Publications by Alexander Schekochihin

Stochastic transport of high-energy particles through a turbulent plasma


LE Chen, AFA Bott, P Tzeferacos, A Rigby, A Bell, C Graziani, J Katz, M Koenig, CK Li, R Petrasso, H-S Park, JS Ross, D Ryu, D Ryutov, TG White, B Reville, J Matthews, J Meinecke, F Miniati, EG Zweibel, S Sarkar, AA Schekochihin, DQ Lamb, DH Froula, G Gregori

The interplay between charged particles and turbulent magnetic fields is crucial to understanding how cosmic rays propagate through space. A key parameter which controls this interplay is the ratio of the particle gyroradius to the correlation length of the magnetic turbulence. For the vast majority of cosmic rays detected at the Earth, this parameter is small, and the particles are well confined by the Galactic magnetic field. But for cosmic rays more energetic than about 30 EeV, this parameter is large. These highest energy particles are not confined to the Milky Way and are presumed to be extragalactic in origin. Identifying their sources requires understanding how they are deflected by the intergalactic magnetic field, which appears to be weak, turbulent with an unknown correlation length, and possibly spatially intermittent. This is particularly relevant given the recent detection by the Pierre Auger Observatory of a significant dipole anisotropy in the arrival directions of cosmic rays of energy above 8 EeV. Here we report measurements of energetic-particle propagation through a random magnetic field in a laser-produced plasma. We characterize the diffusive transport of these particles and recover experimentally pitch-angle scattering measurements and extrapolate to find their mean free path and the associated diffusion coefficient, which show scaling-relations consistent with theoretical studies. This experiment validates these theoretical tools for analyzing the propagation of ultra-high energy cosmic rays through the intergalactic medium.

Elasticity of tangled magnetic fields


D Hosking, A Schekochihin, S Balbus

The fundamental difference between incompressible ideal magnetohydrodynamics and the dynamics of a non-conducting fluid is that magnetic fields exert a tension force that opposes their bending; magnetic fields behave like elastic strings threading the fluid. It is natural, therefore, to expect that a magnetic field tangled at small length scales should resist a large-scale shear in an elastic way, much as a ball of tangled elastic strings responds elastically to an impulse. Furthermore, a tangled field should support the propagation of `magnetoelastic waves', the isotropic analogue of Alfv\'en waves on a straight magnetic field. Here, we study magnetoelasticity in the idealised context of an equilibrium tangled field configuration. In contrast to previous treatments, we explicitly account for intermittency of the Maxwell stress, and show that this intermittency necessarily decreases the frequency of magnetoelastic waves in a stable field configuration. We develop a mean-field formalism to describe magnetoelastic behaviour, retaining leading-order corrections due to the coupling of large- and small-scale motions, and solve the initial-value problem for viscous fluids subjected to a large-scale shear, showing that the development of small-scale motions results in anomalous viscous damping of large-scale waves. Finally, we test these analytic predictions using numerical simulations of standing waves on tangled, linear force-free magnetic-field equilibria.

Constraints on ion vs. electron heating by plasma turbulence at low beta

Journal of Plasma Physics Cambridge University Press (CUP) (0)

AA Schekochihin, Y Kawazura, MA Barnes

It is shown that in low-beta plasmas, such as the solar corona, some instances of the solar wind, the aurora, inner regions of accretion discs, their coronae, and some laboratory plasmas, Alfvenic fluctuations produce no ion heating within the gyrokinetic approximation, i.e., as long as their amplitudes (at the Larmor scale) are small and their frequencies stay below the ion Larmor frequency. Thus, all low-frequency ion heating in such plasmas is due to compressive fluctuations: density perturbations and non-Maxwellian perturbations of the ion distribution function. Because these fluctuations energetically decouple from the Alfvenic ones already in the inertial range, the above conclusion means that the energy partition between ions and electrons in low-beta plasmas is decided at the outer scale, where turbulence is launched, and can in principle be determined from MHD models of the relevant astrophysical systems. Any additional ion heating must come from non-gyrokinetic mechanisms such as cyclotron heating or the stochastic heating owing to distortions of ions' Larmor orbits. An exception to these conclusions occurs in the Hall limit, i.e., when the ratio of the ion to electron temperatures is as low as the ion beta (equivalently, the electron beta is order unity). In this regime, compressive fluctuations (slow waves) couple to Alfvenic ones above the Larmor scale (viz., at the ion inertial or ion sound scale), the Alfvenic and compressive cascades join and then separate again into cascades of fluctuations that linearly resemble kinetic Alfven and (oblique) ion cyclotron waves, with the former heating electrons and the latter ions. The two cascades are shown to decouple, scalings for them are derived, and it is argued physically that the two species will be heated by them at approximately equal rates.

