Electron diffusion and advection during nonlinear interactions with Whistler‐mode waves

O. Allanson*, C. E. J. Watt, H. J. Allison, H. Ratcliffe

*Corresponding author for this work

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Radiation belt codes evolve electron dynamics due to resonant wave-particle interactions. It is not known how to best incorporate electron dynamics in the case of a wave power spectrum that varies considerably on a “sub-grid” timescale shorter than the computational time-step of the radiation belt model ΔtRBM, particularly if the wave amplitude reaches high values. Timescales associated with the growth rate of thermal instabilities are very short, and are typically much shorter than ΔtRBM. We use a kinetic code to study electron interactions with whistler-mode waves in the presence of a thermally anisotropic background. For “low” values of anisotropy, instabilities are not triggered and we observe similar results to those obtained in Allanson et al. (2020, https://doi.org/10.1029/2020JA027949), for which the diffusion roughly matched the quasilinear theory over short timescales. For “high” levels of anisotropy, wave growth via instability is triggered. Dynamics are not well described by the quasilinear theory when calculated using the average wave power. Strong electron diffusion and advection occur during the growth phase (≈100 ms). These dynamics “saturate” as the wave power saturates at ≈ 1 nT, and the advective motions dominate over the diffusive processes. The growth phase facilitates significant advection in pitch angle space via successive resonant interactions with waves of different frequencies. We suggest that this rapid advective transport during the wave growth phase may have a role to play in the electron microburst mechanism. This motivates future work on macroscopic effects of short-timescale nonlinear processes in radiation belt modeling.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020JA028793
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2021


  • diffusion
  • instability
  • numerical modeling
  • radiation belts
  • wave particle interactions
  • Whistler waves


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