Multiyear Measurements of Radiation Belt Electrons: Acceleration, Transport, and Loss

In addition to clarifying morphological structures of the Earth\textquoterights radiation belts, it has also been a major achievement of the Van Allen Probes mission to understand more thoroughly how highly relativistic and ultrarelativistic electrons are accelerated deep inside the radiation belts. Prior studies have demonstrated that electrons up to energies of 10 megaelectron volts (MeV) can be produced over broad regions of the outer Van Allen zone on timescales of minutes to a few hours. It often is seen that geomagnetic activity driven by strong solar storms (i.e., coronal mass ejections, or CMEs) almost inexorably leads to relativistic electron production through the intermediary step of intense magnetospheric substorms. In this study, we report observations over the 6-year period 1 September 2012 to 1 September 2018. We focus on data about the relativistic and ultrarelativistic electrons (E>=5 MeV) measured by the Relativistic Electron-Proton Telescope sensors on board the Van Allen Probes spacecraft. This work portrays the radiation belt acceleration, transport, and loss characteristics over a wide range of geomagnetic events. We emphasize features seen repeatedly in the data (three-belt structures, \textquotedblleftimpenetrable\textquotedblright barrier properties, and radial diffusion signatures) in the context of acceleration and loss mechanisms. We especially highlight solar wind forcing of the ultrarelativistic electron populations and extended periods when such electrons were absent. The analysis includes new display tools showing spatial features of the mission-long time variability of the outer Van Allen belt emphasizing the remarkable dynamics of the system.
Year of Publication
Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
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