Magneto-immutable turbulence in weakly collisional plasmas

Journal of Plasma Physics (0)

J Squire, AA Schekochihin, E Quataert, MW Kunz

We propose that pressure anisotropy causes weakly collisional turbulent plasmas to self-organize so as to resist changes in magnetic-field strength. We term this effect "magneto-immutability" by analogy with incompressibility (resistance to changes in pressure). The effect is important when the pressure anisotropy becomes comparable to the magnetic pressure, suggesting that in collisionless, weakly magnetized (high-$\beta$) plasmas its dynamical relevance is similar to that of incompressibility. Simulations of magnetized turbulence using the weakly collisional Braginskii model show that magneto-immutable turbulence is surprisingly similar, in most statistical measures, to critically balanced MHD turbulence. However, in order to minimize magnetic-field variation, the flow direction becomes more constrained than in MHD, and the turbulence is more strongly dominated by magnetic energy (a nonzero "residual energy"). These effects represent key differences between pressure-anisotropic and fluid turbulence, and should be observable in the $\beta\gtrsim1$ turbulent solar wind.

Fluidization of collisionless plasma turbulence

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences National Academy of Sciences (0)

R Meyrand, A Kanekar, W Dorland, AA Schekochihin

In a collisionless, magnetized plasma, particles may stream freely along magnetic-field lines, leading to phase "mixing" of their distribution function and consequently to smoothing out of any "compressive" fluctuations (of density, pressure, etc.,). This rapid mixing underlies Landau damping of these fluctuations in a quiescent plasma-one of the most fundamental physical phenomena that make plasma different from a conventional fluid. Nevertheless, broad power-law spectra of compressive fluctuations are observed in turbulent astrophysical plasmas (most vividly, in the solar wind) under conditions conducive to strong Landau damping. Elsewhere in nature, such spectra are normally associated with fluid turbulence, where energy cannot be dissipated in the inertial scale range and is therefore cascaded from large scales to small. By direct numerical simulations and theoretical arguments, it is shown here that turbulence of compressive fluctuations in collisionless plasmas strongly resembles one in a collisional fluid and does have broad power-law spectra. This "fluidization" of collisionless plasmas occurs because phase mixing is strongly suppressed on average by "stochastic echoes", arising due to nonlinear advection of the particle distribution by turbulent motions. Besides resolving the long-standing puzzle of observed compressive fluctuations in the solar wind, our results suggest a conceptual shift for understanding kinetic plasma turbulence generally: rather than being a system where Landau damping plays the role of dissipation, a collisionless plasma is effectively dissipationless except at very small scales. The universality of "fluid" turbulence physics is thus reaffirmed even for a kinetic, collisionless system.

A solvable model of Vlasov-kinetic plasma turbulence in Fourier-Hermite phase space

Journal of Plasma Physics Cambridge University Press (0)

T Adkins, AA Schekochihin

A class of simple kinetic systems is considered, described by the 1D Vlasov--Landau equation with Poisson or Boltzmann electrostatic response and an energy source. Assuming a stochastic electric field, a solvable model is constructed for the phase-space turbulence of the particle distribution. The model is a kinetic analog of the Kraichnan--Batchelor model of chaotic advection. The solution of the model is found in Fourier--Hermite space and shows that the free-energy flux from low to high Hermite moments is suppressed, with phase mixing cancelled on average by anti-phase-mixing (stochastic plasma echo). This implies that Landau damping is an ineffective dissipation channel at wave numbers below a certain cut off (analog of Kolmogorov scale), which increases with the amplitude of the stochastic electric field and scales as inverse square of the collision rate. The full Fourier--Hermite spectrum is derived. Its asymptotics are $m^{-3/2}$ at low wave numbers and high Hermite moments ($m$) and $m^{-1/2}k^{-2}$ at low Hermite moments and high wave numbers ($k$). The energy distribution and flows in phase space are a simple and, therefore, useful example of competition between phase mixing and nonlinear dynamics in kinetic turbulence, reminiscent of more realistic but more complicated multi-dimensional systems that have not so far been amenable to complete analytical solution.

