Letter

Nature 436, 825-828 (11 August 2005) | doi:10.1038/nature03931; Received 15 March 2005; Accepted 16 June 2005

There is an Erratum (8 September 2005) associated with this document.

In situ multi-satellite detection of coherent vortices as a manifestation of Alfvénic turbulence

David Sundkvist1,2, Vladimir Krasnoselskikh1, Padma K. Shukla3, Andris Vaivads2, Mats André2, Stephan Buchert2 & Henri Rème4

  1. Laboratoire de Physique et Chimie de l'Environnement, CNRS, 45071 Orléans, France
  2. Swedish Institute of Space Physics, SE-751 21 Uppsala, Sweden
  3. Institut für Theoretische Physik IV, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, D-44780 Bochum, Germany
  4. Centre d'Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements, Toulouse 31029, France

Correspondence to: David Sundkvist1,2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to D.S. (Email: davids@irfu.se).

Turbulence in fluids1 and plasmas2, 3, 4, 5 is a ubiquitous phenomenon driven by a variety of sources—currents, sheared flows, gradients in density and temperature, and so on. Turbulence involves fluctuations of physical properties on many different scales, which interact nonlinearly to produce self-organized structures in the form of vortices2, 3, 4, 5. Vortex motion in fluids and magnetized plasmas is typically governed by nonlinear equations2, 3, 4, 5, examples of which include the Navier–Stokes equation1, 2, the Charney–Hasegawa–Mima equations2, 3, 4, 5 and their numerous generalizations6, 7, 8, 9. These nonlinear equations admit solutions2, 3, 4, 5 in the form of different types of vortices that are frequently observed in a variety of contexts: in atmospheres, in oceans and planetary systems2, 4, in the heliosphere10, 11, in the Earth's ionosphere and magnetosphere12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and in laboratory plasma experiments18. Here we report the discovery by the Cluster satellites19 of a distinct class of vortex motion—short-scale drift-kinetic Alfvén (DKA) vortices8, 9—in the Earth's magnetospheric cusp region. As is the case for the larger Kelvin–Helmholtz vortices observed previously17, these dynamic structures should provide a channel for transporting plasma particles and energy through the magnetospheric boundary layers.

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