A model of turbulence in magnetized plasmas: Implications for the dissipation range in the solar wind

G. G. Howes, S. C. Cowley, W. Dorland, G. W. Hammett, E. Quataert, A. A. Schekochihin

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This paper studies the turbulent cascade of magnetic energy in weakly collisional magnetized plasmas. A cascade model is presented, based on the assumptions of local nonlinear energy transfer in wave number space, critical balance between linear propagation and nonlinear interaction times, and the applicability of linear dissipation rates for the nonlinearly turbulent plasma. The model follows the nonlinear cascade of energy from the driving scale in the MHD regime, through the transition at the ion Larmor radius into the kinetic Alfvén wave regime, in which the turbulence is dissipated by kinetic processes. The turbulent fluctuations remain at frequencies below the ion cyclotron frequency due to the strong anisotropy of the turbulent fluctuations, k ≪ k (implied by critical balance). In this limit, the turbulence is optimally described by gyrokinetics; it is shown that the gyrokinetic approximation is well satisfied for typical slow solar wind parameters. Wave phase velocity measurements are consistent with a kinetic Alfvén wave cascade and not the onset of ion cyclotron damping. The conditions under which the gyrokinetic cascade reaches the ion cyclotron frequency are established. Cascade model solutions imply that collisionless damping provides a natural explanation for the observed range of spectral indices in the dissipation range of the solar wind. The dissipation range spectrum is predicted to be an exponential fall off; the power-law behavior apparent in observations may be an artifact of limited instrumental sensitivity. The cascade model is motivated by a program of gyrokinetic simulations of turbulence and particle heating in the solar wind.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberA05103
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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