Astrophysical gyrokinetics: Turbulence in pressure-anisotropic plasmas at ion scales and beyond

Journal of Plasma Physics (0)

MW Kunz, IG Abel, KG Klein, AA Schekochihin

We present a theoretical framework for describing electromagnetic kinetic turbulence in a multi-species, magnetized, pressure-anisotropic plasma. Turbulent fluctuations are assumed to be small compared to the mean field, to be spatially anisotropic with respect to it, and to have frequencies small compared to the ion cyclotron frequency. At scales above the ion Larmor radius, the theory reduces to the pressure-anisotropic generalization of kinetic reduced magnetohydrodynamics (KRMHD) formulated by Kunz et al. (2015). At scales at and below the ion Larmor radius, three main objectives are achieved. First, we analyse the linear response of the pressure-anisotropic gyrokinetic system, and show it to be a generalisation of previously explored limits. The effects of pressure anisotropy on the stability and collisionless damping of Alfvenic and compressive fluctuations are highlighted, with attention paid to the spectral location and width of the frequency jump that occurs as Alfven waves transition into kinetic Alfven waves. Secondly, we derive and discuss a general free-energy conservation law, which captures both the KRMHD free-energy conservation at long wavelengths and dual cascades of kinetic Alfven waves and ion entropy at sub-ion-Larmor scales. We show that non-Maxwellian features in the distribution function change the amount of phase mixing and the efficiency of magnetic stresses, and thus influence the partitioning of free energy amongst the cascade channels. Thirdly, a simple model is used to show that pressure anisotropy can cause large variations in the ion-to-electron heating ratio due to the dissipation of Alfvenic turbulence. Our theory provides a foundation for determining how pressure anisotropy affects the turbulent fluctuation spectra, the differential heating of particle species, and the ratio of parallel and perpendicular phase mixing in space and astrophysical plasmas.

Experimental Signatures of Critically Balanced Turbulence in MAST

ArXiv (0)

Y-C Ghim, AA Schekochihin, AR Field, IG Abel, M Barnes, G Colyer, SC Cowley, FI Parra, D Dunai, S Zoletnik, TMAST Team

Beam Emission Spectroscopy (BES) measurements of ion-scale density fluctuations in the MAST tokamak are used to show that the turbulence correlation time, the drift time associated with ion temperature or density gradients, the particle (ion) streaming time along the magnetic field and the magnetic drift time are consistently comparable, suggesting a "critically balanced" turbulence determined by the local equilibrium. The resulting scalings of the poloidal and radial correlation lengths are derived and tested. The nonlinear time inferred from the density fluctuations is longer than the other times; its ratio to the correlation time scales as $\nu_{*i}^{-0.8\pm0.1}$, where $\nu_{*i}=$ ion collision rate/streaming rate. This is consistent with turbulent decorrelation being controlled by a zonal component, invisible to the BES, with an amplitude exceeding the drift waves' by $\sim \nu_{*i}^{-0.8}$.

