Temporal variability of quasi-linear pitch-angle diffusion

Clare E. J. Watt*, Hayley J. Allison, Sarah N. Bentley, Rhys L. Thompson, I. Jonathan Rae, Oliver Allanson, Nigel P. Meredith, Johnathan P. J. Ross, Sarah A. Glauert, Richard B. Horne, Shuai Zhang, Kyle R. Murphy, Dovilė Rasinskaitė, Shannon Killey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
17 Downloads (Pure)


Kinetic wave-particle interactions in Earth’s outer radiation belt energize and scatter high-energy electrons, playing an important role in the dynamic variation of the extent and intensity of the outer belt. It is possible to model the effects of wave-particle interactions across long length and time scales using quasi-linear theory, leading to a Fokker-Planck equation to describe the effects of the waves on the high energy electrons. This powerful theory renders the efficacy of the wave-particle interaction in a diffusion coefficient that varies with energy or momentum and pitch angle. In this article we determine how the Fokker-Planck equation responds to the temporal variation of the quasi-linear diffusion coefficient in the case of pitch-angle diffusion due to plasmaspheric hiss. Guided by in-situ observations of how hiss wave activity and local number density change in time, we use stochastic parameterisation to describe the temporal evolution of hiss diffusion coefficients in ensemble numerical experiments. These experiments are informed by observations from three different example locations in near-Earth space, and a comparison of the results indicates that local differences in the distribution of diffusion coefficients can result in material differences to the ensemble solutions. We demonstrate that ensemble solutions of the Fokker-Planck equation depend both upon the timescale of variability (varied between minutes and hours), and the shape of the distribution of diffusion coefficients. Based upon theoretical construction of the diffusion coefficients and the results presented here, we argue that there is a useful maximum averaging timescale that should be used to construct a diffusion coefficient from observations, and that this timescale is likely less than the orbital period of most inner magnetospheric missions. We discuss time and length scales of wave-particle interactions relative to the drift velocity of high-energy electrons and confirm that arithmetic drift-averaging is can be appropriate in some cases. We show that in some locations, rare but large values of the diffusion coefficient occur during periods of relatively low number density. Ensemble solutions are sensitive to the presence of these rare values, supporting the need for accurate cold plasma density models in radiation belt descriptions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1004634
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 13 Oct 2022


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