement. We demonstrate the method on 5 years of Challenging Minisatellite Payload (CHAMP) data and show how the monitoring depends on the local time of the satellite orbit and how it varies with local time and season in both hemispheres. Statistically, the strongest currents are observed in the predawn and predusk local time quadrants at latitudes that depend on the general magnetic activity level. We also show how the satellite-derived parameters relate to and complement existing ground-based indices. The CHAMP magnetometer in 350–450km altitude easily measures an electrojet which on the ground would produce an Auroral Electrojet (AE)-type signal as small as 20 nT. Thus, while the signal decreases roughly proportionally to the square of the distance to the current, this does not significantly affect the utility of the method for space weather applications even for satellites at substantially higher altitudes. The results for several individual magnetic storm periods demonstrate that large variability can exist in both the latitude and intensity of the currents during the progression of a storm. In the storms analyzed, the latitude of the strongest observed currents are seen to vary between 52° and 84° magnetic latitude.