Testing loss mechanisms capable of rapidly depleting relativistic electron flux in the Earth's outer radiation belt

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Abstract

[1] We investigate how relativistic electrons are lost from the Earth's magnetosphere in order to better understand the dynamic variability of the radiation belts. We identify 52 events where the >2 MeV electron flux at geostationary orbit decreases rapidly and use a superposed epoch analysis of multispacecraft data to characterize the accompanying solar wind and geomagnetic conditions and examine the relevance of potential loss mechanisms. The results show that the flux decrease events follow a common sequence. The electron flux is reduced first in the dusk sector concurrent with the stretching of the magnetic field to a more tail-like configuration. The extreme stretching at dusk is caused by the formation of a partial ring current driven by changing solar wind conditions. We investigate three possible causes of the ensuing flux decrease: adiabatic electron motion in response to the changing magnetic field topology, drift out the magnetopause boundary, and precipitation into the atmosphere. The analysis reveals that the flux depletion is likely due to enhanced precipitation into the atmosphere, but the exact cause of the enhanced precipitation is still uncertain.

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