Multiscale Gyrokinetics for Rotating Tokamak Plasmas: Fluctuations, Transport and Energy Flows

ArXiv (0)

IG Abel, GG Plunk, E Wang, M Barnes, SC Cowley, W Dorland, AA Schekochihin

This paper presents a complete theoretical framework for plasma turbulence and transport in tokamak plasmas. The fundamental scale separations present in plasma turbulence are codified as an asymptotic expansion in the ratio of the gyroradius to the equilibrium scale length. Proceeding order-by-order in this expansion, a framework for plasma turbulence is developed. It comprises an instantaneous equilibrium, the fluctuations driven by gradients in the equilibrium quantities, and the transport-timescale evolution of mean profiles of these quantities driven by the fluctuations. The equilibrium distribution functions are local Maxwellians with each flux surface rotating toroidally as a rigid body. The magnetic equillibrium is obtained from the Grad-Shafranov equation for a rotating plasma and the slow (resistive) evolution of the magnetic field is given by an evolution equation for the safety factor q. Large-scale deviations of the distribution function from a Maxwellian are given by neoclassical theory. The fluctuations are determined by the high-flow gyrokinetic equation, from which we derive the governing principle for gyrokinetic turbulence in tokamaks: the conservation and local cascade of free energy. Transport equations for the evolution of the mean density, temperature and flow velocity profiles are derived. These transport equations show how the neoclassical corrections and the fluctuations act back upon the mean profiles through fluxes and heating. The energy and entropy conservation laws for the mean profiles are derived. Total energy is conserved and there is no net turbulent heating. Entropy is produced by the action of fluxes flattening gradients, Ohmic heating, and the equilibration of mean temperatures. Finally, this framework is condensed, in the low-Mach-number limit, to a concise set of equations suitable for numerical implementation.

Alignment and scaling of large-scale fluctuations in the solar wind

ArXiv (0)

RT Wicks, A Mallet, TS Horbury, CHK Chen, AA Schekochihin, JJ Mitchell

We investigate the dependence of solar wind fluctuations measured by the Wind spacecraft on scale and on the degree of alignment between oppositely directed Elsasser fields. This alignment controls the strength of the non-linear interactions and, therefore, the turbulence. We find that at scales larger than the outer scale of the turbulence the Elsasser fluctuations become on average more anti-aligned as the outer scale is approached from above. Conditioning structure functions using the alignment angle reveals turbulent scaling of unaligned fluctuations at scales previously believed to lie outside the turbulent cascade in the `1/f range'. We argue that the 1/f range contains a mixture of non-interacting anti-aligned population of Alfv\'{e}n waves and magnetic force-free structures plus a subdominant population of unaligned cascading turbulent fluctuations.

Zero-Turbulence Manifold in a Toroidal Plasma

ArXiv (0)

EG Highcock, AA Schekochihin, SC Cowley, M Barnes, FI Parra, CM Roach, W Dorland

Sheared toroidal flows can cause bifurcations to zero-turbulent-transport states in tokamak plasmas. The maximum temperature gradients that can be reached are limited by subcritical turbulence driven by the parallel velocity gradient. Here it is shown that q/\epsilon (magnetic field pitch/inverse aspect ratio) is a critical control parameter for sheared tokamak turbulence. By reducing q/\epsilon, far higher temperature gradients can be achieved without triggering turbulence, in some instances comparable to those found experimentally in transport barriers. The zero-turbulence manifold is mapped out, in the zero-magnetic-shear limit, over the parameter space (\gamma_E, q/\epsilon, R/L_T), where \gamma_E is the perpendicular flow shear and R/L_T is the normalised inverse temperature gradient scale. The extent to which it can be constructed from linear theory is discussed.

Interpreting Power Anisotropy Measurements in Plasma Turbulence

ArXiv (0)

CHK Chen, RT Wicks, TS Horbury, AA Schekochihin

A relationship is derived between power anisotropy and wavevector anisotropy in turbulent fluctuations. This can be used to interpret plasma turbulence measurements, for example in the solar wind. If fluctuations are anisotropic in shape then the ion gyroscale break point in spectra in the directions parallel and perpendicular to the magnetic field would not occur at the same frequency, and similarly for the electron gyroscale break point. This is an important consideration when interpreting solar wind observations in terms of anisotropic turbulence theories. Model magnetic field power spectra are presented assuming a cascade of critically balanced Alfven waves in the inertial range and kinetic Alfven waves in the dissipation range. The variation of power anisotropy with scale is compared to existing solar wind measurements and the similarities and differences are discussed.

