Pressure anisotropy and viscous heating in weakly collisional plasma turbulence

J. Squire, M. W. Kunz, L. Arzamasskiy, Z. Johnston, E. Quataert, A. A. Schekochihin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Pressure anisotropy can strongly influence the dynamics of weakly collisional, high-beta plasmas, but its effects are missed by standard magnetohydrodynamics (MHD). Small changes to the magnetic-field strength generate large pressure-anisotropy forces, heating the plasma, driving instabilities and rearranging flows, even on scales far above the particles' gyroscales where kinetic effects are traditionally considered most important. Here, we study the influence of pressure anisotropy on turbulent plasmas threaded by a mean magnetic field (Alfvénic turbulence). Extending previous results that were concerned with Braginskii MHD, we consider a wide range of regimes and parameters using a simplified fluid model based on drift kinetics with heat fluxes calculated using a Landau-fluid closure. We show that viscous (pressure-anisotropy) heating dissipates between a quarter (in collisionless regimes) and half (in collisional regimes) of the turbulent-cascade power injected at large scales; this does not depend strongly on either plasma beta or the ion-to-electron temperature ratio. This will in turn influence the plasma's thermodynamics by regulating energy partition between different dissipation channels (e.g. electron and ion heat). Due to the pressure anisotropy's rapid dynamic feedback onto the flows that create it - an effect we term 'magneto-immutability' - the viscous heating is confined to a narrow range of scales near the forcing scale, supporting a nearly conservative, MHD-like inertial-range cascade, via which the rest of the energy is transferred to small scales. Despite the simplified model, our results - including the viscous heating rate, distributions and turbulent spectra - compare favourably with recent hybrid-kinetic simulations. This is promising for the more general use of extended-fluid (or even MHD) approaches to model weakly collisional plasmas such as the intracluster medium, hot accretion flows and the solar wind.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number905890417
JournalJournal of Plasma Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 25 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics


  • astrophysical plasmas
  • plasma nonlinear phenomena
  • plasma simulation


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