Predicting interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) propagation delay times using the minimum variance technique

D. R. Weimer, D. M. Ober, N. C. Maynard, M. R. Collier, D. J. McComas, N. F. Ness, C. W. Smith, J. Watermann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

229 Scopus citations


It has been known that the fluctuations in the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) may be oriented in approximately planar structures that are tilted with respect to the solar wind propagation direction along the Sun-Earth line. This tilting causes the IMF propagating from a point of measurement to arrive at other locations with a timing that may be significantly different from what would be expected. The differences between expected and actual arrival times may exceed an hour, and the tilt angles and subsequent delays may have substantial changes in just a few minutes. A consequence of the tilting of phase planes is that predictions of the effects of the IMF at the Earth, on the basis of IMF measurements far upstream in the solar wind, will suffer from reduced accuracy in the timing of events. It has recently been shown how the tilt angles may be determined using multiple satellite measurements. However, since the multiple satellite technique cannot be used with real-time data from a single sentry satellite, then an alternative method is required to derive the phase front angles, which can then be used for more accurate predictions. In this paper we show that the minimum variance analysis (MVA) technique can be used to adequately determine the variable tilt of the plane of propagation. The number of points that is required to compute the variance matrix has been found to be much higher than expected, corresponding to a time period in the range of 7 to 30 min. The optimal parameters for the MVA were determined by a comparison of simultaneous IMF measurements from four satellites. With use of the optimized parameters it is shown that the MVA method performs reasonably well for predicting the actual time lags in the propagation between multiple spacecraft, as well as to the Earth. Application of this technique can correct for errors, on the order of 30 min or more, in the timing of predictions of geomagnetic effects on the ground.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1026
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue numberA1
StatePublished - Jan 2003
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Forecasting
  • IMF
  • Interplanetary magnetic field
  • Minimum variance
  • Space weather
  • Techniques


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