How quickly, how deeply, and how strongly can dynamical outer boundary conditions impact Van Allen radiation belt morphology?

Here we examine the speed, strength, and depth of the coupling between dynamical variations of ultrarelativistic electron flux at the outer boundary and that in the heart of the outer radiation belt. Using ULF wave radial diffusion as an exemplar, we show how changing boundary conditions can completely change belt morphology even under conditions of identical wave power. In the case of ULF wave radial diffusion, the temporal dynamics of a new source population or a sink of electron flux at the outer plasma sheet boundary can generate a completely opposite response which reaches deep into the belt under identical ULF wave conditions. Very significantly, here we show that such coupling can occur on timescales much faster than previously thought. We show that even on timescales ~1 h, changes in the outer boundary electron population can dramatically alter the radiation belt flux in the heart of the belt. Importantly, these flux changes can at times occur on timescales much faster than the L shell revisit time obtained from elliptically orbiting satellites such as the Van Allen Probes. We underline the importance of such boundary condition effects when seeking to identify the physical processes which explain the dominant behavior of the Van Allen belts. Overall, we argue in general that the importance of temporal changes in the boundary conditions is sometimes overlooked in comparison to the pursuit of (ever) increasingly accurate estimates of wave power and other wave properties used in empirical representations of wave transport and diffusion rates.
Year of Publication
Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Number of Pages
Date Published