Magnetic Reconnection in Three Dimensions: Modeling and Analysis of Electromagnetic Drift Waves in the Adjacent Current Sheet

R. E. Ergun, S. Hoilijoki, N. Ahmadi, S. J. Schwartz, F. D. Wilder, J. F. Drake, M. Hesse, M. A. Shay, H. Ji, M. Yamada, D. B. Graham, P. A. Cassak, M. Swisdak, J. L. Burch, R. B. Torbert, J. C. Holmes, J. E. Stawarz, K. A. Goodrich, S. Eriksson, R. J. StrangewayO. LeContel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


We present a model of electromagnetic drift waves in the current sheet adjacent to magnetic reconnection at the subsolar magnetopause. These drift waves are potentially important in governing 3-D structure of subsolar magnetic reconnection and in generating turbulence. The drift waves propagate nearly parallel to the X line and are confined to a thin current sheet. The scale size normal to the current sheet is significantly less than the ion gyroradius and can be less than or on the order of the wavelength. The waves also have a limited extent along the magnetic field (B), making them a three-dimensional eigenmode structure. In the current sheet, the background magnitudes of B and plasma density change significantly, calling for a treatment that incorporates an inhomogeneous plasma environment. Using detailed examination of Magnetospheric Multiscale observations, we find that the waves are best represented by series of electron vortices, superimposed on a primary electron drift, that propagate along the current sheet (parallel to the X line). The waves displace or corrugate the current sheet, which also potentially displaces the electron diffusion region. The model is based on fluid behavior of electrons, but ion motion must be treated kinetically. The strong electron drift along the X line is likely responsible for wave growth, similar to a lower hybrid drift instability. Contrary to a classical lower hybrid drift instability, however, the strong changes in the background B and no, the normal confinement to the current sheet, and the confinement along B are critical to the wave description.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10085-10103
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • drift waves
  • magnetic reconnection
  • parallel electric fields
  • turbulence


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