Geomagnetic storms, the Dst ring-current myth and lognormal distributions

Journal of Atmospheric and Terrestrial Physics

DOI: 10.1016/0021-9169(95)00103-4



The definition of geomagnetic storms dates back to the turn of the century when researchers recognized the unique shape of the H-component field change upon averaging storms recorded at low latitude observatories. A generally accepted modeling of the storm field sources as a magnetospheric ring current was settled about 30 years ago at the start of space exploration and the discovery of the Van Allen belt of particles encircling the Earth. The Dst global 'ring-current' index of geomagnetic disturbances, formulated in that period, is still taken to be the definitive representation for geomagnetic storms. Dst indices, or data from many world observatories processed in a fashion paralleling the index, are used widely by researchers relying on the assumption of such a magnetospheric current-ring depiction. Recent in situ measurements by satellites passing through the ring-current region and computations with disturbed magnetosphere models show that the Dst storm is not solely a main-phase to decay-phase, growth to disintegration, of a massive current encircling the Earth. Although a ring current certainly exists during a storm, there are many other field contributions at the middle-and low-latitude observatories that are summed to show the 'storm' characteristic behavior in Dst at these observatories. One characteristic of the storm field form at middle and low latitudes is that Dst exhibits a lognormal distribution shape when plotted as the hourly value amplitude in each time range. Such distributions, common in nature, arise when there are many contributors to a measurement or when the measurement is a result of a connected series of statistical processes. The amplitude-time displays of Dst are thought to occur because the many time-series processes that are added to form Dst all have their own characteristic distribution in time. By transforming the Dst time display into the equivalent normal distribution, it is shown that a storm recovery can be predicted with remarkable accuracy from measurements made during the Dst growth phase. In the lognormal formulation, the mean, standard deviation and field count within standard deviation limits become definitive Dst storm parameters.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Geomagnetic storms, the Dst ring-current myth and lognormal distributions
Series title:
Journal of Atmospheric and Terrestrial Physics
Year Published:
Larger Work Type:
Larger Work Subtype:
Journal Article
Larger Work Title:
Journal of Atmospheric and Terrestrial Physics
First page:
Last page: