Characteristic times for radiation belt drift phase mixing

Solène Lejosne*, Jay M. Albert, Daniel Ratliff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Impulsive radial transport events occurring in the radiation belts leave lasting marks in the form of drift echoes, that is, energy-dependent drift phase structures in the radiation belts that evolve at the drift frequency. Drift echoes are known to be transient structures that dissipate due to phase mixing. The objective of this paper is to discuss how much time it takes for drift echoes to dissipate, and what drives this phase-mixing process. While any uncertainty or perturbation in the variables controlling trapped particles’ drift frequency contributes to phase mixing, we highlight two main drivers: the observational uncertainty associated with the finite size of the instrument energy channels, and the natural field fluctuations driving perturbations in trapped particles’ drift frequency. It is the combination of both instrumental and natural sources of phase mixing that determines the observed dissipation and lifetime of drift echoes. This means that the observed magnitude and lifetime of a drift echo are always underestimations of the natural magnitude and lifetime of the structure. This calls into question the applicability of the standard, drift-averaged formulation of radial diffusion. The three key points of the study are the following: First, the time it takes for particles initially localized in local time to phase-mix is measured in hours in the Earth’s radiation belts. Second, phase mixing at the drift scale is primarily due to uncertainties in measured kinetic energy and field perturbations. Third, our analysis can be utilized to set an energy resolution requirement for future particle instruments.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1385472
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2024

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