Gradual diffusion and punctuated phase space density enhancements of highly relativistic electrons: Van Allen Probes observations



The dual-spacecraft Van Allen Probes mission has provided a new window into mega electron volt (MeV) particle dynamics in the Earth's radiation belts. Observations (up to E ~10 MeV) show clearly the behavior of the outer electron radiation belt at different timescales: months-long periods of gradual inward radial diffusive transport and weak loss being punctuated by dramatic flux changes driven by strong solar wind transient events. We present analysis of multi-MeV electron flux and phase space density (PSD) changes during March 2013 in the context of the first year of Van Allen Probes operation. This March period demonstrates the classic signatures both of inward radial diffusive energization and abrupt localized acceleration deep within the outer Van Allen zone (L ~4.0 ± 0.5). This reveals graphically that both “competing” mechanisms of multi-MeV electron energization are at play in the radiation belts, often acting almost concurrently or at least in rapid succession.