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A study of relationships between the aurora borealis and the geomagnetic disturbances caused by electric currents in the ionosphere


Heppner, James P. (1954) A study of relationships between the aurora borealis and the geomagnetic disturbances caused by electric currents in the ionosphere. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/RWHG-0Y11.


In high latitudes, magnetic disturbances attributable to intense electric currents in the upper atmosphere are known to occur simultaneously with visible aurora. With few exceptions past investigations have merely revealed statistically that the degree of magnetic disturbance is proportional to the intensity of auroral activity.

In the research reported here, magnetic records and auroral observations from College (Fairbanks), Alaska have been studied in detail to determine the manner in which these phenomena are related. It is found that the relationships are quite definite and that practically all, if not all, disturbances may be represented in terms of two closely related patterns describing sequences of auroral activity which accompany positive and negative "bay" disturbances. Disturbances may appear extremely complicated due to repetition and overlapping of bays; examples are given to illustrate that these disturbances can be easily separated into individual bays by examining the sequence of auroral activity. A discontinuity in auroral activity occurs simultaneously with the reversal in direction of electric currents during the midnight hours; this feature indicates a dependence between the aurora and the electromotive force and thus contradicts a common opinion that aurora merely augments the conductivity. The pattern of behavior during magnetic storms preceded by sudden commencements is the same as on other nights.

A preliminary analysis suggests that sudden commencements, reported on a world-wide scale, may be related to sudden changes from homogeneous to rayed aurora in the auroral zone.

Special attention is given to: (1) the spatial association of aurora and electric currents, (2) a previously undescribed interval of +[Delta]H disturbance following negative bays, (3) auroral pulsations and movements, and (4) the repetition of similar features on consecutive nights.

Theories and suggestions as to the cause of aurora and auroral zone currents are examined with reference to the present study.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Potapenko, Gennady W.
Thesis Committee:
  • Gutenberg, Beno
  • Potapenko, Gennady W.
  • Wulf, Oliver Reynolds
Defense Date:1 January 1954
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-12152003-111801
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:5004
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:17 Dec 2003
Last Modified:21 Dec 2019 03:06

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