Fluctuation dynamo and turbulent induction at low magnetic Prandtl numbers

ArXiv (0)

AA Schekochihin, AB Iskakov, SC Cowley, JC McWilliams, MRE Proctor, TA Yousef

This paper is a detailed report on a programme of simulations used to settle a long-standing issue in the dynamo theory and demonstrate that the fluctuation dynamo exists in the limit of large magnetic Reynolds number Rm>>1 and small magnetic Prandtl number Pm<<1. The dependence of the critical Rm_c vs. the hydrodynamic Reynolds number Re is obtained for 1<Re<6700. In the limit Pm<<1, Rm_c is ~3 times larger than for Pm>1. The stability curve Rm_c(Re) (and, it is argued, the nature of the dynamo) is substantially different from the case of the simulations and liquid-metal experiments with a mean flow. It is not as yet possible to determine numerically whether the growth rate is ~Rm^{1/2} in the limit Re>>Rm>>1, as should be the case if the dynamo is driven by the inertial-range motions. The magnetic-energy spectrum in the low-Pm regime is qualitatively different from the Pm>1 case and appears to develop a negative spectral slope, although current resolutions are insufficient to determine its asymptotic form. At 1<Rm<Rm_c, the magnetic fluctuations induced via the tangling by turbulence of a weak mean field are investigated and the possibility of a k^{-1} spectrum above the resistive scale is examined. At low Rm<1, the induced fluctuations are well described by the quasistatic approximation; the k^{-11/3} spectrum is confirmed for the first time in direct numerical simulations.

Diffusion of passive scalar in a finite-scale random flow

ArXiv (0)

AA Schekochihin, PH Haynes, SC Cowley

We consider a solvable model of the decay of scalar variance in a single-scale random velocity field. We show that if there is a separation between the flow scale k_flow^{-1} and the box size k_box^{-1}, the decay rate lambda ~ (k_box/k_flow)^2 is determined by the turbulent diffusion of the box-scale mode. Exponential decay at the rate lambda is preceded by a transient powerlike decay (the total scalar variance ~ t^{-5/2} if the Corrsin invariant is zero, t^{-3/2} otherwise) that lasts a time t~1/\lambda. Spectra are sharply peaked at k=k_box. The box-scale peak acts as a slowly decaying source to a secondary peak at the flow scale. The variance spectrum at scales intermediate between the two peaks (k_box<<k<<k_flow) is ~ k + a k^2 + ... (a>0). The mixing of the flow-scale modes by the random flow produces, for the case of large Peclet number, a k^{-1+delta} spectrum at k>>k_flow, where delta ~ lambda is a small correction. Our solution thus elucidates the spectral make up of the ``strange mode,'' combining small-scale structure and a decay law set by the largest scales.

Zonally dominated dynamics and Dimits threshold in curvature-driven ITG turbulence

Journal of Plasma Physics (0)

P Ivanov, A Schekochihin, W Dorland, A Field, F Parra

The saturated state of turbulence driven by the ion-temperature-gradient instability is investigated using a two-dimensional long-wavelength fluid model that describes the perturbed electrostatic potential and perturbed ion temperature in a magnetic field with constant curvature (a $Z$-pinch) and an equilibrium temperature gradient. Numerical simulations reveal a well-defined transition between a finite-amplitude saturated state dominated by strong zonal-flow and zonal-temperature perturbations, and a blow-up state that fails to saturate on a box-independent scale. We argue that this transition is equivalent to the Dimits transition from a low-transport to a high-transport state seen in gyrokinetic numerical simulations. A quasi-static staircase-like structure of the temperature gradient intertwined with zonal flows, which have patch-wise constant shear, emerges near the Dimits threshold. The turbulent heat flux in the low-collisionality near-marginal state is dominated by turbulent bursts, triggered by coherent long-lived structures closely resembling those found in gyrokinetic simulations with imposed equilibrium flow shear. The break up of the low-transport Dimits regime is linked to a competition between the two different sources of poloidal momentum in the system -- the Reynolds stress and the advection of the diamagnetic flow by the $\boldsymbol{E}\times\boldsymbol{B}$ flow. By analysing the linear ITG modes, we obtain a semi-analytic model for the Dimits threshold at large collisionality.