This thematic series contains 4 papers mostly presented at the 2016 AOGS meeting in Beijing. The four papers investigate four key regions in the magnetosphere–ionosphere coupling process: mid-tail magnetosphere, near-Earth magnetosphere, inner magnetosphere, and the polar ground region. Guo et al. (Geosci Lett 4:18, 2017) study the current system in reconnection region using 2.5D particle-in-cell simulations. Yao et al. (Geosci Lett 4:8, 2017) use conjugate measurements from ground auroral imagers and in situ THEMIS spacecraft to reveal the mechanism for the wave-like auroral structures prior to substorm onset. Zhang et al. (Geosci Lett 4:20, 2017) investigate the profiles of resonance zone and resonant frequency in the Landau resonance between radiation belt electrons and magnetosonic waves and between protons and cyclotron waves. Rae et al. (Geosci Lett 4:23, 2017) determine the relative timing between sudden increases in amplitude, or onsets, of different ultra-low-frequency wave bands during substorms.